The Men Who Covered Up Buffalo Catholic Church Child Sex Abuse – Full Report

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ABC

“The recent revelations of Catholic priests who have been accused of sexual abuse show cases that date back decades.

But why did it take this long for the information to be made public?

Below are key figures in the Buffalo diocese dating back to the 1970s. Our I-Team has what they knew and when and the steps they took to keep the abuse out of the public eye.

Bishop Edward D. Head

Bishop from 1972-1995

Bishop Edward D. Head

Bishop Edward D. Head was Buffalo’s second-longest-serving bishop.

From the day he arrived in Buffalo on a snowy day in 1972, to his death in 2005, he was known as a kind, approachable and gentle shepherd of Catholics in Western New York.

“Bishop Head was in many ways a great man,” said attorney Steve Boyd, who worked for the bishop for two years. “But great men fail.”

The failures of Head and other bishops to stop the abuse of children by priests under their supervision — and to make a full accounting to the public of those crimes — becomes more apparent by the day.

In the last two months, 64 priests in Buffalo have been accused of sexual misconduct, most with children. The majority of priests served during the tenures of Head and his successor, but the full scope of the abuse is only now coming to light.

In the 1990s — in rare interviews with 7 Eyewitness News — Head downplayed the scope of the problem and claimed to know few details about the abuse.

“Our incidents of it happening here is below even the national…lowest figures,” Head said in 1994. “And I thank God for that.”

But despite efforts by the diocese to portray Head as ahead of his time in developing policies against sexual abuse, dozens of internal documents from the Diocese of Buffalo Chancery obtained exclusively by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team show that Head and other bishops:

  • Knew much more about the abuse than they ever let on publicly.
  • Protected and shuffled the abusive priests to different parishes.
  • Showed little concern for the victims of the abuse.

“Seeing this stuff in writing for the first time…it’s hard to read,” said Boyd, a Buffalo attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse. “It’s really tough. It’s an absolute betrayal.”

In 1989, documents show Head learned of abuse allegations against the Rev. James A. Spielman at SS. Peter & Paul Church in Jamestown.

Rev. James A. Spielman

But Father Spielman – who victims say abused multiple boys in the Southern Tier – wrote the bishop, saying he felt “anger” and “betrayal” at the thought of being removed from the church.

“Never once did I minimize the seriousness of the issue,” Spielman wrote to Head. “Yet over and over again you lectured me about its seriousness.”

Three days later, the bishop apologized, writing to Father Spielman, “I have confidence in you. You have humbly admitted that personal behavioral mistakes have been made…You have served God’s people for nineteen years with dedication, enthusiasm and effectiveness.”

“They’re almost apologetic to him,” Boyd said when shown copies of the letters. “Those are felonies. Every single time an adult abuses a child, whether a priest, a Scoutmaster, a counselor, any time…that’s a felony.”

All was forgiven six months later when Father Spielman met with Bishop Head and Auxiliary Bishop Donald W. Trautman. Letters show they — in consultation with Father Spielman’s doctor — agreed the priest would attend a “holistic program” at Southdown Institute in Canada and “return to ministry in the spring.”     

 

But that apparently wasn’t enough for Father Spielman.

“Every single time an adult abuses a child, whether a priest, a Scoutmaster, a counselor, any time…that’s a felony.”

He wanted to go back to the same Jamestown parish where the altar boy accused him of abuse.  To make his case, he points out the worsening clergy shortage and the fact that he raised $1.8 million in donations for the church.

A 1991 memo from the Chancery which was obtained by the I-Team shows diocesan leaders worried that if they didn’t give in to Spielman’s request, he would be jealous of Father Donald S. Fafinski, another priest who was accused of abuse and put back in ministry.

“I just wish to bring to the bishop’s attention that Father Jim Spielman is carefully watching the placement of Father Donald Fafinski,” Father Peter Popadick, the bishop’s secretary, wrote to Head. “I gather the reason being: if Father Fafinski were to resume ministry at St. Joseph’s in Fredonia, Father Spielman will be questioning why he was not allowed to return to SS. Peter & Paul in Jamestown.”

In February 1993, Bishop Head relented and wrote that it was “my pleasure” to give Spielman a second term at SS. Peter & Paul. It would be five short months before another altar boy came forward with stories of abuse and Spielman resigned the priesthood for life.

“This handful of priests were a cancer,” Boyd said. “Like a cancer that needs to be cut out. And they needed to cut it out, and they could have cut it out, but they didn’t. You had the chance to stop it, and you didn’t…and in those times, those future victims, those are on the decision-makers.”

 

Auxiliary Bishop Donald W. Trautman

Served from 1974-1990

 

Another key decision-maker during the Bishop Head era is Donald W. Trautman.

Trautman served in top Buffalo diocesan posts (vicar general, chancellor and auxiliary bishop) during the 1970s and 1980s before the pope named him Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., in 1990.

Father Spielman, a priest who is alleged to have abused multiple boys in the Southern Tier, references Trautman in the letters obtained by 7 Eyewitness News, at one point telling Bishop Head that he would prefer to only receive communication through Trautman, and not Head.

According to those letters, Trautman played a role in re-assigning Spielman after the priest was removed from a Jamestown church for allegedly abusing an altar boy.

Trautman, now retired from the Erie Diocese, is now under intense scrutiny as prosecutors have accused the diocese of covering up the alleged sex crimes of a former priest who was arrested Tuesday. Trautmanhas denied a cover-up.

James Faluszczak, a former priest in the Diocese of Erie, was not surprised to learn that Trautman held a top post in the Diocese of Buffalo during a time when priests were shuffled around after abuse allegations came to light.

Faluszczak, who now lives in Buffalo and has been outspoken on the issue of clerical sex abuse, said he was abused as a child by Father Daniel Martin, his childhood priest in Pennsylvania. The effects of the abuse led to alcohol problems and an arrest for driving while intoxicated.

After attending rehab, Faluszczak said Bishop Trautman in 2010 asked him to speak about his abuse at the hands of Father Martin.

“But Trautman felt that he should ask me, ‘How many times did Fr. Martin molest you?’ And I said, ‘Fifteen.’ And he [Trautman] said to me, his response, without missing a beat, was, ‘Oh thank God.’

“In that moment I was flabbergasted,” Faluszczak said. “I said Martin molested me 15 times, your response to me is, ‘Oh thank God?’ That is the stupidest thing you could say to a victim. And he was all flabbergasted and said, ‘Oh no, I just mean you’re lucky that it didn’t happen to you more…as if that was supposed to make me feel good.”

“Once is bad enough,” Faluszczak said. “I told him that was the stupidest thing that a human being could say, let alone a bishop.”

“I was flabbergasted. I said Martin molested me 15 times, your response to me is, ‘Oh thank God?’”

Trautman, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment for this story. Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone said in a written statement, “We have made great strides in regard to protection of young people and the handling of sexual abuse cases, especially since implementing the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

 

Bishop Henry J. Mansell

Bishop from 1995-2003

 

Victim advocate Robert Hoatson summed up the thoughts of many Catholics this week when he said, “Buffalo, New York is Boston, Massachusetts West. We now know that through at least the last four or five bishops here, there has been a massive cover-up of child sexual abuse.”

The victims he has been advocating for — starting with Michael Whalen of South Buffalo — have shown a courage that blew the lid off a scandal that’s implicated more than 65 Catholic priests in Buffalo.

That, of course, leaves many to wonder: How — especially after the Boston scandal 16 years ago — did Buffalo’s bishops manage to keep the abuse secret for so long.

“What the priests did was one thing, it was wrong. but the way they’ve handled it is ten times worse,” said Daniel Bauer, a victim from Jamestown.

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s 2002 investigation into clerical abuse in the Boston Archdiocese was the spark that set off an inferno of abuse scandals worldwide, forcing bishops like Buffalo’s Henry J. Mansell to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for child sex abuse.

“In any incidence of child abuse, no matter when, no matter what has happened since then, the priest cannot serve in active ministry,” Mansell said during a homily that year.

But the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People adopted by American bishops in 2002 also called for them to be “transparent” in telling the public about abuse — and that’s one area where the Diocese of Buffalo has historically fallen short.

Mansell in 2003 said he removed “various priests” but refused to say when and where the abuse took place. The bishop and his number two man, Monsignor Robert Cunningham, also refused to give any names of pedophile priests.

“These bishops could go out and run a training camp for the Mafia on how to be slick and get away with stuff.”

“Any priest who has abused a minor will not have a position of responsibility, will not have a ministry in the Catholic Church,” Mansell said back then.

The Buffalo News in 2003 identified two priests — Robert Wood and Thomas McCarthy — who were removed for abuse.

But recent reporting and internal church records obtained by 7 Eyewitness News suggest as many as 10 more priests who were at some point accused of abuse were either left in parishes, hidden in unknown locations or in the most egregious cases, quietly forced to retire.

  • Fathers Norbert Orsolits, Donald Becker and Martin Pavlock — all who are now on the diocese’s official abuse list — all “retired” in 2003, two of them of the same date of Sept. 1, 2003. The diocese at the time announced Becker’s retirement as a “medical leave,” but Bishop Richard Malone has since told 7 Eyewitness News that Becker was really removed for suspected abuse.
  • Diocesan directories also show that three other priests — Fathers Mark Friel, Brian Hatrick and Richard Keppeler — who are now on the list of accused, were still working in parishes as of 2003.
  • Three more accused abusers on the diocese list — Fathers Loville Martlock, Douglas Faraci and Thomas Gresock — had no parish assignment and were classified under “c/o 795 main St.” A source said that is a common classification used by the diocese for hiding troubled priests.

“These bishops could go out and run a training camp for the Mafia on how to be slick and get away with stuff,” said Bauer, who was in college when he said Father Larry Connors of St. James Church in Jamestown tried to attack him before he was able to fight him off. (Connors went on to teach at Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk and St. Mary’s in Lancaster after he left the area and died in 1992).

The priest’s behavior — and the diocese’s reaction to it — bothered Bauer for years as he fought for answers, before finally pushing for a phone call with Bishop Mansell.

“When I called and told him that I insisted on talking to him, he said, ‘We don’t talk to victims,’” Bauer recalled. “I said, ‘Well, you’re going to talk to this one. You can talk in your office or you can talk in a courtroom. You pick how you want to do it.”

Told to come to the Buffalo Chancery the next morning, Bauer says he was greeted by five armed guards in the lobby — and three more waiting upstairs.

“The one [guard] looks at me and says, ‘What are you here for?’” Bauer said. “I said, ‘I’m here to talk to him,’ and I pointed right at him [the bishop]. I said, he made an appointment with me. He goes, ‘Well he doesn’t take appointments.’”

Bauer said he sat down in a chair and refused to leave.

“So I said, when he’s ready to talk…I’ve got all day to wait here,” Bauer said. “And they’re over there, mumbling with the bishop, [saying] ‘What are you gonna do now, because this guy’s not gonna leave?’”

“No. None of them have ever apologized, ever.”

Bauer sat with the bishop for an hour, telling Mansell about his encounter with Father Connors and about other stories he had heard of abusive priests throughout the Southern Tier. But the meeting never gave him the answers — or the peace — he thought it might.

“They give a bare minimum of what they can get away with,” Bauer said of the bishops, “until somebody else comes along and pushes them and pushes them and pushes them and they have to talk.”

Asked if the bishop apologized, he said, “No. None of them have ever apologized, ever.”

Mansell, now retired as archbishop from the Diocese of Hartford, Conn., did not respond to requests to a diocesan spokeswoman seeking comment. Cunningham, through a spokeswoman for the Syracuse Diocese, declined to comment.

In response to this story, the Buffalo Diocese released a statement emphasizing that since 2003, it has implemented employee background checks and training sessions to ensure the safety of children.

 

Monsignor Robert J. Cunningham

Served from 1974-2004

 

Ask lawyers who really pulled the strings in the Diocese of Buffalo during the era of Bishop Henry J. Mansell, and one name comes to their lips immediately: Monsignor Robert J. Cunningham.

“Msgr. Cunningham was, in our opinion, one of the most knowledgeable people about clerical sexual abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo,” said J. Michael Reck, a Minnesota attorney who has begun taking cases from victims who say they were abused by priests in the Diocese of Buffalo.

After leaving Buffalo, Cunningham went on to become the Bishop of Ogdensburg and is now the Bishop of Syracuse. He was known as an influential cleric and was liked by many in Buffalo.  Before leaving, Cunningham was pastor of St. Louis Church across from diocesan headquarters.

But from 1974 until his departure in 2004, Cunningham held high-ranking posts in the Buffalo Diocese, including Vicar General, Assistant Chancellor and Chancellor. Starting in 1986, he held two of those posts at the same time, which is considered rare.

“To our knowledge, there are no pedophile priests working in the Buffalo Diocese,” he told The Buffalo News in 2002.

“That’s almost 30 years spent here in the diocese,” said Stacey Benson of the Anderson & Associates law firm. “To have somebody with that intimate knowledge of what happened inside the diocese with these abuse cases, he’s the one.”

Multiple victims who have researched their cases point the finger at Cunningham as one of the key players who shuffled around abusive priests. In the wake of the 2002 clerical abuse scandal that exploded in Boston and spread worldwide, Cunningham was quick to assure Western New York Catholics that they had nothing to worry about in their diocese.

“To our knowledge, there are no pedophile priests working in the Buffalo Diocese,” he told The Buffalo News in 2002.

To say those comments have not aged well is an understatement, since the abuse scandal that has come to light in Buffalo since late February has implicated 65 priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct, the majority of cases with minors.

In 2003, The News identified two priests — Robert Wood and Thomas McCarthy — who were removed for abuse.

But recent reporting and internal church records obtained by 7 Eyewitness News suggest as many as 10 more priests who were at some point accused of abuse were either left in parishes, hidden in unknown locations or in the most egregious cases, quietly forced to retire.

  • Fathers Norbert Orsolits, Donald Becker and Martin Pavlock — all who are now on the diocese’s official abuse list — all “retired” in 2003, two of them of the same date of Sept. 1, 2003. The diocese at the time announced Becker’s retirement as a “medical leave,” but Bishop Richard Malone has since told 7 Eyewitness News that Becker was really removed for suspected abuse.
  • Diocesan directories also show that three other priests — Fathers Mark Friel, Brian Hatrick and Richard Keppeler — who are now on the list of accused, were still working in parishes as of 2003.
  • Three more accused abusers on the diocese list — Fathers Loville Martlock, Douglas Faraci and Thomas Gresock — had no parish assignment and were classified under “c/o 795 Main St,” which is the address of diocesan headquarters. A source said that is a common classification used by the diocese for hiding troubled priests.

In 2004, Cunningham, who through a Diocese of Syracuse spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, was considered a leading candidate to succeed Mansell as Bishop of Buffalo (although it is uncommon for priests to become bishop of their own dioceses.) If Cunningham had been chosen, it’s unlikely any names of accused priests would have been released (as Bishop Richard Malone, under intense pressure, did in March).

“I believe that there is no need to reveal the names of people who 20 or 30 or 40 years ago or who may be dead now, may have had an accusation against them,” Cunningham said in a 2004 news conference as he was leaving Buffalo to become the bishop of Ogdensburg.

“I believe that there is no need to reveal the names of people who 20 or 30 or 40 years ago…may have had an accusation against them,”

He has continued that stance in Syracuse, where he has refused to name names even as other bishops across New York have in recent years released lists of credibly accused priests.

In Syracuse, he has caused controversy by testifying in a 2011 deposition that child abuse victims could be to blame for their own abuse. He later clarified those comments and said victims are “never to blame.

None of those comments surprised Reck, the attorney who has been outspoken about Cunningham’s role in Buffalo.

“He had the knowledge, he had the ability and candidly, the diocese failed miserably,” Reck said. “And they’re suffering the crisis of it today.””

 

 

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