“Two more active priests in the Diocese of Buffalo have been suspended for allegations of child sexual abuse, the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned.
Fr. Samuel Venne of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church on Grand Island and Fr. Art Smith of Blessed Mother of Calcutta Catholic Church in Depew have been put on administrative leave, diocesan spokesman George Richert confirmed.
“After receiving an abuse complaint against Rev. Samuel J. Venne, Bishop Richard J. Malone has placed Father Venne on administrative leave as an investigation continues,” according to a written statement released by the diocese. “Please note that this administrative leave is for the purpose of investigation and does not imply any determination as to the truth or falsity of the complaint.”
The diocese released an identical statement regarding Father Smith.
The nature and time period of the allegations are unclear. Richert refused to name any parishes where Smith was recently assigned before Blessed Mother of Calcutta in Depew.
Father Venne is listed on the St. Stephen website as “priest in residence,” a term often used for retired priests who help staff weekend Masses. He previously served at St. Martin of Tours in South Buffalo, where he was remembered by some for driving a conversion van with an oversized stuffed animal in the front seat.
Father Smith is also listed as a priest in residence at Blessed Mother of Calcutta. He previously served at parishes in South Buffalo and Hamburg.
In 2002, as the clerical abuse scandal was breaking in Boston, Smith said in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News, “I can assure you, that the priests of this diocese are good, holy, loving people.”
He went on to say the Diocese of Buffalo did not have the type of problems that were being revealed in Boston.
“The bishop has always dealt with any issue like this as soon as it’s come to his attention,” Smith said. “I know that just by talking to priests and just by talking to people that you hear about day by day.”
But Fathers Venne and Smith are the latest priests to face abuse allegations.Last month, Fr. Dennis Riter of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Dunkirk was suspended for allegations of abuse. On March 20, the diocese released a list of 42 priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
Since then, more victims have come forward and the number of accused priests in Buffalo is approaching 60. The diocese has 246 total active and retired priests, Richert said.
Brian Reilly was a student at Prince of Peace Catholic School in Niagara Falls in the 1980s. He said he never saw any suspicious activity from Venne.
“He never did anything inappropriate,” Reilly said. “None of us ever had a negative experience with Father Sam in any way.””