New York attorney general Letitia James filed a lawsuit against the Catholic diocese of Buffalo on Tuesday, accusing the church and three bishops of covering up allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
The Buffalo diocese, and in particular former bishop Richard J. Malone and former auxiliary bishop Edward M. Grosz, shielded dozens of priests credibly accused of sexual assault, according to the lawsuit. The alleged cover-up dates back to 2002, when the Catholic church instituted procedures intended to report on priests accused of assault.
Those procedures were implemented after the Boston Globe uncovered a series of sexual abuse claims against priests in Boston, an investigation that triggered similar revelations in dozens of cities across the U.S. and the world.
Since that time, the Buffalo diocese “chose to protect…priests who were credibly accused of these atrocious acts” despite the church’s new procedures to deal with the issue, James said in a press release. “Instead, Diocese leadership granted the priests protection from public disclosure, resulting in the misuse or waste of charitable assets by supporting priests whom the Diocese considered to have committed sexual abuse, and a failure to provide victims with public vindication of their claims.”
Diocese spokesman Greg Tucker said the church was reviewing the claims.
“In the meantime, we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer,” Tucker told the New York Times.
The lawsuit “represents a real sea change” in how New York deals with sexual abuse by church figures, David Gibson, director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told the Times.
“Even as recently as 2003 the state…did not want to be seen as attacking the Catholic Church because that was politically dangerous,” Gibson said. “Now in 2020 it is considered a political plus to try to hold the bishops accountable.”
The suit comes close to two years after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations in criminal child sexual abuse cases to age 28, while civil suits can be brought by victims up to age 55. The law has opened a floodgate of lawsuits by alleged victims against various dioceses, and the Buffalo diocese itself filed for bankruptcy in February 2020 as a result of such litigation.