BUFFALO, N.Y. — Amid a media firestorm and a small protest Sunday, the Diocese of Buffalo disputed allegations made in a letter published by a recently resigned seminarian.
“Earlier today, while many Catholics were attending Sunday Mass, three individuals chose to gather in front of St. Stanislaus Church and Bishop Malone’s residence. These individuals were within their rights, and displayed various poster signs. The Diocese of Buffalo, has responded to these topics previously and it is unfortunate that some have not received or understood the responses,“ the diocese said in an Aug. 18 statement.
The protest staged Sunday, according to local media reports, was attended by three people, one of whom is recently resigned Buffalo seminarian Stephen Parisi, who made headlines last week, when he published a six-page open letter, addressed to Buffalo’s Bishop Richard Malone, calling for the bishop’s resignation and accusing him of multiple offenses, which included allowing a priest to violate the seal of confession without consequence.
Malone was accused Aug. 6 by Marie Bojanowski, the mother of a Buffalo seminarian, of allowing a priest, Father Jeffrey Nowak, to remain in ministry despite allegations that he had violated the sacramental seal, groomed and sexually harassed her son, and abused minors.
A letter from seminarian Matthew Bojanowski to Malone, dated Jan. 24, 2019, is posted on the website of Buffalo television station WKBW. The letter details Bojanowski’s allegations of harassment, and indicates that Nowak disclosed that he had been accused of “inappropropriate actions,” with minors.
The Diocese of Buffalo removed the priest from ministry Aug. 7, and denied reports that Malone had covered up allegations of misconduct against the priest.
The diocese emphasized its response in its Aug. 18 statement.
“Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry. He has stated it is his responsibility to lead the Diocese of Buffalo and he will continue to do so by continuing to offer opportunities to bring healing to victim-survivors of abuse and renewed trust to the people of the Diocese,” the diocese said.
“There has never been an accusation that Bishop Malone violated the seal of the confessional. Mr. Parisi and others make the outrageous and unsupported claim that Bishop Malone has not honored the seal and ignored a complaint that Fr. Jeffrey Nowak violated the seal of the confessional. Bishop Malone has never ignored this complaint.”
“To the contrary, Bishop Malone has initiated an investigation of the complaint. When the individual who made the complaint was first questioned, his response was vague and needed follow up. Fr. Nowak has been removed from ministry while the investigation continues,” the diocese said.
“The Office of Professional Responsibility has tried to contact the individual making this complaint but he has yet to respond. The Diocese will continue to pursue this claim and take additional action if necessary,” the statement added.
The diocese did not respond to all the complaints made by Parisi, which painted the picture of a seminary in chaos. The former seminarian alleged that seminary formators used information gained in the confessional to "blackmail seminarians," made lewd remarks in class, and encouraged seminarians to "shoot or break the kneecaps of protestors and/or the press."
The diocesan statement responding to his letter said that “Mr. Parisi was under investigation for academic dishonesty at Christ the King Seminary and his departure hinders any further inquiry.”
In his Aug. 15 letter, Parisi wrote that he did not plagiarize, only that after reviewing a fellow student’s paper in a “non-credit pre-theology class,” he “used the same quotes, in the same order but used my own thoughts and words to explain the quotes.”
Explaining that his parents are ill and that he had been struggling in the seminary, Parisi added that “I rushed to complete this paper and unfortunately, I forgot to put the opening summary in my own words. This was my fault, and I accept full responsibility for this error.” Parisi wrote in his letter that he had been for 24 years a consecrated religious brother in the Diocese of Buffalo. The seminarian was a member of the Brothers of Mercy, in which he was known as Br. Gabriel-Joseph Parisi.
Regarding academics, the former seminarian also exhorted the diocese to “STOP assigning pointless and tedious papers that do not help students comprehend class material and then not return work with valuable feedback,” to “STOP sending seminarians on summer assignments only to perform menial tasks instead of learning pastoral skills,” and to “STOP assigning endless papers, so much so that spiritual and human needs are neglected.”
The former seminarian urged other seminarians to contact law enforcement and the media if they encountered “inhumane, harassing or illegal behavior” at the seminary.
“I close by thanking Bishop Malone and the formation team for my time at Christ the King. The most valuable lessons I have learned at the seminary have not included how to properly write a paper, or even how to nurture a personal prayer life. By observing the behavior of most (not all) priests on the formation staff, I have learned how not to treat people,” Parisi wrote.
“Bishop Malone, for the love of God and for the sake of the faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo, please step down!”
Malone has come under fire in the last year, after his former secretary alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.
The bishop has faced persistent calls for his resignation.
In April, Malone removed from ministry three priests who seminarians say engaged in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory. One of the priests temporarily removed from ministry was a formator at the seminary.
Also in April, Malone issued a statement defending himself against allegations of mismanagement and cover-ups.
The bishop said that he had not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, and that he intended to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.
Acknowledging that he had made mistakes, especially with his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors, the bishop offered an apology.
“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said April 11.
“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”