Buffalo Bishop Refuses to Resign As Criminal Probe Looms over Mishandled Allegations

Bishop Richard Malone’s handling of alleged sexually predatory behavior by two priests is spotlighted in leaked chancery documents.

Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone.
Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone. (photo: Patrick McPartland via Wikipedia)

BUFFALO, New York — Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo is resisting demands for his resignation after recently published confidential documents from the chancery suggest that he mishandled allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by priests in his diocese.

“My handling of recent claims from some of our parishioners concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard to which you hold us, and to which we hold ourselves,” Bishop Malone said in an Aug. 26 statement to members of the diocese.

In hindsight, he said, some allegations “which at the time may have seemed hazy or difficult to substantiate—warranted more firm or swift action.”

However, he rejected calls from local Catholics and public officials that he step down, saying, “The shepherd does not desert the flock at a difficult time.”

Several of the recently-reported allegations involve boundary violations or sexual misconduct against adults. The diocese under the 2002 Charter for Protection of Children and Young People was not technically required by the Church to take action against them in the same way that it would allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

However the diocese may have failed its obligations under state law. The Erie County District Attorney has indicated that it is a matter of when, not if, he opens a criminal probe with the Attorney General into Bishop Malone and diocesan administrators. DA John Flynn Jr. told local news if administrators covered-up sex abuse, there are a number of potential charges they could face, such as hindering prosecution or child endangerment.  

Bishop Malone claimed he sought to follow the Dallas Charter’s requirements, but he “may have lost sight of the Charter's spirit, which applies to people of all ages.”

The bishop said that he is establishing a task force to review diocesan protocols for dealing with claims of inappropriate behavior involving adults.

“This task force will be comprised of laity, clergy religious, and I will invite an elected official or two,” he said.

He also announced the creation of an Office of Professional Responsibility to help enforce the Diocesan Code of Ethics, and promised to cooperate with any potential investigations launched by state authorities.

Malone’s statement came several days after a two-part (part one and part two) 7 Eyewitness News investigation, published Aug. 22-23, revealed documents indicating that Malone allowed priests to stay in ministry despite multiple allegations against them.

The investigation focused on two priests whose names were reportedly considered for inclusion on a publicly-released list of credibly accused clergy, but then removed before publication. Both priests were in active ministry at the time of the list’s publication in March.


Priest Recommended for Ministry

One case involves Father Art Smith, who had been suspended from his parish by the previous bishop in 2011, after complaints from parents and school officials that he had shown signs of grooming and stalking students, and had inappropriate communications with one male student.

In November 2012, shortly after becoming head of the Buffalo diocese, Bishop Malone returned Smith to ministry, as chaplain of a nursing home. There, two young men (including a religious novice) at the nursing home – ages 19 and 25 – complained of inappropriate touching by Father Smith. The regional superior of the religious order running the nursing home wrote to Bishop Malone to report the complaints, and say that the order was discontinuing Father Smith’s work there.

Documents show that Bishop Malone asked Father Smith to return to a treatment center in Philadelphia, but Father Smith initially pushed back, refusing to go. Other documents show Bishop Malone asking Father Smith to honor their “gentleman’s agreement” requesting that he “refrain from public celebrations of the liturgy or other sacraments and from wearing clerical attire.”

In 2015, Bishop Malone wrote in a letter to Vatican officials that Father Smith had groomed a young boy, refused to stay in a treatment center, faced repeated boundary issues, and been accused of inappropriate touching of at least four young men. However, in the same letter, Malone said that “On the basis of his cooperation in regard to regular counseling, I have granted Father Smith faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo.”

That same year, the bishop wrote a letter of approval for Smith to serve as a priest on a cruise ship, explicitly clearing him for work with minor children.

In 2017, Malone assigned Smith as a “priest in residence” at a parish, which had a rectory near an elementary school and Boys and Girls club. The priest was suspended in 2018, after the diocese said it had received a new substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.


Adult Complaints Mishandled

A second case reported by 7 Eyewitness News involves Father Robert Yetter, who until last week was pastor at St. Mary's of Swormville.

At least three young men in 2017-2018 reported unwanted sexual advances by Father Yetter. Internal memos indicate that Father Yetter admitted at least one instance of inappropriate touching.

Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz met with Father Yetter after being informed of the accusations. He discussed sexual harassment with Father Yetter and referred him for counseling, then wrote that he considered the cases closed.

On Aug. 27, four days after the 7 Eyewitness News report, the diocese announced that it had received a new complaint against Father Yetter. It said that Bishop Malone had asked for and received his resignation as pastor of St. Mary’s and had placed him on administrative leave while an investigation is carried out.  

The 7 Eyewitness News reports include photographs of more than a dozen relevant documents, including chancery memos, emails from diocesan officials, and letters to and from Bishop Malone.
In one of those documents regarding the allegations against Father Yetter, Bishop Malone stated “We have no obligation, I believe, to report to [the media] or anyone else on adult misconduct allegations.”  

The Buffalo News reported Sept. 3 that the Diocese of Buffalo is still trying to determine who had leaked the confidential documents. The diocesan headquarters is increasing security measures, with new locks, security guards, identification badge requirements, video monitoring and a computer security analysis.

The Register added to this report.