Buffalo Diocese Clergy Abuse Lawsuits Accuse 230 Priests In Western New York
An analysis of the 10,000 Child Victims Act lawsuits filed in New York state over the last two years reveals accusations have been leveled against at least 230 Catholic Priests in Western New York, according to an investigative report by The Buffalo News.
The priests come from nearly every parish in the Buffalo Diocese, according to the report, with eight priests accounting for the 10 most-accused individuals among more than 1,300 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo originally signed the Child Victims Act into law in February 2019, as part of an effort to allow survivors of sex abuse as a child to pursue damages from the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other large institutions that took active measures in prior years to suppress claims and prevent individuals from coming forward.
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The law initially provided a one-year opening of the New York statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims that would have previously been barred., providing child sex abuse victims a 365 days “grace period” to file a claim, starting August 14, 2019, regardless of when the sexual abuse occurred, or the current age of the victim. The law also extended the statute of limitations for future sex abuse claims in New York until the victim reaches the age of 55.
During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the New York statute of limitations opening for otherwise barred child sex abuse lawsuits was extended another year, to August 14, 2021, leading to a flurry of additional filings over the past few months.
The Buffalo News analysis indicates the paper’s findings contradict claims by Buffalo-area Catholic officials, who it says downplayed the extent of the problem for years. The analysis alleges the Buffalo Diocese shielded and protected those priests for many years.
The new Bishop of Buffalo, Reverend Michael W. Fisher, published a letter earlier this year saying there is now a zero tolerance for such behavior in the diocese.
“As the bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo since January 15, 2021, I have made it abundantly clear to members of the clergy, diocesan employees, and volunteers that there is zero tolerance for any act of sexual abuse, or sexual harassment, toward a young person or adult,” Fisher wrote. “Such acts are an affront to who and what we claim to be as Christians and as Catholics.”
Fisher says he will require regular reviews of the diocese’s policies and procedures, and will work to restore the broken trust between the diocese and the community.
Abuse Claims Also Target Boy Scout Leaders and Teachers
Priests are not the only frequent, repeat abusers listed in the Western New York Child Victims Act lawsuits, according to the analysis. They also accuse Arthur Werner, a Kenmore-Tonawanda teacher accused in 39 lawsuits; more than any other person. Those claims indicate he abused young boys from 1963 to 1992. Werner has denied the claims, and the school district is actually the defendant in the cases instead of Werner, who is now 88 years old.
Another alleged abuser who racked up a large number of accusations is Robert Eberhardt, a Boy Scout leader named in 14 lawsuits. He was a Cheektowaga scoutmaster during the 1960s and 1970s.
The Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy last year under the weight of nearly 100,000 child sex abuse claims brought against scoutmasters and other volunteers and employees. It is the largest sex abuse case involving a national organization in U.S. history.
Just days ago, a ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurie Selber Silverstein of Delaware granted approval for an $850 million settlement agreement reached between the Boy Scouts of America, the Coalition of Abused Scouts for Justice and other groups, allowing the Boy Scouts to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy by the end of the year.
New York was one of the first states to extend the child sex abuse statute of limitations, but similar legislation has been passed or introduced in a number of states nationwide.
Since August 2019, thousands of previously barred claims have been filed in numerous states. However, as child sex abuse lawyers continue to review and file claims over the coming months, the number of lawsuits filed nationwide is expected to increase, particularly in New York, New Jersey, California and other states where “windows” in the statute of limitation have been opened for adult survivors to step forward and hold their abuse and the institutions that enabled the conduct accountable.
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