In 2002, cracks emerged in the nearly ironclad shield constructed by the Boston Catholic hierarchy that had securely hidden thousands of child sex crimes by hundreds of clerics.
Thanks to brave victims, whistleblowers and journalists, eventually a horror was revealed that few thought possible.
Now, almost two decades later, the same seems to be happening in the Buffalo diocese.
In both cases, after each stunning revelation of wrongdoing, parishioners, victims and observers were left wondering “When will this ever come to an end?
And in both cases, ‘the end’ almost never seems to come.
Let’s look more closely at the disturbing parallels.
In both cities, a seemingly disproportionate number of abuse and cover up lawsuits were filed (Right now, the Buffalo diocese faces more than 250 cases.)
In both cities, church officials deceptively played down the number of accused priests.
In both cities, much of the credit for shedding light into these dark places goes to determined journalists (in Buffalo, Charlie Specht and Jay Tokasz; in Boston, the Globe’s Spotlight Team and later, the staff of the Boston Herald and other outlets).
In both cities, courageous women church employees who saw deceit and corruption and became influential whistleblowers by ‘going public’ with incriminating evidence when their consciences could no longer bear silence (Sr. Catherine Mulkerrin in Boston and Siobhan O’Connor in Buffalo).
In both cities, clergy themselves ‘turned on’ their boss, the bishop. (In Boston, nearly 60 priests publicly called for Law to resign. In Buffalo, Fr. Ryszard Biernat secretly recorded private conversations with Bishop Malone and shared information with reporters. Other Buffalo priests were openly critical of Malone.)
In both cities, priests who were promoted to higher positions elsewhere were dogged by allegations of their wrongdoing in their home dioceses. (Several former Boston priests became bishops – including John McCormack of New Hampshire and William Murphy of Long Island – and came under serious fire for their actions back in Massachusetts. Fr. Donald Trautman of Buffalo later became the Bishop of Erie and was accused in a lawsuit last year of protecting an accused Buffalo molester, Fr. Michael Freeman.)
In both cities, a veteran prelate ended up resigning (Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston, Bishop Richard Malone in Buffalo).
In both cities, their short-term replacements struggled to ‘right the ship’ but were also embroiled in controversies.
(In Boston, Bishop Richard Lennon argued on camera with the brother of an abuse victim, telling him “You’re a sad little man.”
And in Buffalo, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger is being attacked for not returning calls to a survivor and letting suspended and accused predator priests say Mass.)
We could go on and on.
But there’s a key difference between the two dioceses. Boston’s crisis erupted nearly two decades ago. Buffalo’s erupted much more recently.
So current and former Buffalo church staffers (especially Bishop Robert Cunningham, Bishop Edward Kmiec, Bishop Joseph Mansell, Bishop Edward Grosz) had years to learn from their Boston colleagues and predecessors (Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and of course Cardinal Law).
Sadly, they didn’t. And they still aren’t.
ADDENDUM: Since we at Horowitz Law began writing this blog, another Buffalo priest has been suspended because of a credible report that he molested a child in 2011. He’s Fr. Peter J. Karalus, essentially the second-in-command at the diocese as its ‘vicar general.’