New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Monday, Nov. 23, against the Diocese of Buffalo and former bishops Richard J. Malone and Edward M. Grosz alleging a two-decades long cover-up in how the diocese failed to deal with numerous priests accused of alleged sexual abuse.

The goal of the 218-page lawsuit aims to establish an “independent review” of the diocese’s “response to alleged sexual abuse; require reporting to the Attorney General for a period of five years; and mandate external oversight of an appropriate remedial and compliance plan.”

It also seeks to ban Bishops Malone and Grosz from working in “future service in a secular role as a director or officer of any charitable organization” in New York as well as seeking damages and restitution. The investigation by the state started in September of 2018. 

The lawsuit also names Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany in his capacity as Apostolic Administrator. Bishop Scharfenberger took over control of the Diocese of Buffalo in December 2019 after Bishop Malone resigned. In February of this year, faced with over 250 lawsuits at the time alleging clergy sex abuse, the Diocese of Buffalo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The lawsuits were the product of the Child Victims Act (CVA) in New York State which allows victims to seek action against their abusers until they are 55 and opened a one-year look-back window in August of 2019 for people who were sexually abused to seek civil action against their alleged abusers. The CVA has since been extended to Aug. 21, 2021.

"We will be reviewing this lawsuit just announced by the New York Attorney General and weighing the diocese’s response,” said Greg Tucker, spokesperson for the Diocese of Buffalo. “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.  The diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by.  Moreover, the Diocese has committed to full cooperation with all civil authorities in both the reporting and investigation of alleged crimes and complaints.”

The lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo comes less than a week after the McCarrick Report was released by the Vatican, which detailed how the Church overlooked sexual misconduct by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for decades. The lawsuit and the report are similar and disturbing in many respects, and both allege an insular culture where protection of the Church’s image was greater than protecting those that were abused. 

The Buffalo lawsuit alleges that after the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, of which Bishops Malone and Grosz voted in favor, the Buffalo Diocese failed to live up to the charter, including the “zero tolerance” policy that was established when a priest admits to or it is determined that he was involved in “a single act of sexual abuse.” 

The lawsuit further alleges: The Diocese failed to seriously investigate the alleged abuse; take appropriate and timely action in referring the priests to the Vatican (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - CDF) for removal — no priests were referred to the CDF until 2017; lacked proper record keeping about the accused priests; failed to keep in contact with those priests, some of whom went to other ministries and dioceses; continued to pay a monthly stipend to the “unassignable” priests as well as health insurance; and misled the public with false or inaccurate statements about how it handled the abuse.