Buffalo Diocese sex abuse scandal spreads to non-clergy

News 4 obtains internal list of more priests, employees accused of abuse

WIVB News 4, New York/November 5, 2018

By:Daniel Telvock

An agenda from the Diocese of Buffalo Review Board shows that the sex abuse scandal transcends priests and nuns.

News 4 Investigates obtained the agenda of the September meeting of the Review Board, which includes unreported names of priests and former employees with sexual abuse allegations made against them. The Review Board is a panel that consults Bishop Richard Malone on sex abuse cases.

The Diocese for weeks refused to answer questions from News 4 about the names on the list.

But since News 4 obtained the names and inquired about them, the Diocese placed two of the priests on administrative leave. In addition, on Monday, the Diocese named seven more priests listed on the internal agenda obtained by News 4.

The agenda shows at least one other active priest and a retired priest with allegations made against them that the Diocese has not publicly named. 

News 4 is not naming all the accused, many of whom are deceased, because reporters have not been able to reach the accusers or their attorneys.  As a result, the details of some complaints are not clear.

This agenda also shows that the scandal now includes at least two former employees of the Diocese, one of whom is deceased.

In total, the Diocese has "substantiated" sex abuse claims against 78 priests, including religious order clergy. But at least a dozen more priests, alive and deceased, and former employees have not been named, according to the agenda obtained by News 4.

Diocese officials said Monday that it will not release the names of deceased priests with a single allegation lodged against them and they are still debating how to handle accusations against current and former employees. 

A prominent attorney who has represented thousands of clergy abuse victims said the Buffalo Diocese should not keep those names secret if the allegations are found credible.

“There’s no telling how many victims are out there who’ve been abused by these perpetrators who have not been named yet,” said Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”

“Who will come forward? Probably dozens upon dozens, if not hundreds.”

At the same time, two local defense attorneys believe the Diocese has mishandled the scandal and want federal prosecutors, who have already launched a probe, to consider statutes that target criminal organizations like violent mobs and biker gangs.

“The Catholic church has permitted some of their priests to engage in continuing sexual abuse of minors and they have protected those priests, they have swept it under the rug,” said Barry Covert, an attorney for an accuser.

“And that has all the hallmarks of a traditional criminal organization, and they should be treated as such when they behave as such.”

The running tally of clergy, order priests and people affiliated with the diocese who are accused of some form of inappropriate contact with a minor or an adult now exceeds 100, based on the list of names obtained by WIVB, and other clergy named by the Diocese and reported by others in the media.

Active priests and the false press release

In September, News 4 inquired with the Diocese about the list of names on the Review Board agenda.

Specifically, News 4 asked why several priests remained active, even though the allegations against them had reached the level of the Review Board, which means Bishop Richard Malone believed that the complaints have a “semblance of truth.”

One day later, the Diocese placed The Rev. John J. Sardina on administrative leave. Sardinia is accused of abusing a child five decades ago. He denied the allegation to News 4 but admitted to having consensual relationships with adult females.

Sardina, 86, now lives at a home in Depew with other retired priests. He has been a priest for 68 years and served at the Coronation of Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Buffalo.

On Oct. 31, three days after a scathing report on “60 Minutes,” which accused Bishop Malone of failing to remove priests with abuse allegations against them, the Diocese released a statement that it is "not aware of any priests in active ministry who have allegations against them." 

Later that evening, News 4 emailed Kathy Spangler, the Diocese's communications officer, to point out that “The Diocese knows that this statement is not true.”

News 4 specifically mentioned two active priests with allegations against them, and pressed the Diocese for answers but never got any.

On Saturday, the Diocese took action against one of the two active priests on the list obtained by News 4, placing The Rev. Ron Sajdak on administrative leave “out of an abundance of transparency.”

Sajdak was ordained in 1996, at the age of 40. He has served at St. Lawrence Church, St. Martin de Porres and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The allegations against him are alleged to have occurred before he became a priest.

“This claim was made by a person who is two and one-half years younger than Fr. Sajdak,” the Diocese said in a prepared statement.

“According to the complaint, the conduct began 25 years before and ended 15 years before Fr. Sajdak became a priest.”

On Monday, the Diocese disclosed the names of seven more priests listed on the agenda obtained by News 4.

They are:

  • The Rev. Louis Mako, who served at St. Bernadette's, Holy Trinity, and St. John’s.
  • The Rev. Francis McKenna, who died in 1997.
  • The Rev. Howard Slack, who served at Immaculate Conception, was a Newman Club chaplain, and worked at Turner High, who died in 1976.
  • The Rev. Clatus E. Snyder, who was appointed first pastor of St. Leo the Great Parish, and also served at St Stephens Church in Grand Island, who died in 2001.
  • The Rev. Harry Richard Strassberger, who served at Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Prince of Peace, and Our Lady of the Rosary, who died in 1999.
  • The Rev. Rene Maynard, a Franciscan priest.
  • The Rev. James G. Smyka, an order priest who served at St Mary's in Hamburg, Nativity of our Lord in Orchard Park, St. Michaels in Lackawanna, and taught at St. Francis High School.
  • The Diocese so far has not acted on another active priest whose name was on the agenda. The Diocese refuses to answer questions about his case. News 4 is not releasing his name because we have not been able to reach the accuser.

Criminal organization?

The scope of the sexual abuse crisis that has erupted in the Buffalo Diocese has overwhelmed church officials.

“I think the image or the word tsunami is not inappropriate,” Bishop Malone said Monday.

The decades of abuse inside the church, and what attorneys for the accused call a cover-up led by the Diocese, has piqued the interest of both state and federal prosecutors.

“In my opinion, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kevin Stocker, an attorney for several victims and two whistleblowers.

“When the problem is so severe and so extensive for such a long period of time, it’s going to take state and federal resources,” he said.

Both Stocker and Covert, another attorney for a victim, welcome the federal probe.

They urged federal prosecutors to explore whether laws that target organized crime like violent mobs and biker gangs can be applied against the Buffalo Diocese.

“I think there has been a reluctance from politicians, and in some instances law enforcement and prosecutors, to treat the Catholic Church like any other potential criminal organization,” Covert said.

“There should be no difference between how law enforcement or prosecutors investigate sex traffickers, motorcycle clubs that they claim engage in criminal conduct or the Catholic Church,” he said.

The Charter

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted in 2002 guides the Catholic Church on how it handles allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

It does not have policies on how the Diocese should handle allegations from adults, or allegations against laypeople, like teachers, choir directors or coaches. The Diocese has handled allegations against order priests by sending the complaints to the specific religious order responsible for the priest.

“The Charter does not go far enough,” Bishop Malone said during a live press conference Monday.

Bishop Malone said he is developing policies to better deal with allegations of sexual abuse of adults by clergy.

When asked if he ever plans to name former employees or affiliates accused of abusing minors, Bishop Malone said: “We are thinking all of that through now. We are not opposed to any of that.”

Garabedian urged the Diocese to act or risk deterring other potential victims from reporting abuse.

“I think it’s just part of the coverup,” Garabedian said.

“If a person was named as a perpetrator, and that claim was substantiated, in order to protect other victims, potential victims, and the safety of children, and help victims heal, they would release those names.”

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