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In the file photo, New York Attorney General Letitia James asks a question at a press conference in New York. AP file photo

BUFFALO – New York attorney general Letitia James on Monday sued the Roman Catholic diocese of Buffalo and two former church leaders for covering up allegations of sexual misconduct and charity abuse by assisting predatory priests who are retiring or taking vacations were allowed to.

The lawsuit against the diocese, former Bishop Richard Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz follows a two-year investigation. It found that church leaders protected accused priests by having them resign from their service rather than following prescribed procedures that resulted in the possible removal of the priesthood by the Vatican.

“The Buffalo Diocese and its leadership have failed for years to protect children from sexual abuse.” James said in a press release. “Instead, they have decided to protect the very priests who have been credibly accused of these atrocities.”

The diocese recently recognized well-founded allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior against 78 diocesan priests, James said. Of them, more than two dozen – although they were eventually removed from the ministry – were not referred to the Vatican for trial, according to a civil complaint filed with the New York County Supreme Court.

The diocese issued a statement saying it would review the complaint before responding.

“In the meantime, we would like to reiterate that there is no tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or for sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any clergy, employee or volunteer.” the statement said. “The diocese has strict guidelines and protocols in place for required behavior and a code of conduct that all clergymen must adhere to. In addition, the diocese is committed to working fully with all civil authorities in reporting and investigating alleged crimes and complaints. “

More than a dozen attorneys general across the country have confirmed investigations or reviews of clergy abuse following a shocking report by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury in July 2018. The report alleged that about 300 priests had molested at least 1,000 children in the state over seven decades.

New York’s investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo began in September 2018, according to James, who said that investigations into the behavior of other state dioceses are underway.

The 218-page complaint, filed Monday, takes a novel approach to using New York’s charity laws to tackle clergy sexual misconduct. It calls on a judge to require Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, interim chairman of the diocese, to adhere to binding guidelines and procedures, and seeks to appoint an independent compliance auditor.

A survival group said they had been pushing for a request from James for years to allow the names of the accused priests and their alleged conduct to be disclosed.

“We are particularly grateful to the AG James office for finding creative ways to pursue this case.” The Survivors Network of the Abused by Priests said in a statement. “By harnessing her office’s power over nonprofits, AG James is demonstrating her willingness to do whatever it takes to enforce disclosures that can prevent future cases of abuse and lead to justice for survivors.”

Malone resigned in December 2019 as his staff, priests, and the public began to urge him to be overthrown for handling allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. Grosz resigned when he reached retirement age of 75 in March.

The lawsuit is for a refund and is intended to prevent her from holding a fiduciary role with a charitable or nonprofit organization in New York state.

The Diocese of Buffalo – the largest in New York State with 163 parishes and missions in eight counties – filed for bankruptcy protection in February, citing hundreds of lawsuits filed since August 2019 when the New York Child Sacrifice Act increased the statute of limitations for child victims picked up abuse to pursue allegations dating back decades. A loss of $ 5 million was reported in 2019.

“For years, the Buffalo Diocese has put its own interests and reputation above child protection. We are confident that today’s action by the Attorney General will put an end to that for good. “ said attorney Steve Boyd, who, along with the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, has filed more than 200 lawsuits against the diocese under the New York Child Victims Act.

The diocese expects more than 400 lawsuits in total, said spokesman Greg Tucker.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

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