Unmasking the Predatory Priest Cover Up: Part One

Unmasking the Predatory Priest Cover Up: Part One

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Podcast:

On August 22, 2018, 7 Eyewitness News WKBW published the first part of a two-part investigative series on Bishop Richard Malone’s handling of two priests. These priests were originally considered for inclusion on a March 2018 list released by the Diocese of 42 priests accused of abuse, but were removed before the list was made public. Part two of the series was published on August 23rd.

Since the 7 Eyewitness News investigative reports have surfaced, we at The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network have heard from many Catholics who are either confused by the reports, do not have time to read the reports in detail, or question the truth of the reports based on the source being a secular media organization.

We believe the 7 Eyewitness News report to be credible based on the internal Diocesan documents included and published with the report. We have read the investigative report and internal Diocesan documents in detail and wish to provide an unbiased, dispassionate presentation of the facts for your edification and discernment.

 

Part One: The Case of Fr. Art Smith

  1. Summary of Events
  2. Condensed Timeline

 

1. Summary of Events

Fr. Smith was accused of “grooming” and sexual abuse by a seminarian in 2004.

In a 2015 letter written by Bishop Malone, he describes how in 2004, Fr. Art Smith (then under a previous bishop) was pastor in a Buffalo city parish. A seminarian was assigned to assist in pastoral care at the parish. The seminarian noted that Fr. Smith seemed to “groom” him to get his affection. The seminarian recounted an incident where one night Fr. Smith came into his room, came into his bed, and began to touch his genitalia. Bishop Malone states that “the complaint was received at the diocesan level and addressed with Fr. Smith.”

Fr. Smith was accused of “grooming” by a student, parent, and school principal in 2011.

In November 2011, Kristine Hider, the school principal of St. Mary of the Lake school in Hamburg, reported “grooming” behavior by Fr. Art Smith, the pastor of the parish, to Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz and Carol Kostyniak, Secretary of Education for the Diocese at that time. This information was also passed on to Msgr. Slubecky.

Principal Hider was reporting what had been reported to her by a mother of an 8th grade boy in the school. Principal Hider strongly requested that Fr. Art be removed from the parish as she wanted to keep the children in the school safe.

Fr. Smith’s reported “grooming” included sending a Facebook message using the words “love you” to the eighth-grade boy, an online message to the boy’s classmate asking him to say “hello” to the boy, a sense of fear that it would be the boy’s fault if Fr. Art was removed, and Fr. Art getting up in the pulpit and saying there are people in the parish who are bullying him.

In addition, complaints were presented to the Diocese about Fr. Smith’s heavy alcoholic drinking and depression.

Fr. Smith accepted the request of the Diocese to submit to a four-day assessment at a residential treatment facility for clergy and religious in Canada.

In a 2015 letter, Bishop Malone states that after only a day, Fr. Smith “checked himself out” of the facility refusing to complete the assessment and he resigned as pastor of St. Mary’s.

According to the 7 Eyewitness News investigative report, Bishop Kmiec, Bishop of Buffalo at the time, suspended Smith from the parish, and documents show officials told parishioners that Smith was taking a “medical leave.”

At the request of Bishop Kmiec, Fr. Art was finally admitted for an evaluation at a Philadelphia treatment center for clergy. He was recommended for residential treatment.

In April 2012, Principal Hider reported the following to the Diocese via an email to Msgr. LiPuma (priest secretary to the bishop and diocesan vice chancellor at the time), Carol Kostyniak, and Mary Ann Deibel-Braun (diocesan victim assistance coordinator at the time):

  • “Fr. Smith was on St. Mary’s property on two occasions on March 1, 2012.”
  • “It has been rumored that he is hearing confessions of another elementary school, saying mass and has contact with youth. Several other sites have reported him to be involved in their church life.”
  • “This man is a predator and a groomer of young children. Something needs to be done.”
  • “It is perceived that nothing is being done or has been done to stop this man from hurting anyone else.”
  • “Why can you not let this parish and school community heal?”
  • “As school principal, I feel the students in grade 8 have been injured and troubled by the actions of this man more than originally thought.”

Clearly, Fr. Smith had serious issues and these were well known to various Diocesan officials.

Bishop Malone Returned Fr. Smith to Active Ministry in 2012

In May 2012, Bishop Malone was appointed as the new Bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, and just six months later, in November 2012, Bishop Malone returned Fr. Smith to active ministry. This was just one year after Fr. Smith’s “grooming” of the 8th grade boy at St. Mary’s was initially reported.

Fr. Smith entered back into active ministry in what Bishop Malone would describe as a “lower profile position” as chaplain of the Brothers of Mercy nursing home in Clarence.

A few months later, in early 2013, Fr. Smith went to the Diocesan youth conference, attended by hundreds of teenagers, and heard confessions at the Adam’s Mark Hotel.

Principal Hider was there and one of her students came running into her arms crying after she was directed into a room for Confession where she encountered Fr. Smith and he told her no one liked him at St. Mary’s and as a penance he wanted her to pray for his anger.

Principal Hider wrote two letters to the Diocese after the event:

In the first she made Bishop Malone aware of Fr. Smith’s presence at the youth conference and the encounter with one of her students, saying:

  • “Perhaps with Fr. Art Smith’s background of stalking and grooming young people he should not have been in that venue!”
  • “… the blatant disregard for ‘Protecting God’s Children’ is mind boggling.”

In the second letter Hider wrote:

  • “If a teacher would have been grooming children and had inappropriate relations with a minor, they would have been fired and lost their license to teach … . Yet a priest that has a history of inappropriate contact with the youth was among the youth ministering the sacrament of Reconciliation.”

Bishop Malone wrote back to Principal Hider to say that Fr. Smith’s behavior was not technically in violation of the Charter for the Protection of Young People. He did not specify why he did not consider it a violation of that charter.

Fr. Smith was accused of “inappropriate remarks” and “inappropriate touching” by two young adult males at the Brothers of Mercy nursing home in 2013.

Later that year, in October 2013, the regional superior of the Brothers of Mercy religious order, Br. Jude Holzfoerster, wrote to Bishop Malone to report that Fr. Smith had touched two young men working at the nursing home inappropriately and “we must terminate Fr. Smith’s work on our campus.”

One man, age 19, worked in the dietary department and reported “inappropriate remarks and touching.”

The other, a 25-year-old who was training to be a priest, reported “inappropriate” touching in the sacristy after Mass.

Fr. Smith was accused of inappropriate behavior by a 30-year-old male patient at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in 2013.

Not only was Fr. Smith serving as chaplain of the Brothers of Mercy nursing home, but also, he was assisting in pastoral care, on a part-time basis, at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

In October 2013, the Director of the Hospital Apostolate in the Diocese issued a complaint about inappropriate behavior with a 30-year-old male patient Fr. Smith had visited who smelled alcohol on Fr. Smith’s breath and was uncomfortable “as Father was caressing his forearm.” Fr. Smith was dismissed from that position.

Bishop Malone was well aware of Fr. Smith’s pattern of predatory behavior and continued to allow him to serve in active ministry.

Bishop Malone pushed Fr. Smith to go back to the treatment center in Philadelphia, but internal emails show Fr. Smith initially refused.

“Just get rid of me,” Fr. Smith wrote to the bishop in a letter. “Destroy me. I will not subject myself to that torture again.”

Privately, the bishop wrote to his advisers, “This response shows the depth and gravity of Art’s issues … . If we cannot convince Art to go to St. John Vianney [treatment center], he will be placed on the list of unassignable priests.”

In August 2014, Fr. Smith wrote a letter to Pope Francis, where Fr. Smith claimed to serve as a priest for 42 years “without incident.”

“My canon lawyer says that there is absolutely no foundation for the way the Church has treated me,” he wrote to the Holy Father.

Later, in an email to one of Malone’s aides, Smith mentioned he retained both civil and canon lawyers and wrote, “They know I was done a severe injustice.”

Back in Buffalo, Bishop Malone wrote to Fr. Smith stating, “While I will not issue a decree, I would ask you to honor the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ we talked about when we last met, and refrain from public celebrations of the liturgy, or other sacraments and from wearing clerical attire,” but, as far as we know, Fr. Smith was still not placed on the list of unassignable priests.

On the contrary, in May 2015, Bishop Malone wrote Fr. Smith to discuss the possibility of “beginning to reintegrate your priestly ministry in the Diocese of Buffalo.”

Later that month, despite Fr. Smith’s history, Bishop Malone granted Smith permission to administer the Eucharist and to hear Confessions. In another letter, Bishop Malone offered Fr. Smith “my gratitude for your service to our diocese as you assist various priests in local parishes.”

Meanwhile, Fr. Smith’s letter to Rome had worked its way through the Vatican, which wanted an explanation from Bishop Malone.

In a December 2015 letter to the Vatican’s investigative agency, Bishop Malone provided a summary of the case of Fr. Art Smith, in which he expresses full knowledge of the allegations against Fr. Smith: the 2004 grooming and sexual abuse of a seminarian, the 2011 grooming of an 8th grade boy at St. Mary’s, and the 2013 incidents at the Brothers of Mercy nursing home and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Yet, Bishop Malone makes clear in the letter that he continues to grant Fr. Smith faculties to function as a priest in the Diocese of Buffalo.

In 2015 and 2016, Bishop Malone covered up the history of allegations against Fr. Smith, clearing him to work with minor children.

Despite what Bishop Malone wrote to the Vatican about Fr. Smith’s long history, just two months earlier, in October 2015, Bishop Malone wrote Fr. Smith a glowing letter of recommendation to a cruise service, which provides priests for Catholics who go on cruises.

Bishop Malone made no mention in the letter of the history of allegations against Fr. Smith, but instead stated that Fr. Smith is “a person of good moral character and reputation” and “I know nothing which would in any way limit or disqualify him from this ministry. I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.”

According to the 7 Eyewitness News investigative report, in December 2016, Bishop Malone again wrote the same letter, again clearing Fr. Smith to work “with minor children.”

Bishop Malone returned Fr. Smith to residence in a parish in 2017 despite Fr. Smith’s history of predatory behavior.

7 Eyewitness News reports that in 2017 Bishop Malone granted Fr. Smith his wish of returning to a parish and that Fr. Smith lives in the rectory of Blessed Mother Teresa Parish in Depew to this day (as of the day of their report).

There was a new allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in March 2018 and Fr. Smith was finally suspended in April 2018, but still resides in a local parish.

In March 2018, the Diocese received a new allegation against Fr. Smith, sexual misconduct against a minor, and the Diocese finally suspended Fr. Smith in April 2018.

Yet, according to 7 Eyewitness News at the time of the report, Fr. Smith continues to live in residence at Blessed Mother Teresa Parish and his “bedroom in the rectory is located next door to the former St. James Elementary School, which now houses young children who attend preschool. It’s directly across the street from the Depew-Lancaster Boys & Girls Club.”

Conclusion

We have provided this unbiased, dispassionate list of events garnered from the published internal Diocesan documents and the 7 Eyewitness News report for you to more easily digest and consider the facts of this case.

In light of these facts, we at The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network have called on and continue to call on Bishop Malone to resign and for a full independent investigation with unfettered access to all Diocesan documents, such as Archbishop Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis recently announced.

We continue to maintain that there must be a standard of zero tolerance when it comes to covering up sexual abuse and putting predatory priests back into active ministry.

Finally, we want to take every opportunity we have to stand in solidarity with all victims, as well as those who have come forward to report abuse or cover-up. We express our admiration for your courage to come forward and share your stories when people in powerful positions often seek to shame, silence, and ignore you. The Church needs courageous people like you and we hope the authenticity of the Catholic Faith will be judged, not based on the actions of those who have been unfaithful to her teachings, but rather based on those who have been faithful.

We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of these events with clarity and charity.

 

2. Condensed Timeline

Date Event
2004 Fr. Art climbs into a seminarian’s bed and touches the seminarian’s genitals.

Bishop Malone confirms this in a letter to the Vatican.

View Document

November 2011 Fr. Art grooms an elementary school student while pastor at St. Mary of the Lake. He is removed from the parish and school.

Bishop Malone confirms this in a letter to the Vatican.

View Document

Late 2011
or Early 2012
Fr. Art sent for treatment. Leaves after one day, refusing to get help for his problems with grooming and boundaries.

View Document

November 2012 Bishop Malone assigns Fr. Art to Brothers of Mercy as a chaplain.

View Document

March 2013 Fr. Art hears Confessions at the Catholic Youth Conference. During Confession, he terrifies a girl who had known him in elementary school by talking during the sacrament about his own troubles.

View Document

October 2013 Fr. Art, while at the Brothers of Mercy, touched a novice brother inappropriately. The Brothers of Mercy request his removal.

View Document

May 2015 Bishop Malone asks Fr. Art to return to active ministry, and gives him faculties to hear Confessions.

View Document

October 2015 Bishop Malone, in a letter of recommendation for Fr. Art, says Fr. Art is of good moral character, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t work with children.

View Document

2016 Bishop Malone assigns Fr. Art to Blessed Mother Teresa parish in Depew.

Coming Soon — Part Two: The Case of Fr. Robert Yetter

 

 

2018-09-14T13:46:28+00:00