The news is out: [Bishop Richard Malone says his congregation’s darkest days are in the past. “There’s no priest with a substantiated, what you called credible, allegation of abuse of a minor in ministry in this diocese,” Malone said. “I can testify to that honestly and 100 percent.”
In the case of Fr. Dennis Riter, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in the Buffalo suburb of Dunkirk, however, Malone decided to allow a priest who had faced multiple allegations of sexual abuse of children to return to ministry, where he remains to this day. He did so, he said, after a lawyer hired by the church investigated the matter and submitted a report, a copy of which has been obtained by ABC News, concluding that the allegations against Fr. Riter had “no merit.”
But multiple people familiar with that investigation expressed serious concerns with the findings of what they view as a deeply flawed report, raising questions about the process by which the Diocese of Buffalo evaluates allegations against its clergy members.
“The report is slanted, and it’s twisted,” said prominent sexual abuse attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who now represents nearly 40 clients in Buffalo, including one of Fr. Riter’s three accusers.
Matthew Golden was an an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Buffalo’s First Ward with dreams of one day becoming a priest himself when he first met Fr. Dennis Riter. He recalls Fr. Riter being “very loving towards children” but now feels it was “all a grooming process,” one that he still remembers in painstaking detail.
It started, he said, with Fr. Riter asking him to stay late after Mass to count the collection. Fr. Riter would invite him into the rectory, he said, and sit beside him as he watched television and played video games. That’s when, Golden said, Fr. Riter molested him.
“He would always turn the heat up on higher, and then say, ‘Hey, would you wanna get more comfortable?,’ you know, ‘Take your shirt off,’” Golden said. “Before I knew it, I don’t have any clothes on, and he doesn’t have any clothes on. … We touched other, both of us. You know, I would touch his genitalia. He would touch mine.”
It happened, he said, “well over 20 times” over the course of about three years when he was between 10 and 13 years old “before I finally said, ‘I’m not doing this anymore.’”]