Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Olean

Layity’s role in helping to save Fr. Ryszard Biernat’s vocation

First Eucharistic Procession in decades was held on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2006 at the encouragement of seminarian Ryszard Biernat (holding pole on the left).

The seminarian, reeling from trauma, was unceremoniously dumped on the rectory porch of Saint Mary of the Angels Church. At least that’s how if felt to him. Two years after having been allegedly sexually molested by a diocesan priest, Ryszard Biernat‘s abuse continued, this time at the hands of diocesan officials in downtown Buffalo who were still allegedly actively covering up the sexual predator-priest’s crime. Seminary officials, fully aware of the sexual assault, sent their student to about as far away from the downtown offices of the diocese as they could for his year-long assignment–Olean, New York.

He would receive no sympathy from the parishioners in this rural city. That is because no one was supposed to know about the alleged abuse by a diocesan priest who continued on as pastor of his large congregation in his South Buffalo parish as if nothing happened.  Neither were the parishioners at Saint Thomas Aquinas or Saint Mary’s to know of the gruesome coverup of the alleged crime by their own diocesan Church leaders including: Bishop Edward Kmiec, Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, (who still handles abuse cases), Chancellor Monsignor David Slubecky, Vice-Chancellor Monsignor David LiPuma (who got a job promotion this year), and the Seminary Rector, Father Richard Siepka (still serving at the seminary). While parishioners at St. Tommy’s were left in the dark (for five long years) about the credibly-accused sexual predator in their midst, Grosz made sure the young man would keep his mouth shut with threats which included: “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” That’s one of many threats Ryszard revealed to one Olean laywoman to whom he did eventually confide about his tragic story.

While the parishioners could offer him no sympathy, what they could offer him was LOVE, something outside the reach of diocesan officials. And it is this love and compassion for the young Polish immigrant that fed their ever-present encouragement to the man uncertain of his vocation and tortured by men in his diocese.

You can listen to Fr. Ryszard Biernat’s heart-wrenching story at this link and his longer interview filled with graphic details at this link.

In this WBEN radio interview [5:00 and 9:00 mark] he talks about how laity that year of 2006 and 2007 (along with laity from St. Francis of Assisi in Tonawanda the year before) helped to save him and his vocation. By the grace of a merciful God, he is a priest today because of the care, support, encouragement, affirmation and abundant prayers and sacrifices from the parishioners and pastors at these churches. Amidst this trauma, they taught him the true face of Jesus’ Church, and that Church is fueled by love.

Photo at top: Fr. Ryszard’s first Sunday Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (August 9, 2009).

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