Accountability IS mercy, Disturbing actions of the Bishop of Buffalo, Rev. Ryszard Biernat

A perverse continuation of the corrupt diocesan culture: promoting officials complicit in coverup of clergy sexual abuse

How safe are you feeling up there in Cheektowaga?

Bishop Michael Fisher just granted a leadership post to yet another Diocese of Buffalo official who allegedly participated in the coverup of a clergy sexual abuse report.

Msgr. Richard Siepka

This time it’s Monsignor Richard Siepka who is now pastor of a church in Cheektowaga. The Western New York Catholic’s announcement breezed over the fact that he had served as rector at the diocesan seminary. But do the parishioners at St. Philip the Apostle parish realize their pastor, while rector, allegedly participated in a diocesan scheme to cover up a report of a seminarian’s sexual molestation at the hands of a diocesan priest? That priest never faced any consequences for the alleged crime that diocesan officials made sure was never investigated, according to the New York State Attorney General’s Office in its recent lawsuit. The seminarian said he wrote up and submitted his own report to diocesan officials who never passed it on to the diocesan attorney or to the diocesan review board, contrary to their obligations under state and ecclesial law (and God’s law, frankly). 

The seminarian was Rev. Ryszard Biernat. Two years after the alleged sexual assault in late 2003, while he was still a seminarian, Biernat confided to me that Monsignor Siepka knew about the incident but wouldn’t lift a finger to do anything to push to get that credibly-accused priest off the streets much less help this seminarian in the midst of a multi-faceted trauma—a psychological and spiritual torture that included alleged threats from the auxiliary bishop against the seminarian if he breathed a word to anyone about the incident. The toleration of diocesan officials for this type of sexual abuse among its priests and spiritual abuse of its own seminarian was as soul killing as the molestation itself. He later testified to that particular effect of such gross abuse of power.

How safe are you feeling up there in Cheektowaga?

Msgr. David LiPuma

Another monsignor was in on this particular coverup of the allegation of clergy sexual abuse, according to not only the State Attorney General’s lawsuit but the victim who reported the abuse. Rev. Monsignor David LiPuma has been subsequently rewarded by bishops with plum assignments as rector of Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica, chairman of the Diocesan Priests’ Council and—drum roll—co-chairman of the diocesan “Renewal” initiative. Monsignor LiPuma served as secretary and vice chancellor under three bishops. At the time of the seminarian’s report in early 2004, Buffalo was without a bishop, so he worked with the diocesan administrator and auxiliary bishop in helping to govern the diocese which included processing sexual abuse reports such as this one in which he met with seminarian Biernat.

The New York State Attorney General’s lawsuit against the diocese and its bishops details the direct involvement Monsignor LiPuma had with seminarian Biernat regarding his allegation against a diocesen priest (see page 174 of the lawsuit).

Among omissions (like a police report and proper advice to the victim), Monsignor LiPuma failed to respond to the seminarian’s written request for an explanation about how officials arrived at the conclusion that what happened to him was not even classified as “sexual harassment.”

Sickening that the victim had to ask for this clarification from grown men in the chancery building who clearly tried to dupe this 23-year-old Polish immigrant unfamiliar with U.S. laws. 

It is a pathetic reality that the bishops of the Diocese of Buffalo TO THIS DAY refuse to hold accountable any official who demonstrated participation in concealing clergy sexual abuse allegations such as this one. And Bishop Michael Fisher appears embarrassingly tone deaf with his hollow claim, “I want to be about accountability and transparency,” as if we laity are too dense to notice that no diocesan official has been held accountable by the Church for all the suffering either enabled or inflicted by these men. This platitude was just another line the bishop pulled from his list of talking points during the May 8 online public “conversation.” Clergy sexual abuse survivors, who met online in their own Zoom session immediately following, expressed frustration and anger, but no one was surprised with his lack of substance.

Still not convinced of Bishop Fisher’s reluctance to hold diocesan officials accountable? Watch this WKBW news report (below). Keep in mind that these coverups came at the steep price of putting laity at risk with credibly-accused sex offenders in their midst.

WKBW-tv report December 5, 2020, “Buffalo Diocese has new bishop, but controversial attorneys, aides remain” Charlie Specht, reporter.

Clericalism: elitism marked by privilege, deference and power which holds priests and bishops to a different set of standards than the rest of the population

Think about this: it is an outrageous act of clericalism for the bishop to refuse to hold his leaders accountable to the same professional standards laity are held in their workplace. What is Clericalism? You recognize it instantly–“a form of elitism. A sense of belonging to a separate class of persons marked by privilege, deference and power,” according to noted expert on ecclesiology, Dr. Rick Gaillardetz. He explained that it is this systemic elitism, or clericalism (decried by Pope Francis), that fuels the corrupt culture we see illustrated in the State Attorney General lawsuit, and in particular, the case of the seminarian. Evidently captured by the grip of clericalism, Bishop Fisher not only refuses to hold officials accountable, he doesn’t even insist that they at the very least apologize to their victims or utter a word of contrition–as he and his priests would call us to do. 

Let me be more plain. These are men who have, by all accounts, crushed the souls of children and vulnerable adults sexually abused by priests–just ask the survivors–and because they are priests, they not only get away with it, they have no moral obligation to conversion, contrition or restitution that would be expected of any of us in the same circumstance. And for their loyalty to the cause of protecting the image of the institution over the souls of abuse survivors, they get rewarded with leadership positions. No one wins this scenario on Judgment Day. 

Without professional accountability for the officials we trusted to protect us, any hope of “renewal” for our diocese mired in this endless clergy sexual abuse crisis is impossible.

Bishop Fisher’s recent appointments of credibly-tainted diocesan leaders (see also this previous post) only reveal a perverse continuation of the corrupt culture that promotes/protects the very officials who were complicit in the coverup of clergy sexual abuse.

Meanwhile, the priest who blew the whistle on this corruption—the seminarian that Monsignors Siepka and LiPuma refused to help—is out on the streets, stripped of his priestly faculties and banned from priestly ministry.

How safe does that make you feel?

We continue our daily rosary for conversion and healing and lasting renewal for the salvation of souls. On this day in which we celebrate Mary, Mother of the Church, we beg for her intercession for our diocese and the victims of its leaders’ sinful dysfunction.

Banner photo: Bishop Michael Fisher during his public Zoom “Conversation” on May 8, 2021, hosted by the Movement to Restore Trust.

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