Accountability IS mercy, Disturbing actions of the Bishop of Buffalo

Violation of public trust: Bishop Grosz’s ‘suspension’ mere ‘lip service,’ say outraged clergy sexual abuse survivors

Edward Grosz (left) Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Diocese of Buffalo, concelebrates a funeral Mass on March 7, 2022 while under a very publicly perceived ”suspension” from engaging in priestly/episcopal ministry, pending a Church investigation into allegations of sexually abusing a minor. Next to him is Robert Cunningham (Bishop Emeritus, Diocese of Syracuse and former chancellor of Diocese of Buffalo) and Michael Fisher, Bishop of Buffalo*

Edward Michael Grosz is the face of the Diocese of Buffalo’s response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. He made that point clear this week, although he did not intend to. But since he chose to shine the light on himself ministering in a public setting which he had agreed not to do, let’s take a look at that face of this crisis so keen on seeing a coffin this week. 

He is auxiliary bishop emeritus, and protocol dictates we are supposed to write his name with his title. He is first a man. And this is about the man who has had a hand in spoiling souls and squandering millions of donor dollars for a quarter of a century, if we read correctly the New York State Attorney General lawsuit that bears his name as defendant. Here he is called out for failing to protect children and for engaging in a decades-long systematic cover-up of sexual abuse by diocesan priests. Oh, and lest we forget, in a separate lawsuit, he is also accused of sexually abusing a child. It is for THAT lone allegation he is under a very public suspension from ministry.

It is a voluntary step back from public ministry that barely holds him accountable in a Church where bishop accountability is about as common as someone smoking in church. The problem is, Grosz’s publicly perceived suspension didn’t last long because he really wanted to concelebrate a friend’s funeral Mass. And restrictions, even if they are self-impose, don’t apply to him because he is a bishop and can get a reprieve  when he needs one— like he did this week. 

Here’s what happened:

In July, 2021, the Diocese of Buffalo released a statement informing the public that Grosz “voluntarily agreed to step aside from active ministry and not to exercise any priestly or episcopal functions pending a thorough investigation” of allegations he sexually abused a minor child, as revealed in a Child Victims Act lawsuit filed in New York State. [Excerpt pictured below:]

A mere eight months after publicly agreeing “not” to engage in “any” priestly or episcopal functions, retired Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz somehow found a reason to concelebrate the funeral Mass of his long-time friend, Bishop Donald Trautman (a former auxiliary bishop in Buffalo) in Erie, Pa. An online video of the invitation-only Mass on March 7 infuriated survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters who aired their outrage on group text messaging and social media outlets in the days following. Once again, the Church (capital C) thrust a thorn of betrayal in their hearts.

It made a “mockery of restoring trust,” wrote Mike Gleason on a Facebook discussion thread with survivors and their advocates.

“I guess the ‘suspension’ of Grosz is nothing more than lip service,” said Kevin Koscielniak, a founding member of the Buffalo Survivors Group. “For a guy who has a major lawsuit against him, and who is not suppose to have any priestly faculties, here he is on the altar fully taking part in Trautman’s funeral,” Koscielniak wrote in a group text message to sympathizers similarly scandalized by the screen-shot photos of the Mass video featuring Bishop Grosz in the sanctuary. Their sense of betrayal is not unfounded.

Remember, “survivors” are primarily adults who have come forward to report they were raped or sexually molested by clergy in this diocese when they were children. Understandably, most never come forward to report their abuse. Their sensibilities should be taken into account, one would think. Where is the Church’s sense of humanity? Kevin Brun, who serves on the committee representing childhood survivors of sex abuse in the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings, said his attorney told him Cardinal Dolan approved the request for the Grosz furlough.

But at the same time, Grosz was also under the shadow of accusations in another lawsuit by the New York State Attorney General (2020) for gross malfeasance in handling reports of clergy sexual abuse for 25 years.  If the allegations are remotely true, he enabled more children and vulnerable adults to be sexually abused since, in most cases highlighted in the lawsuit, the alleged perpetrators were not quickly removed from ministry if ever. And Grosz admitted to state investigators that he was the point-man for handling clergy sex abuse reports as they came in.

Grosz is also accused of threatening a seminarian in 2004 from disclosing his sexual molestation at the hands of a priest–an abuse report which the state attorney general illustrated the auxiliary bishop all but ignored. The “threat” allegation, an abuse of power which carries canonical penalties, has never been investigated by the Church. That abused, threatened seminarian became a priest and has been suspended from ministry for whistleblowing on this corrupt system. He, of course, will likely never get a reprieve, much less a funeral furlough, from his suspension.

Online screenshot of Buffalo News article detailing allegations that Bishop Grosz threatened a seminarian in 2004 against speaking out about his alleged sexual molestation at the hands of a diocesan priest, Art Smith. Bishop Grosz denies the allegations. Smith did not suffer any repercussions from the diocese following the abuse allegation and was alleged to have gone on to sexually molest at least two vulnerable adults in 2012 and a child a couple years earlier.

The allegations of sexual abuse against Grosz, which the Buffalo diocese itself acknowledged existed and for which Grosz has taken a voluntary “step back” from ministry, must have “skipped” Bishop Fisher’s mind, one survivor wrote.

“Once again, the DOB and Fisher are telling the public how they are following the rules and doing everything right. And once again it is nothing but word candy,” wrote Koscielniak. “…and they are laughing at everyone who believes them.”

“I’m furious!!!!!” wrote Brun. “Just another example of the diocese doing whatever they please.”  

Ann Fossler, another beleaguered survivor who has washed her hands of the Catholic Church, quoted Edmund Burke:

“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.”

Some survivors said they were shocked to hear the bishop of Erie on the video actually thanking Bishop Grosz for attending with the rest of the bishops. “When I heard that, I almost snapped,” said Dan Bauer, a survivor who lives in the Erie region. He said he drove by the cathedral during the funeral and noticed U-Haul trucks which he interpreted to be strategically parked to keep non-invitees at a distance and out of view. 

Survivors also pointed to high-ranking Diocese of Buffalo priests and officials in attendance, stating their presence implied a general sense of approval of the disgraced former auxiliary bishop flaunting his “suspension” (as they understandably perceived it) in front of everyone, including abuse survivors.Koscielniak pointed to Bishop Fisher and Father Peter Karalus, vicar general of the diocese, in particular.

“It truly is outrageous,” said Siobhan O’Connor, Bishop Richard Malone’s executive assistant who, in 2018, leaked diocesan documents which disclosed systemic clergy sexual abuse and diocesan coverup of abuse reports for decades.

O’Connor joined survivors in making note of all the bishops in the cathedral that day who had so many allegations of professional malfeasance against them–with clear implications that if true, they collectively enabled dozens and dozens of abusers to continue to rape and molest children over their careers.

Trautman was cited as having had direct involvement with at least seven of the 25 credibly-accused clergy sexual molester/rapists highlighted in the New York attorney general’s lawsuit. Of the seven priests, we note serial predator, Norbert Orsolits, who admitted to having raped dozens of boys, including Michael Whalen who wrote:

“It just seems like no matter what, we are still victims by them flaunting themselves like they have no care in the world. It really makes me ill.”

Bishop Robert Cunningham (standing next to Grosz during the Mass) was cited as having had direct involvement with 18 of the 25 credibly-accused molester/rapists highlighted in the same lawsuit naming Grosz and Malone as defendants. 

And it isn’t just survivors who express betrayal by their Church with this move. Plenty of laity share their anger at the Church because any relaxation of that perceived suspension before an investigation is complete is a violation of public trust in the institution. 

So, why the effort to get this bishop into the cathedral sanctuary on Monday?

 O’Connor, who spent three years working with Bishop Malone, noted an inordinate support bishops extend to one another, no matter how much damage to the lives and souls of children and vulnerable adults they may have wrecked.

“These guys are always there for each other–even in death,” she said, adding that the Erie spectacle “reminds me of how Malone was devastated that he couldn’t fly to Rome for Cardinal Law’s funeral.” He was the cardinal the Boston Globe’s spotlight investigative reporters exposed in 2002 for passing pedophile priests from one parish to another in Boston.

As survivors shared screenshots of the funeral video in a text thread, O’Connor wrote, “Important to document how nothing has really changed at all–just as they want it!!”

The funeral that Edward Michael Grosz should be concerned about getting to is his own.

May we continue to offer up our daily rosaries for all souls involved. 

*Photo credit: screenshot of YouTube video, “Feed My Sheep” Funeral Mass and Internment for the Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman, Bishop of Erie, 1990-2012. 7 March 2022. St. Peter’s Cathedral: Erie, Pa.

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