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Dunkirk priest on leave amid investigation into abuse complaint

The pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk was placed on leave Monday after the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo received a complaint of alleged abuse.

Bishop Richard J. Malone wrote an open letter to parishioners stating that the Rev. Dennis G. Riter was placed on "administrative leave" pending an investigation into the complaint.

"Please note that this leave is for investigation purposes only and does not imply any determination as to the truth or falsity of the complaint," Malone said in the letter. "Please pray for Father Riter and for this investigation. Of course, we continue to pray for all victims of abuse."

The bishop's acknowledgement of the complaint against Riter follows weeks of intense focus on how the Buffalo diocese handles clergy sex abuse allegations and the release by the diocese last week of the names of 42 priests identified as having had credible allegations of abuse against them.

The situation is the first since the release of the list in which a priest was pulled from active ministry due to a public accusation of alleged sex abuse.

George Richert, a spokesman for the diocese, said that the Erie County District Attorney's Office has been notified.

Richert declined to provide details about the alleged complaint against Riter, and did not specify if the allegation was recent or years old.

Riter has not served at a parish in Erie County since 2002, when he was pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Valentine parishes, in Buffalo's Old First Ward.

A former altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help told 7 Eyewitness News Monday that Riter had allegedly molested him more than 20 times over the course of three years in the late 1990s. The former altar boy was 10 to 13 years old at the time, according to the 7 Eyewitness News report.

Riter, ordained in 1971, has been pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton since 2009.

He previously served at St. Mary Church in Batavia, OLPH and St. Valentine, Queen of All Saints in Lackawanna, St. Aloysius in Springville and Assumption and Queen of All Saints in Lackawanna.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, to guide them in handling allegations of clergy abuse.

The charter was revised in 2005 and 2011.

The charter states that when a diocese receives an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon, it must conduct a preliminary investigation in accordance with canon law.

When there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor occurred, the diocese must then notify the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican judicial body. The bishop must remove the priest from public ministry if "even a single act of sexual abuse" is admitted or is established "after an appropriate process in accord with canon law," according to the charter.

An effort to reach Riter by telephone Monday was unsuccessful.

Related: At least 55 Buffalo priests linked to sex allegations

News Staff Reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report. Contact Jay Tokasz at jtokasz@buffnews.com or 716-849-4406.

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