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Buffalo bishop responds to Pennsylvania report on clergy sex abuse

Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone issued a brief response Thursday to a Pennsylvania grand jury report that said priests there molested more than 1,000 children and alleged the Buffalo Diocese covered up abuses by one priest.

"The Diocese of Buffalo is committed to learning from the sins and crimes of the past and from the ways they were handled," Malone said in a statement released late Thursday afternoon. "I share in the sense of horror at the magnitude of damage wrought on victims by ministers of the church who, of all people, should be eminently trustworthy. It's a different church now in the way we respond to any claims of abuse."

Malone did not address the report's assertions that Buffalo Diocese officials knew the Rev. Michael Freeman had molested young men and children at five churches, but did not alert law enforcement officers and allowed him to remain a priest.

"Father Freeman was ordained May 27, 1972. In five of his six subsequent assignments he admitted inappropriate sexual behavior with young men on multiple occasions," the grand jury report stated. "These instances of sexual abuse occurred while he acted in his capacity as a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo but while he ministered in various assignments to include locations within Pennsylvania. The Diocese of Buffalo first became aware of Freeman's criminal activity in November 1981."

The grand jury report said Freeman admitted to church officials he was involved in prior sexual misconduct while serving from 1972 to 1976 at St. Margaret parish and St. Lawrence parish, both in Buffalo.

Rev. Michael Freeman

"The Buffalo Diocese continued to permit Freeman to serve in active ministry until March 1989 and continued to provide financial aid to Freeman until July 31, 1999," the report said.

In March, for the first time, the Buffalo Diocese identified 42 priests against whom credible allegations of sexual misconduct had been lodged. Freeman was on the list. The Buffalo Diocese did not release any other information about the allegations against Freeman.

Thursday, a spokeswoman for New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood said that the AG legally cannot launch a similar grand jury investigation into whether Catholic dioceses in New York covered up sex crimes unless the governor issues an executive order granting it such prosecutorial authority.

"Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well. The attorney general has directed her criminal division leadership to reach out to local district attorneys — who are the only entities that currently have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate these matters — in order to establish a potential partnership on this issue," said Amy Spitalnick, the spokeswoman.

If district attorneys won't partner with the AG's office, then it will seek an executive order so that it can investigate the dioceses, Spitalnick said. 

Read the Pennsylvania grand jury report

Buffalo Diocese criticized in Pennsylvania priest abuse report

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