A Buffalo man’s lawsuit claims that the Buffalo Diocese’s clergy sex abuse is so rampant that it poses a public nuisance.
Matthew Golden, 33, filed the suit Thursday in State Supreme Court, alleging that the diocese introduced “the threat of criminal activity into the public sphere” by employing child molesters, giving then unchecked access to children and covering up their crimes.
The diocese's actions, the suits states, "have interrupted or interfered with the health, safety and welfare of the general public."
Diocesan attorney Terrence Connors said the diocese will review the lawsuit and "respond accordingly."
Golden accuses the Rev. Dennis G. Riter of molesting him between 1996 and 1999, when Golden was 10 to 13 years old and attending Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo.
Golden reported the alleged abuse to the diocese this past March, prompting Bishop Richard J. Malone to suspend Riter from ministry while an investigation was done.
In June, Malone decided the allegations against Riter were not substantiated and returned the priest to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Dunkirk. But a month later, an investigator for the diocese interviewed a second man who alleged that Riter molested him as a child more than 25 years ago.
Riter has not responded to a request for an interview. His lawyer has said that the priest maintains his innocence.
The lawsuit was filed by New York City attorney J. Michael Reck of Jeff Anderson & Associates and Rochester attorney David M. Abbatoy Jr. of the Abbatoy Law Firm.
“It became clear to us that the diocese wasn’t going to take any actions to protect the public,” said Abbatoy. “Seeing that, Matt was motivated to go forward.”
The lawsuit seeks compensation for Golden’s injuries, punitive damages and a court order for the diocese to release the names and personnel files of all priests who have been accused of child molestation.
The suit is similar to a case filed in State Supreme Court in Nassau County in 2015 against the Rockville Centre Diocese. In that case, Kaitlyn Monaghan alleges that she was abused as an eight-year-old girl by a parish priest, the Rev. Gregory Yacyshyn.
The Nassau County case has yet to be decided. The Appellate Division Second Department is considering the Rockville Centre Diocese’s appeal of the Supreme Court’s denial of its motion to dismiss.
The public nuisance legal strategy more typically is used by government in efforts to shut down businesses where violent crime or drug activity takes place or where known criminals frequently congregate. But it can be employed effectively in other ways.
“Public nuisance provides an individual with a right to sue whenever the entity knowingly exposes the public to dangerous criminal activity,” said Abbatoy. “The law provides you with a remedy to go and sue that entity.”