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Priest cleared of abuse allegation: 'I hold no animosity'

One of two priests cleared of sexual misconduct allegations and returned to active ministry by the Buffalo Diocese said he holds no ill will toward Bishop Richard J. Malone or the woman who accused him of forcibly kissing her 30 years ago when she was 19.

"I'm happy with the way things turned out," Monsignor Frederick R. Leising, 73,  said Saturday. "And I really hold no animosity, not for the Bishop or the woman who made the allegations."

Rev. Roy Herberger, 76, the other priest, expressed concern that his name was publicly released when the allegation was made against him with no evidence.

"I still don't understand why the diocese went public and put me on administrative leave, even though there was no evidence," Herberger said Saturday. "Anyone can make a phone call or have a lawyer write a letter."

The priest said a lawyer from Florida sent a letter on behalf of the man who accused him of sexually abusing him when he was a boy in the 1980s.

"The letter came just a couple days before the cut-off last June for financial claims against the diocese," Herberger said. "If he had a case, why wait until two days before the cutoff and not come forward decades earlier?"

Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone tells reporters Sept. 4, 2019, at St. Joseph's Cathedral Rectory in Buffalo that he won't resign despite criticism of his handling a clergy sexual abuse scandal and a complaint that a priest sexually  harassed an adult  seminarian. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

On Friday, Malone announced he was ending the administrative leaves of Herberger and Leising. Both were suspended in June and November, respectively, after the diocese became aware of allegations against them. Both priests denied they had done anything wrong.

Malone lifted the suspensions after reviewing reports from investigator Scott F. Riordan and recommendations from the Diocesan Review Board, whose members include clergy and lay Catholic professionals appointed to examine and weigh abuse allegations.

Two other priests, the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski and the Rev. Mark J. Wolski, will remain on administrative leave, as the Vatican office known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviews the diocese’s investigation into complaints of sex abuse against them, the Buffalo Diocese announced Friday.

Leising, a retired pastor at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Clarence, told The Buffalo News Saturday he was ready to move forward.

"All I desire is healing for the young lady and I pray for the bishop as well," Leising said.

Friends and parishioners of the two Catholic priests cleared of sexual misconduct allegations expressed relief and continued confidence in the clerics Saturday.

Their supporters said they were disheartened that the priests had been publicly identified ahead of the investigations to review the allegations.

Several parishioners at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church said the woman’s allegation that he had forcibly kissed her did not match the man they knew.

“I felt he was thrown under the bus. I felt very strongly from the start that he should be reinstated,” Frances Menno said. “He was my pastor and is a personal friend. He’s an intelligent and inspiring man. I just saw him the other day and told him I supported him. He sent me a beautiful card.”

Robert and Theresa Rondina, parishioners at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary for more than four decades, said they are relieved that Leising has been cleared.

“We obviously knew him from the years when he was at our parish and we just treasured him. He was a learned man who just knew how to connect with the parishioners,” said Robert Rondina about Leising, who was also the former president and rector of Christ the King Seminary in Aurora.

Theresa Rondina said, “Any time he spoke with you, he gave you respect as a human being. He didn’t talk down to anyone. The allegation against him was so far off the person I knew. I’m so happy for him.”

At 4 p.m. Mass Saturday at SS. Columba-Brigid Church in Buffalo where Herberger had been the pastor for 19 years before retiring, parishioners applauded the news that he had been cleared.

Herberger, known for voicing support on social issues, had released a letter following his suspension stating he would be willing to take a lie detector test to disprove the allegation that he had sexually assaulted a boy in the 1980s.

“To publish somebody’s name on one allegation without an investigation, I think is pretty cruel after 50 years of service,” said Jack Connolly of Herberger, who assisted at the University at Buffalo Newman Center after retiring.

Monsignor J. Patrick Keleher, director of the UB Newman Center and Herberger’s friend since they were 13 years old, said he met with Herberger on Saturday.

“I’ve always said there are two saints in our class and Roy was one of them," said Keleher, who also was Herberger's classmate when they were seminarians. "I’m rejoicing and everybody in the Newman Center community is rejoicing. Everybody loves this guy.”

Maryann Rizzo, who previously sponsored a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at her Amherst home to help with Herberger’s legal bills, said she looks forward to next weekend when he is scheduled to celebrate Mass at the Newman Center.

“We’re also having a big welcome back party for Father Herberger,” Rizzo said. The gathering is set for Jan. 15 in the Newman Center.

Rizzo and Connolly said they were impressed by Herberger’s faith throughout the suspension.

“He’s been on the bench a long time and he’s never lost his faith. He’s never discouraged us in all the conversations we’ve had,” Connolly said. “He always encouraged us to keep our faith and I think everyone was aware of what the outcome would be right from the beginning.”

Diocese returns Herberger, Leising to active ministry; 2 other priests remain on leave

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