I want to extend – on behalf of many – a warm and heartfelt welcome back to Msg. Frederick Leising, fondly known as Father Fred. In November of this year, the Buffalo Diocese placed Father Fred on administrative leave as a priest, due to an allegation of sexual misconduct that had been made against him. At the time, this seemed abundantly false and totally out of character for a man who has served so many so faithfully as a priest for 47 years, in his roles as teacher, pastor, celebrant, counselor and consoler. Thankfully, the diocese has expeditiously and fairly reviewed the case, and this week has removed him from administrative leave.
As a Catholic, I am appalled and heartsick over the predatory actions of those priests who abused their positions of authority and trust. It is shameful that bishops acted to protect the institutional church rather the innocents to whom such incalculable harm has been done.
Yet, in an effort to finally atone for the actions of pedophile priests, I am afraid that the Diocese of Buffalo may be erring on the side of caution in a way that can destroy the careers and reputations of good priests who may turn out to be innocent of charges made against them. If we really believe that someone in this country is innocent until proven guilty, we need to fully accept back into the community those who turned out to have been falsely charged.
Having been present when some 500 people came to a banquet to celebrate Father Fred’s retirement from the priesthood, and at another large banquet at which the Clarence Chamber of Commerce awarded Father Fred its Lifetime Achiever award, I know that there are many out there who breathed a sigh of relief this week. Where the charges might have seemed to have tarnished Father Fred’s reputation, I think in the end that his good grace under accusation and stress may actually have burnished his already considerable reputation. Welcome back, Msgr. Leising!