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Buffalo Diocese forms task force to examine clergy misconduct with adults

The Buffalo Diocese has appointed five area residents to a new task force that will review how the diocese handles allegations of sexual misconduct with adults by clergy and lay employees.

Named to the task force were Patricia Brunsing, operator of assisted living residences in New York and Ohio; Ellen J. Christensen, a sexologist, therapist and former adjunct faculty member at Canisius College; Maureen Pratt, parish council member and co-chair of the Respect Life Committee and Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at Christ the King Church in Snyder; James N. Schmit, recently retired as special counsel from Bond, Schoenek and King law firm, specializing in labor and employment law, including sexual harassment; and Dennis J. Wittman, a former probation officer and retired director of Genesee Justice Programs, part of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Department.

Bishop Richard J. Malone promised the formation of the task force in August after a WKBW-TV report that he had allowed two priests to stay in ministry despite allegations of sexual misconduct with adults. One of the priests, the Rev. Robert Yetter, longtime pastor of St. Mary in Swormville, was alleged to have made unwanted sexual advances on two adult men. The other priest, the Rev. Art Smith, was accused of making advances on adult men and behaving inappropriately online with a child.

The television report followed months of revelations in the media of the cover-up of decades of clergy sex abuse of minors in the Buffalo Diocese and prompted calls for Malone to resign.

Malone acknowledged at the time that his handling of the claims “unquestionably has fallen short of the standard,” but he has refused to step down.

The task force will review and recommend policies and procedures for assessing and responding to allegations of sexual misconduct with adults by priests, deacons, religious and lay employees.

It also will ensure that the diocesan policies for adult abuse and misconduct complement existing diocesan policy on child abuse.

In addition, the task force will review the investigation framework of sexual abuse allegations to ensure that it complies with federal and state law, canon law, and the diocese’s code of conduct.

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