Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Buffalo Diocese has placed three priests on a temporary leave of absence after "unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations" took place at a party with seminarians.
"The complaints did not include or infer any instance of physical sexual abuse of a minor or adult," a statement released by the diocese said.
But several seminarians considered the conversations disturbing and offensive, the statement said.
Placed on temporary leave from their parish assignments while disciplinary actions are taken are:
• The Rev. Arthur E. Mattulke, pastor of SS. Peter & Paul in Hamburg
• The Rev. Patrick T. O'Keefe, parochial vicar of SS. Peter & Paul in Hamburg
• The Rev. Robert J. Orlowski, pastor of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Blasdell
Mattulke and Orlowski were ordained in 1997 and O'Keefe was ordained in 1996.
The party took place on the evening of April 11 at SS. Peter & Paul in Hamburg, according to the diocese.
Seminarians from Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora reported to the seminary that "they were uncomfortable with what they felt was inappropriate conversation and stories being shared by some of the priests," according to a press release from the seminary.
The diocese said the seminarians had undergone VIRTUS training, a program created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group to combat sexual abuse in the church, as well completing New York State sanctioned sexual harassment training in 2018.
The Rev. John M. Staak, interim president-rector at Christ the King Seminary, said the seminarians followed established protocol when they expressed their concern to officials at the seminary.
“Our primary mission is the education of our students and the formation of our future priests, deacons, and pastoral ministers,” Staak said in a statement issued by the seminary. “I am pleased the seminarians stepped forward to voice their concerns about unsuitable, inappropriate, and insensitive conversations which occurred. Several seminarians in attendance found the conversations disturbing and offensive.”
The diocese also praised the students for coming forward and following the proper protocol, and the seminary for immediately investigating the reports. The findings were forwarded to Malone and other diocesan officials, including the diocese's Office of Professional Responsibility.
Michael Sherry, the academic dean at the seminary, and the retired assistant police chief of the Orchard Park Police Department, conducted the internal investigation, the seminary said. Sherry is one of two officials designated to investigate incidents.
The findings were presented to Staak and the chairman of the seminary's board of trustees.
"It is of primary importance to Bishop Malone that these priests are held accountable for their actions," the statement from the diocese said.
Disciplinary and corrective actions could include psychological evaluations and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies and individual retreats, according to the diocese. Based on the results of those and additional investigations, further action could be taken, it said.