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Ex-priest says Trautman should be punished under sex abuse rules for bishops

Under new protocols adopted last week by the nation’s Catholic bishops, a former high-ranking Buffalo Diocese administrator who served 22 years as bishop of the Erie Diocese should be punished for his role in mishandling clergy sex abuses cases in both dioceses, said a former Catholic priest who resides in Buffalo.

James Faluszczak said Bishop Emeritus Donald W. Trautman allowed abusive priests to remain in parishes in the Buffalo and Erie dioceses after they had been accused of molesting children.

Faluszczak, who said he was molested as a child by an Erie priest, served as a priest of that diocese for many years under Trautman and has since become a vocal critic of the church's handling of abuse allegations.

Faluszczak called upon current Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico to suspend Trautman immediately and for Bishop Richard J. Malone to prevent him from operating in the Buffalo Diocese. Trautman frequently visits and participates in diocese functions, such as the celebration earlier this month of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 priest ordination class. Faluszczak also has called for Malone to resign over the abuse scandal in the Buffalo Diocese.

Trautman faced criticism this week over his handling of complaints against the Rev. Michael R. Freeman, a Buffalo Diocese priest assigned to parishes despite multiple complaints of abuse. Trautman was second-in-command of the Buffalo Diocese in the 1980s at the time of Freeman’s alleged abuses.

He was also heavily criticized in a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report for his role in allowing priests who had been accused of abuse to continue in the priesthood.

Trautman has vehemently disputed the grand jury report. He also told The Buffalo News in an email this week that he did not cover up anything when he was chancellor in the Buffalo Diocese.

Lawyers alleged that diocese had received at least three complaints of abuse by Freeman in the early 1980s and that Trautman met face-to-face with two of the accusers, before Freeman was assigned in 1984 to St. Mary in Lancaster and began molesting an altar boy there.

Trautman, 83, said in a brief telephone interview on Friday that he does not recall meeting with two of Freeman’s accusers.

“I have to read the files of the Buffalo Diocese. That’s a long time ago,” he said. “I handled a lot of cases. I don’t remember these things. That’s 35 years ago.”

Retired Erie Bishop Donald W. Trautman, a former Buffalo Diocese chancellor, has come under criticism for his handling of clergy sexual abuse complaints. (Buffalo News file photo)

Attorney Steve Boyd said this week that Trautman told one of the Freeman accusers in a meeting in the early 1980s at diocese headquarters that "you should have never put yourself in that position."

Trautman said he didn't remember what he might have remarked decades ago.

"I'm not going to go any further and state anything until I've had a chance to review the files," he said. "I hope my notes are there."

Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved three separate measures aimed at making themselves more accountable last week in Baltimore at the annual spring meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

One of the measures, the "Protocol Regarding Available Non-Penal Restrictions on Bishops,” addresses retired bishops who were found to have “failed to act” in preventing abuse.

While only the pope can discipline bishops, the measure allows a sitting diocesan bishop to place certain restrictions on retired bishops, including issuing a statement that says the bishop emeritus does not represent the diocese in any fashion or act on its behalf.

The diocesan bishop also may forbid a retired bishop to preach, give the sacrament of confirmation, hear confessions or perform weddings, and the president of the USCCB may ban a retired bishop from attending the organization’s plenary meetings.

The measure doesn’t make it clear how bishops would determine whether a retired bishop was negligent in preventing abuse or what standards they would apply in establishing that a bishop “failed to act.”

The bishops adopted a separate measure that addresses investigations into bishops accused of abuse.

Faluszczak said he doubts Trautman will face restrictions under the new accountability measures.

“Persico’s been aware of Trautman’s behavior for well over a year and has not conducted an internal investigation,” said Faluszczak.

“There’s no reason to think they won’t sidestep their own protocols,” said Faluszczak, who testified in 2017 before the  Pennsylvania grand jury investigating statewide clergy sax abuse.

Faluszczak said what the bishops adopted in Baltimore might be novel for the church, but it wasn’t in the least bit groundbreaking.

“All it means is the bishops are going to continue to investigate themselves,” he said.

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