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Lawyer says priest denies harassing seminarian, blackmail

The Rev. Jeffrey Nowak has been accused of violating the Catholic church’s seal of confession, sexually harassing a seminarian and trying to blackmail a fellow priest.

But his lawyer said Friday that Nowak denies all of the allegations.

“I don’t think Father Jeff has gotten a fair shake on this,” said attorney James Granville. “They had him tried, convicted and sentenced in March and he wasn’t told of any allegations against him by anyone in the diocese until April or May.”

Granville said his client’s name was dragged through the mud in media reports before all of the facts were known.

“If you’re accused of doing that and you’re not the person they’re describing, it’s tortuous,” said Granville.  “He denies all of the allegations, but we’re relying, for better or worse, I guess, on the canonical and the civil justice system.”

Nowak, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Cheektowaga, declined to comment Friday. He has been on administrative leave and not able to function publicly as a priest since Aug. 28.

Matthew Bojanowski, a former student at Christ the King Seminary, accused Nowak of violating the seal of confession after Nowak heard Bojanowski’s confession several years ago. Bojanowski revealed in the confession that he was interested in pursuing the priesthood, according to his lawyer Barry N. Covert. Nowak is accused of using that information as a basis for trying to establish a romantic relationship with Bojanowski. A priest is bound by the Catholic Church’s canon law not to discuss or act upon any information outside the confession that was received during confession.

Bishop Richard J. Malone said this week the claim against Nowak of violating the seal of confession “remains unproven,” according to canon lawyers who examined the accusation.

Nowak also was accused of taking a photograph of a love letter from Malone’s priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, to Bojanowski that he found in 2016 in Bojanowski’s apartment.

Biernat secretly recorded audio of the bishop’s inner circle of advisers discussing the allegations against Nowak in meetings last March.

The bishop can be heard in the audio calling Nowak “dangerous” and a “sick puppy.”

“We have victims and we have a perpetrator. And the perpetrator here is Jeff Nowak. He’s done things that are clearly wrong, and I think he’s a sick puppy,” said Malone.

Biernat said he made the tapes to reveal how Malone had been dragging his feet on removing Nowak from ministry.

But Granville said the audio recordings also showed that Biernat heavily influenced the discussions of the allegations against Nowak, when he should have been prohibited from those discussions because of his own involvement in the case.

Granville said Nowak denies that he tried to pursue a romantic relationship with Bojanowski or that he photographed Biernat's letter to Bojanowski for blackmail purposes.

“He’s never suggested that he had blackmail information on anyone, the bishop, on Matthew, on Father Ryszard, on anybody,” said Granville. “I don’t think the letter was ever intended to be utilized for that purpose. I think there was some discernment to find out whether or not a young man and Father Ryszard were in an inappropriate relationship and to discern what should be done about that from a morality setting, I think.”

Granville said his client may pursue a defamation case and wants all of the facts to be disclosed in court.

"The appropriate court setting, whether it's civil or canonical or both, is where this really needs to be fleshed out," he said.

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