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Suspended priest accused in lawsuit of molesting teen 43 years ago

The Rev. Arthur J. Smith, who has been a magnet for controversy in the Buffalo Diocese clergy abuse scandal, is accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy 43 years ago during a field trip to Washington, D.C., for eighth-grade students from a local Catholic school.

The boy and his two sisters were permitted by the principal at St. Bernadette Elementary School in Orchard Park to go on the field trip in 1976, according to the lawsuit. The boy was assigned to sleep in the same hotel room as Smith during the trip.

During the night, Smith got into bed with the boy and engaged in forcible sexual contact, according to the suit, which also names St. Bernadette Parish and the school as defendants.

In past interviews, Smith has maintained he has not sexually abused any children or adults.

It is the first lawsuit accusing Smith of molesting a child. But it is not Smith’s first brush with controversy.

Child Victims Act (updated 2/13/20)

Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone came under fire last year for allowing Smith to perform priestly duties despite past complaints of inappropriate behavior by him. In 2011, Smith was placed on leave by a prior bishop following allegations that the priest sent an inappropriate Facebook message to a child. Smith in 2013 was relieved of his duties at a Clarence nursing home after two men made allegations of improper sexual advances. Malone later wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Smith that helped him get a job as a cruise ship chaplain and allowed him to say Masses at parishes on weekends. In recent years, Smith resided at the rectory at Blessed Mother Teresa Parish in Depew.

Malone suspended Smith from ministry in April 2018 after the diocese received a new complaint of Smith engaging in inappropriate conduct with a minor, according to the diocese. The diocese announced in November that Smith would remain on leave because allegations that he had sexually abused a minor were substantiated. His case was sent to Rome for further review.

Smith started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $5,000 to defend himself.

The Rev. Ryszard S. Biernat, the former priest secretary to Malone, recently said that he told diocese officials in 2004, when he was a seminary student, that Smith had sexually assaulted him.

Smith admitted to The Buffalo News that he briefly laid down in bed next to Biernat, but he said he did not sexually abuse him.

Biernat said Auxilliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz told him the incident was his own fault and he blackmailed Biernat to stop complaining about Smith’s alleged actions. He said Grosz threatened to block his ordination as a priest if he didn’t keep quiet.

Grosz denied doing that. 

Attorney Paul Barr represents the plaintiff in the new lawsuit involving Smith. Barr said his client was not a student at St. Bernadette School but he was invited on the field trip because of family connections.

He said his client did not complain to the diocese about the abuse when it occurred.

"I think I’m the first person he told," Barr said.

In 2018, the man attempted to file a request for compensation from the diocese through its voluntary program for clergy abuse victims. But he was told he was not eligible, Barr said.

Smith did not respond this week to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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