Two former seminarians were charged Monday with harassing an employee of the Buffalo Diocese, a sign of the ongoing tension between diocese officials and those protesting over the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Matthew Bojanowski, 38, of West Seneca and Stephen Parisi, 46, of Williamsville were arraigned before Buffalo City Court Judge Kevin J. Keane on one count of second-degree harassment, a violation, and released on their own recognizance, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced.
On Facebook, Bojanowski posted an image of the court papers that identified Cheryl Calire, the director of the diocese's Office of Pro-Life Activities, as the person who accused them of harassment.
A lawyer for Bojanowski and Parisi said the allegations don't rise to the level of harassment, and Calire pursued the charges for "improper, retaliatory purposes."
"We believe she reached back four months to an event that occurred on September of 2019, which she to our knowledge never complained about, and that she exaggerated and embellished what occurred that day because of the triggering event that there was a social media post, as she notes in the charges, that she calls scandalous marital information," said attorney Barry N. Covert. "We believe this is an improper attempt to violate our clients' First Amendment rights to engage in lawful protests at the diocese and in lawful First Amendment speech on social media."
Flynn alleged that at 4:45 p.m. Sept. 3, the two former Christ the King Seminary students approached a woman as she attempted to exit the rear parking lot of the diocese offices. The defendants are accused of yelling at the victim and standing in the path of her vehicle, preventing her from exiting.
The defendants also are accused of harassing the woman on social media, Flynn said.
Bojanowski and Parisi are scheduled to return to court Jan. 17.
The two former seminarians said they left Christ the King Seminary after becoming disenchanted with how the diocese handles complaints of clerical abuse and harassment. Bojanowski accused the Rev. Jeffrey Nowak of violating the Catholic church’s seal of confession, sexual harassment and attempted blackmail, and has alleged that former Bishop Richard J. Malone ignored the complaints for months. Nowak, who was put on leave in August, has denied the allegations through his attorney. The Erie County District Attorney's Office launched an investigation into the allegations against Nowak in September, and a spokeswoman said Tuesday the probe found that no crimes had been committed.
Bojanowski and Parisi protested against Malone and other diocese officials on multiple occasions outside the diocese chancery offices on Main Street, the bishop's residence on Townsend Street and at Christ the King Seminary in Aurora.
Tensions between protesters and Malone spilled over in late October, with diocese officials and the protesters both calling police, picketers being barred from attending a Mass and one picketer accusing the bishop of menacing her with his car.
Bojanowski and Parisi were among the protesters involved in those confrontations.