Two Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing a child have been returned to their ministries after an investigation by the Buffalo Diocese was unable to substantiate the allegations against them, the diocese announced Friday.
Monsignor Peter J. Popadick and the Rev. Paul M. Nogaro were taken off administrative leave after the person who complained about them refused to cooperate with the diocese's Independent Review Board's investigation, the diocese said.
The priests had been placed on leave in August after the two priests were accused in a Child Victims Act lawsuit.
Popadick has been reinstated as pastor of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church in Cheektowaga and Nogaro, who had served as pastor of St. Stephen Catholic Church on Grand Island, "returns to ministry as a retired priest of the diocese," the release stated.
"Both Msgr. Popadick and Father Nogaro have successfully served the diocese and parishes in many capacities and for numerous years in priestly ministry," the diocese said.
Attorney Edward C. Cosgrove, who represents Popadick and Nogaro, said the priests are "overjoyed" that they have been returned to ministry and that their "reputations" have been cleared. He said the recommendation to reinstate the priests was based on the findings of a Dec. 19 meeting of the Independent Review Board.
"The board members heard details of the investigation conducted by the diocese and they also heard about the results of my investigation and that is what resulted in the recommendation to the administrative bishop to return these priests to ministry," Cosgrove said in referring to the actions of the Buffalo Diocese's apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany.
When the priests were placed on administrative leave, Cosgrove said they were sent to retirement homes and prohibited from exercising their priestly faculties.
"Since that time, they have worked with me and my law firm to demonstrate and establish to the Independent Review Board a lack of any value to the unsworn claims in the lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo," said Cosgrove, who added that Popadick and Nogaro would not be making any public comments about their reinstatement.
Many parishioners from St. Aloysius and St. Stephen, Cosgrove said, contacted him to defend the priests.
And while the priests have been restored to ministry, the Erie County man in his 60s who has accused them of sexually abusing him as a boy is continuing with his lawsuit.
"He has not cooperated with the diocese investigator because he does not trust the diocese,” attorney Paul K. Barr said of his client. “That does not mean he is dropping his case. We will continue to pursue this litigation in the courts.”
In the suit, the plaintiff, whose name is not listed, alleged Popadick and Nogaro were among four priests who raped and molested him, beginning when he was 10 or 11 years old. Two teachers at St. Mary of Sorrows Church and School in Buffalo were also alleged to have raped the same boy. That is the most individuals named as molesters by any one local plaintiff since the start of Child Victims Act filings in New York.
When asked for his reaction to the reinstatement of Popadick and Nogaro, Barr said, “This is the kind of thing that got the diocese in trouble in the first place. Putting people back on the altar after they have been accused.”
Nogaro told The Buffalo News in August that he denied the allegations, saying he has never molested anyone at any of the churches where he has worked.
“I don’t know who is accusing me, but I absolutely deny it because I have never done this to anyone in 48 years as a priest,” Nogaro said.
Popadick spent more than 20 years as the secretary to Bishop Edward D. Head, who was the Buffalo Diocese bishop from 1972 until 1995.
Buffalo News reporter Dan Herbeck contributed to this story