The Rev. Dennis G. Riter, a Dunkirk pastor who was accused of sex abuse in two Child Victims Act lawsuits despite a Buffalo Diocese investigation that cleared him of the claims, died Saturday in Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 74.
Riter was the longtime pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Dunkirk. He was the first active priest in the Buffalo Diocese to be put on leave in 2018 due to a newly reported child sex abuse allegation. After a three-month investigation, a diocese review board recommended that Riter be returned to the parish because the initial claim and a second that also surfaced could not be substantiated.
Riter, who was assigned to Dunkirk since 2008, maintained he was innocent.
The parish welcomed back Riter, but the allegations continued to linger, as the two men who had reported their claims to the diocese in 2018 sued under the Child Victims Act.
One of the men alleged Riter abused him in the 1990s when he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in South Buffalo; the other man claimed he was abused in 1992, when Riter was assigned to a Lackawanna church.
Both lawsuits named the Buffalo Diocese as defendants. One of the lawsuits also named Riter.
“He was vindicated by the diocese,” said attorney Rodney Personius, who represented Riter. “Anybody has the right to make a claim and there was nothing new that came out that changed the lack of evidence that supported the original claims.”
Dunkirk resident and parishioner Franklin Valone said church members embraced Riter’s return to the parish in 2018 and “were very happy to have him back.”
They’re now saddened and heartbroken by Riter’s death, said Valone.
“We loved him dearly,” said Valone. “He just was there for everyone.”
Riter had an apparent heart attack and became ill prior to a morning Mass during the week, Valone said.
A death notice in the Dunkirk Observer said a Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, 328 Washington Ave., Dunkirk.
Valone said Riter was a private man who did not openly express frustration about the accusations lodged against him.
He said Riter was “hurt deeply” by the claims but soldiered on.
“He did his job for the Lord as best he could when he came back and I thought he did a fantastic job,” said Valone.