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Bishop suspends four priests accused of abuse; allegations were in secret court papers

Bishop suspends four priests accused of abuse; allegations were in secret court papers

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Bishop Fisher (copy) (copy)

Bishop Michael W. Fisher.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher on Friday suspended four retired priests from ministry, following abuse allegations lodged against them in confidential documents filed in federal bankruptcy court.

When confronted with the allegations, the priests denied committing any acts of abuse, diocese officials said in a news release.

The accused priests are the Rev. Robert Beiter, 82; the Rev. Thomas Wopperer, 83; the Rev. Raymond Donohue, 63; and Monsignor Ronald P. Sciera, 86.

Diocese officials said they have notified the area district attorneys’ offices and a review board that is responsible for appointing an investigator to examine the claims.

The priests are on administrative leave and restricted from carrying out any ministry or presenting themselves as priests in public, pending an investigation into the claims and the review board’s recommendations to Fisher.

Donohue and Sciera were publicly accused of child sex abuse in separate Child Victims Act lawsuits filed in August, although the diocese did not move at that time to suspend them.

Beiter and Wopperer had not been publicly accused of abuse previously.

One lawsuit alleged that Sciera engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with a 13-year-old child in 1972 at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in Cheektowaga. Sciera was an assistant pastor of the parish at the time.

Another lawsuit alleged that Donohue sexually abused a 14-year-old altar boy in 1987 at the former Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Lakeview. The parish is now called St. John Paul II.

Donohue was pastor of St. Mary Parish in Mayville and St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Sherman prior to his retirement, and most recently was assisting in various parishes.

Wopperer was pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church from 1988 until his retirement in 2008 and was occasionally assisting in several parishes.

Sciera was pastor of Precious Blood Church in Buffalo for many years and has been retired and living in Florida. Sciera had a personal friendship with Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul II, and served for many years on the board of the John Paul II Foundation, a position that brought him regularly to Rome for meetings.

Beiter, former pastor of St. Patrick Church in Brocton, was not currently in active ministry due to declining health.

More than 900 child sex abuse claims were filed against the Buffalo Diocese in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of New York by a deadline on Aug. 14. The diocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020, following a crush of more than 250 Child Victims Act lawsuits alleging abuse by priests and other employees.

Lawsuits have accused 230 priests who served in the Buffalo Diocese of molesting children.

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My byline has run in the Ithaca Journal, USA Today, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle and the New York Times. I have been a staff reporter at The Buffalo News since 2002 and currently am part of the watchdog team.

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