Retired Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, who for many years played a key role in the handling of sex abuse complaints against priests in the Buffalo Diocese, is accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy after a confirmation service in 1990.
A Genesee County man told The News on Monday that Grosz repeatedly groped him at a gathering in a church hall following the confirmation ceremony inside St. Brigid Church in Bergen.
Grosz is the highest-ranking clergyman in the Buffalo Diocese to be accused of child sex abuse.
Grosz did not respond Monday to a voicemail left on his cellphone. Buffalo Diocese spokesman Greg Tucker put out a statement moments after the voicemail saying that Grosz has “voluntarily agreed to step aside from active ministry and not to exercise any priestly or episcopal functions pending a thorough investigation.”
“Bishop Grosz has denied ever having abused an individual, either an adult or minor,” the statement said.
The man, 46, filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit Monday afternoon in Genesee County State Supreme Court.
The man also accused the Rev. Richard J. Keppeler of years of abuse. Keppeler was pastor of St. Brigid in the 1980s when the man was a parishioner there. Keppeler, who died in 2011, is accused of abuse in several previous lawsuits. The Buffalo Diocese also substantiated abuse claims against Keppeler.
The man spoke to The News on the condition that he not be identified by name.
He said he had hoped to tell Grosz at the confirmation about the abuse by Keppeler, but he quickly realized that would not be possible when he approached the altar to be confirmed.
“I was immediately scared and uncomfortable. The bishop looked me over from head to toe and literally licked his lips,” the man said.
Grosz then told him that he looked as if he had stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine, according to the man. The newly confirmed teenagers gathered with their families, Keppeler and the bishop inside a church hall after the Mass.
The man said he found himself alone with Grosz in a separate room until Keppeler walked in and encouraged them to rejoin the party.
Later, Grosz posed for pictures with the boy and various family members.
“He was molesting me, feeling me, groping me the whole time,” the man said.
His mother and grandmother, who both attended the confirmation, remembered Grosz paying an unusual amount of attention to him.
“He had this look on his face and a grin on his face. He reminded me of a kid in a candy store,” the grandmother said of the bishop.
The grandmother told The News she remembers remarking to the bishop to keep his hands off her grandson, only to be scolded by her daughter.
In a final pose with several family members, the man said that Grosz urged him to let out a big belly laugh. The bishop then sexually abused him, according to the man. Grosz walked away as if nothing happened, the man added.
The man showed The News several photographs of himself posing for pictures with Grosz and family members at the confirmation.
He said he used to have a photograph of the exact moment of the alleged assault until several years ago, when he burned it.
The man, who is represented by attorneys Steve Boyd and Jeff Anderson, said hadn't given anyone a full accounting of the alleged abuses until recently.
Grosz, 76, was installed as an auxiliary bishop in 1990. He retired in 2020.
Bishop Michael W. Fisher notified Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the complaint and is in the process of notifying the Vatican, as required by regulations put in place in 2019 by Pope Francis that govern investigations into abuse complaints against bishops.
Grosz was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which alleges that St. Brigid Church in Bergen was negligent in allowing Keppeler and Grosz around children.
In November, Grosz was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney General’s Office against the Buffalo Diocese over its handling of clergy sexual abuse cases.
For years, Grosz was the diocese’s point man on investigating sexual abuse allegations against priests, according to the AG’s lawsuit.
But the AG accused him and other diocese leaders of protecting more than two dozen priests accused of child sexual abuse by not referring their cases to the Vatican for potential removal from the priesthood. It accused retired Bishop Richard J. Malone and Grosz of misusing charitable assets by supporting priests who they knew had likely sexually abused minors.
The AG's suit seeks to hold Malone and Grosz "individually responsible" by prohibiting them from future service in a secular role as a director or officer of any charitable organization and "by obtaining damages and restitution from them for the waste of charitable assets caused by their misconduct."
More than 175 priests who served in the Buffalo Diocese since 1950 have been accused of child sex abuse.
The man’s lawsuit is the first to accuse Grosz of sexually abusing a child. Hundreds of Child Victims Act lawsuits have been filed against the Buffalo Diocese since August 2019. The diocese was named in more Child Victims Act lawsuits than any other defendant in the state, according to an analysis by The News last year.
The lawsuits prompted the diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2020.