Kevin Brun, a member of the committee representing childhood survivors of sex abuse in Buffalo Diocese bankruptcy proceedings, told Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger on Wednesday that his son killed himself within 24 hours of reading Brun’s letter of being abused by a priest more than 40 years ago.
Brun gave Scharfenberger a heart-wrenching account of losing his son Patrick, 21, on Easter Sunday in 2019, saying he wanted the bishop and the diocese’s lawyers to understand his level of commitment to making sure victims of abuse get a measure of justice in the bankruptcy.
The virtual meeting on Wednesday marked the first time since the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that Child Victims Act plaintiffs and their lawyers were able to question Scharfenberger directly about diocese operations and other issues.
Brun, after explaining the painful circumstances around his son’s death, asked the bishop whether he would release secret documents on sexual abuse by priests.
Scharfenberger responded by saying “there’s nothing I will not do in order to be of assistance in maintaining, in encouraging full accountability by everyone for their actions.”
“As far as the release of files, as I have said before, I will continue to say again, I will be very, very happy at any point to share whatever information I have access to, with anyone that needs that access in order to find some sort of knowledge or information they need in their own cases,” he said.
Scharfenberger did not comment on the death of Brun’s son.
After the meeting, Brun said the bishop’s lack of acknowledgment was more evidence of the diocese’s callous treatment of childhood abuse survivors.
“I didn’t even get an ‘I’m sorry' from him," Brun said. “That speaks to how much they say they care about healing and doing the right thing for survivors, and what they actually do is the complete opposite. I was quite upset by it. I was going to say something, but I felt decorum should prevail and I didn’t want to fly off the handle.”
Brun also asked Scharfenberger whether he would move to take away the pensions of priests who have been accused of abuse.
Scharfenberger said he wasn’t sure he could legally do that, and Stephen Donato, an attorney for the diocese, noted that a separate legal entity runs the pension plan for clergy.
“It’s not the diocese that actually makes a pension payment,” Donato said. “It’s not the diocese that controls that decision.”
Scharfenberger also said even if he could remove a priest’s pension, “then where do they go?”
“Many people in the helping professions are very concerned about the propensity for individuals like that to do harm, not only to themselves, but to others, if they have no form of support,” he said. “I have to be honest, I feel a certain sense of responsibility over these people, because if I don’t exercise that type of responsibility, who will?”
Brun wasn’t satisfied with the diocese’s response.
“Where do they go? My response is, ‘I lost my son. Where am I supposed to go?’ I’ve gone on with my life. I’ve gone forward. And my suggestion to these priests, and I use that term loosely, is you need to find a way to go on,” he said.
Brun, a West Seneca resident, filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit against the diocese last September, accusing the Rev. Arthur J. Smith of molesting him in a hotel room when he was 16 on a field trip to Washington D.C. Brun filed his lawsuit anonymously. He agreed to be identified by name in this story because he said he has nothing to hide anymore.
“They can’t take anything away from me anymore. Everything that was precious to me has been taken already,” he said.
In an interview with The News, a tearful Brun said he never wanted his sons to know what happened to him.
In a burst of spring cleaning last year, Brun accidentally left a letter he wrote to the Buffalo Diocese out in the open, and his youngest son, Patrick, read it. The letter was Brun’s graphic account of the abuse, an experience that continues to haunt him.
Brun said he remembers his son telling him, “Don’t worry, dad, we’re going to get justice for you, as a family.”
But the next day, Brun received only more heartache. Police knocked on his door and told him that Patrick had died by suicide.
Brun said his therapist told him his son’s seeing the letter might have been a contributing factor to the suicide, but Patrick probably had been dealing with undiagnosed depression and anxiety, he said.
Brun can’t shake the feeling that Patrick’s death was his fault.
“ If he never saw that letter, I think he’d still be with us. I can’t change that now,” he said.
Patrick, he said, was just getting started on a career as a corrections officer.
“I was a corrections officer, and he was following in my footsteps,” said Brun. “He was loved by many people, and I still miss him every day.”
In March, when Brun was seeking to be appointed to the official committee of unsecured creditors, he told U.S. Trustee William K. Harrington that he had been searching for a purpose in his life since Patrick died.
“My allegiance is to the survivors and acting as a fiduciary for them. I could care less about what priests that don’t have any money to live on do, or what Bishop Scharfenberger’s point of view is,” he said. “I’m on the committee to fight for survivors and what’s right for them.”