Former Dunkirk Priest Named In Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Buffalo Diocese

BUFFALO – A priest on leave from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk is at the center of a lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo in which the plaintiff is asking the court to order Bishop Richard J. Malone to release all information on all accused priests in the Diocese.

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The lawsuit was filed Thursday in State Supreme Court on behalf of Matthew Golden, who says he was abused by Father Dennis Riter as a young boy and that Malone was aware of it and conspired to cover up the incident. Golden is represented by Jeff Anderson & Associates and The Abbatoy Law Firm.
The complaint states that the Diocese was in charge of Riter and all his activities, including programs in which he participated with children.
“From approximately 1996 to 1999, when Plaintiff was approximately 10 to 13 years old, Fr. Riter engaged in unpermitted sexual contact with Plaintiff,” the complaint said.
The complaint alleges that in May of 1992, the Diocese received a letter from a student at Christ The King Seminary that he saw Riter “sexually abusing a 6-year-old boy at Queen of All Saints Church in Lackawanna.”
“The student wrote to Bishop Head and Bishop Grosz on behalf of the Diocese, describing that he witnessed Fr. Riter in a ‘morally and legally questionable situation with a young male child’ and that it was ‘very disturbing… to the point that this keeps me awake at night.’ The seminarian stated ‘anyone who would take advantage of a child this way shall be criminally investigated and not serve as a priest in any capacity in any ministry in our Catholic Church.”
“Defendant Diocese took no action in response to the seminarian’s report,” the complaint states.
The complaint goes on to say that in 2001 the Diocese learned that Riter allegedly sexually abused an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Health, as reported by the victim’s mother, who requested that action be taken. Shortly after this accusation, Riter was transferred from Our Lady of Perpetual Health. Parishioners were not told why Riter was transferred.
Riter was placed on administrative leave for about two years from 2001 to 2003.
In March, Golden contacted the Diocese to report being sexually abused by Riter after learning Riter “was still working as a priest with access to children at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.” On March 26, Riter was again placed on administrative leave, with no explanation to parishioners.
On June 28, Riter was returned to his post at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton with the Diocese stating the allegations were “found unsubstantiated” by a diocesan review board.
“Defendant Diocese has refused to provide explanation despite requests for the report of findings of the diocesan review board” the complaint states.
The complaint says the “Defendant Diocese knew or should have known that Fr. Riter was a danger to children before he molested Plaintiff and after the abuse of Plaintiff was reported.”
“Defendant Diocese negligently or recklessly believed that Fr. Riter was fit to work with children and/or that any previous problems he had were fixed or cured; that Fr. Riter would not sexually molest children; and/or that Fr. Riter would not hurt children.”
The complaint argues that the Diocese holds its leaders and agents as people of high morals, possessing immense power, teaching families and children to obey them and respect and revere them and soliciting families and children into its programs while marketing to families and holding out that the programs are safe.
By allowing Riter to continue his work as a priest with contact to children, the Diocese is telling the public that the “Defendant did not and does not have a history of molesting children,” the complaint said.” And goes on to say the Diocese, by its actions, “does not know that Fr. Riter was and is a danger to children.”
“By placing Fr. Riter in a position of trust and authority, the Diocese exposed the public, and Plaintiff in particular, to the risk of becoming a victim of a criminal sexual act,” the filing states.
Since sexual abuse is an act committed in secret, an unaware public cannot take steps to protect itself, the attorneys argue.
“By keeping Fr. Riter in a position of trust and authority (with ready access to children), the Diocese introduced the threat of criminal conduct into the public sphere,” the complaint said. “In so doing, the Diocese created the opportunity and forum for Fr. Riter to commit criminal acts against  members of the public including the Plaintiff, thus impairing the public health, welfare and safety. The public has an inherent right to be free from activities that pose a risk to health, welfare and safety.”
The attorneys argue that the Diocese has a duty to refrain from actions it should know would expose the public to threats of its safety, health and welfare.
“Despite this duty, the Diocese has, for many decades, adopted a policy and practice of covering up criminal activity committed by clerics within the Diocese. This practice continues to the present day and encompasses all times relevant to the instant complaint,” the filing reads.
The court is told in the complaint that when the Diocese released the names of 42 priests accused of abuse, Riter’s name was not among them.The nuisance charge says the Diocese “continues to conspire and engage and/or has conspired  and engaged in efforts to:”  conceal from the general public the sexual assaults, and to conceal them from civil authorities, attack the credibility of of victims, shield priests from prosecution and to allow child molesters to live freely in the community without informing the public.
Recently  Bishop Malone, responding to a report from a Pennsylvania Grand Jury that 301 priests  sexually abused at least 1,000 minors, said he shares the sense of horror but vowed the church has changed.
“The Diocese of Buffalo is committed to learning from the sins and crimes of the past and from the ways they were handled,” Malone said. “I share in the sense of horror at the magnitude of damage wrought on victims by ministers of the church who, of all people, should be eminently trustworthy. It’s a different church now in the way we respond to any claims of abuse.” He did not mention Riter in his response.
This spring, the names of 15 priest who worked in this area and were accused of sexual abuse was released by the Diocese.
The 15 were:
James Cotter, Our Lady of Lourdes, Bemus Point; Donald S. Fafinski, St. Josephs, Fredonia; Mark M. Friel, SS Peter and Paul, Jamestown; Louis J. Hendricks, St. Patricks, Randolph; Francis T. Hogan, Holy Cross, Salamanca and St. Patricks, Salamanca; Timothy J. Kelley, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Dunkirk; Thomas L. Kemp, Our Lady of Victory, Frewsburg; John D. Lewandowski, SS Peter and Paul, Jamestown; Loville M. Martlock, St. John Fisher, South Dayton and St. Elizabeth, Cherry Creek; Basil A. Ormsby, Holy Trinity, Dunkirk; Martin L. Pavlock, SS Peter and Paul, Jamestown, St. John Fisher, South Dayton, St Elizabeth, Cherry Creek and Holy Trinity, Dunkirk;  James A. Spielmam, Camp Turner, Allegany State Park, SS Peter and Paul, Jamestown and St. Patrick, Salamanca; Chester S. Stachewicz, St. James, Jamestown and Robert W. Wood, Holy Trinity, Dunkirk.