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As Diocese confirms federal subpoena, advocates focus on local seminary

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo confirmed Friday morning they've received a subpoena from the US Attorney's Office in Buffalo, one day after CBS News reported federal investigators are looking into allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

Meanwhile, a former priest turned advocate for sexual abuse victims is raising additional allegations against a priest who, until recently, was heading an East Aurora seminary. 

CBS News reported Thursday that the US Justice Department, for the first time ever, has opened investigations into several dioceses. The focus of the federal probe is alleged trafficking of minors across state lines for purposes of sexual activity.

Seven dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania confirmed receiving subpoenas. CBS News reported Thursday they had learned a subpoena was also issued in Buffalo. 

Friday morning, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Buffalo released the following written statement, indicating the subpoena came earlier this year:

"Several months ago, we received a call from the local U.S. Attorney’s office with a request to review documents. A subpoena was provided and after some discussion, an agreement was reached to produce documents. We have heard nothing since early June. As far as we know, our response has nothing to do with the current Pennsylvania investigation that has just begun."

It was reported in September that the New York State Attorney General also issued subpoenas to every diocese in the state.

Meanwhile, a former priest who is now an advocate for childhood sexual abuse victims is raising additional accusations of sexual activity involving Reverend Joseph Gatto and seminarians at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. 

James Faluszczak, a graduate of Christ the King, stood on the sidewalk just outside St. Louis was abused by his childhood priest in Pennsylvania. Despite this he enrolled at Christ the King years later and, he explained, revealed his own sexual orientation to Father Gatto. He told how a friend of his seeking counseling in 1995 was referred to Gatto. Faluszczak explained that his friend later detailed sexual activity that went on between the two. He has also collected testimonials from two other claiming to have been sexually contacted by the priest. He has posted documents including communications with the Vatican on his Facebook page (documents posted are in both English and Italian). 

"I presented this material about Father Joe Gatto to the 40th Investigating Grand Jury in Pennsylvania," he said, holding up a red folder filled with documents. "This is my full deposition. I have sworn to this material on three different occasions."

Father Gatto, who assumed the role of president and rector of Christ the King Seminary in 2013, went on a leave of absence in September, citing a need for some rest from the rigors of running the seminary. He denied in a September interview with the Buffalo News that his leave was related to allegations raised against him and denied any misconduct. 

Faluszczak, however, accuses the priest of not only participating in sexual misconduct but also enabling it among seminarians. 

"Seminarians who have been at Christ the King while Joe Gatto was a faculty member, while he was a formation director, and now that he is the rector of Christ the King Seminary, are learning an implied curriculum that it is OK to engage in sexual activity, as long as you keep it in private, as long as you confess it to a priest and as long as you keep it within what they call in canon law the 'internal forum,'" he said.

Faluszczak, who left the priesthood in 2014, said he brought his allegations to several trusted priests and then reached out on several occasions to the Bishop of the Diocese of Erie, Lawrence Persico.

"I brought this allegation to him, in person, on four occasions and I brought this to him over the phone on multiple occasions after that," he said. "He assured me, from 2014, that he shared this allegation with Bishop (Richard) Malone and yet, for four years now, each academic year I see Joe Gatto going back to the seminary. So I wondered, was Bishop Malone even aware?"

Having doubts, he explained, he then wrote to Bishop Malone this past spring. Then, ten weeks ago, he co-authored a letter that was delivered directly to Pope Francis. 

Faluszczak responded to the statement issued Friday morning by the Diocese of Buffalo acknowledging it had received a subpoena from federal investigators. In his opinion, any correspondence coming from the chancery in Buffalo is "suspect." He and Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, are also not impressed by the recent hiring of former FBI agent Steven Halter to head its Office of Professional Responsibility.

"Nobody the church hires, nobody the church is responsible for in terms of giving information to can be trusted," Hoatson said. "We do not trust anybody who is on the payroll or in the decision-making venue of the church."

Hoatson says the church cannot police itself, thus an outside independent agency to do so.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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