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New lawsuits against Diocese include first-time accusation, claims of cover-up

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Two more lawsuits are being filed today against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, one of which identifies a local priest as an alleged abuser for the first time, while the other accuses a former auxiliary bishop of providing "hush money" in a 1980s case.

James Faluszczak, a former priest turned advocate for clergy sex abuse victims, and attorney Paul Barr stood outside St. Joseph's Cathedral Thursday morning to provide some details about both cases. In both lawsuits, the plaintiffs are maintaining anonymity.

One lawsuit alleges Bishop Donald Trautman, who served as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Buffalo between 1985 and 1990, covered up a case involving the late Father Gerard Smyczynski. Barr says according to the lawsuit, Trautman covered up Smyczynski's abuse of a minor by giving the victim a "paltry" settlement. He would not disclose a dollar amount but suggested it was about "four figures."

"In addition, he granted and hastened the annulment of this abuse victim's parents," he added.

Smyczynski, according to records Barr and Faluszczak released, was ordained around 1980 and served as a parochial vicar for two years. His first assignment was at Our Mother of Good Counsel Church and School in 1980 and 1981. He then served in a similar role at Infant of Prague Church and School in Cheektowaga from 1981 to 1982. He was placed on "sick leave" later in 1982 and died in 1999.

Bishop Trautman was promoted to lead the Diocese of Erie in 1990. He retired from that role in 2012. The Diocese of Erie is also named in the lawsuit claiming Trautman's cover-up of Smyczynski's alleged abuse.

The second lawsuit announced alleges Father Richard Reina abused a minor while serving as a parochial vicar at Holy Cross Church in Buffalo in the early 1970s. He retired in 2014 but still serves as an assistant at Christ the King Church in Snyder. The lawsuit involving Reina suggests his alleged abusive behavior happened during a time he resided with Monsignor Joseph Gambino, who is also accused of wrongdoing in a separate filing.

"We made a prior filing against Monsignor Gambino a couple of months ago," Faluszczak said. "We want to highlight this rectory where these tragedies unfolded, and the priests that were there, even perhaps as witnesses."

Barr told reporters their lawsuit against Reina includes calling Monsignor Dino Lorenzetti as a witness to possible crimes. Lorenzetti is now 98 years old and Barr emphasized he is not a defendant in this litigation.

"We take no joy in needing to get his deposition and his statement. But we believe that Monsignor Lorenzetti will have information that will be pivotal to our client's case," Barr said.

Reina told WKBW-TV, "I’m absolutely devastated. I absolutely, categorically deny this accusation, without any hesitation."

Greg Tucker, the interim communications director for the Diocese of Buffalo, issued the following written statement in response to Thursday's new accusations:

"The Diocese of Buffalo strongly encourages any and all allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and Diocesan employees to be reported first to law enforcement. The Diocese has in place rigorous protocols for reporting as well, in addition to a third-party reporting system, known as EthicsPoint, which allows for allegations to be reported anonymously. The Review Board, comprised of lay professionals of various expertise, advises on actions to be taken against clergy, bishops and also lay employees, that may be deemed necessary from a canonical standpoint when allegations are determined to be credible. 

"The Diocese is unaware of any allegations against Reverend Father Richard Reina, a retired priest of the Diocese who continues to serve.  With regard to the Reverend Gerard Smyczynski, now deceased, his faculties were removed in 1985 and his name is included on the list of credibly accused clergy. 

"The Diocese – now under the interim leadership of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger as Apostolic Administrator – is assessing the appropriate level of additional detail relating to those credibly accused that may be provided as part of the Diocese’s ongoing reporting, which may contribute to the healing of survivors, who continue to be our first priority."

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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