Brunt of Child Victims Act lawsuits filed Wednesday target the Diocese of Buffalo

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – More than 90 percent of the lawsuits filed in Western New York Wednesday as a result of the Child Victims Act named the Diocese of Buffalo as a defendant.

Over the past 18 months, several people have publicly accused a Catholic priest of sex abuse. Many have also accused the diocese of mishandling abuse cases.

Just after midnight on Wednesday, a one-year window opened up for victims of child sex abuse to file a lawsuit, no matter how old they are or how long ago the abuse occurred.

“It’s 40 years of trauma that finally has a voice,” said David Harvey, one of the victims who filed a lawsuit after midnight.

Harvey accused Rev. David Peter of abusing him when he was eight-years-old.

Over the course of the morning and afternoon Wednesday, dozens upon dozens of lawsuits continued to come in. About 100 suits have been filed against the diocese as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

At a press conference outside diocesan headquarters, attorney Paul Barr and James Faluszczak, a former priest who is an advocate for victims, publicly accused five more priests of abuse for the first time: Rev. Edwin Fagowski, Rev. Joseph Gambino, Rev. Paul Nogaro, Msgr. Peter Popadick, and former Rev. Franklin Tuchols.

Nogaro and Popadick are still serving in diocesan parishes. Nogaro serves at St. Stephen in Grand Island. Popadick serves at St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Cheektowaga. He was once secretary to former Bishop Edward Head. Nogaro and Popadick are two of six people who allegedly abused a young boy at St. Mary of Sorrows School and Bishop Fallon High School in the 1960s and 1970s, a lawsuit filed Wednesday said.

Msgr. Popadick did not respond to request for comment.

In an email, Rev. Nogaro said, “I emphatically deny this allegation.”

“No one here is trying to surprise the Church or shock the community, or rile up the Catholic faithful,” Faluszczak said. “We’re simply trying to right a wrong.”

In a statement released Wednesday evening, a diocesan spokesperson said, “All new allegations received today will be examined and investigated in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and the policies of the Diocese of Buffalo, and appropriate action will be taken.”

In another lawsuit filed, Michael Lewandowski, a Franciscan Friar who once worked at St. Francis High School in Athol Springs and was removed from ministry in 2014, is accused of abusing a student beginning in 1979.

“(O)n multiple occasions Lewandowski forced Plaintiff to wrestle him,” the lawsuit states. “While the two were wrestling, Lewandowski would pull down Plaintiff’s pants and underwear (and perform an inappropriate act). On multiple occasions, Lewandowski insisted Plaintiff drink wine prior to these acts of sexual abuse.”

Attorney Stuart Mermelstein is representing the unnamed plaintiff in that case. His lawsuit names the diocese and the Franciscans as defendants.

“Both entities are responsible for authorizing and controlling the priests,” Mermelstein said.

A spokesperson for Our Lady of the Angels Province, the religious order which oversees Friars, said they is working to get a copy of the lawsuit.

“Justice must be properly served,” the order said through a statement. “Our first concern remains focused on the pastoral care of victim survivors who may have been abused by Friars or former Friars while continuing our mission of rebuilding the Catholic Church.

“We pray that God allows the spirit of St. Francis to continue the healing of victim survivors and all the people whom we serve.”

On Tuesday evening, Bishop Richard Malone released a prepared statement. Again, he expressed apologies to those who were abused.

“While the litigation filed in the courts over the next year will recount horrific details of abuse, I want to assure everyone that children within the church today are safe,” Malone said.

He added that there have been substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse by three priests in the Diocese of Buffalo since 2000, and no substantiate claims against any diocesan priest ordained in the last 30 years.

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