BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and New York Attorney General Letitia James have agreed to settle the lawsuit brought against the Diocese in November 2020 related to the past handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations, according to a release from the Diocese.
Per the release, most of the stipulations outlined in the settlement have already been implemented to the Diocese’s policies and protocols. In agreement with AG James, the Diocese has appointed a Child Protection Policy Coordinator, who is responsible for ensuring that the rigorous child protection policies are followed.
Melissa Potzler, a former assistant district attorney for Erie County and criminal defense attorney, has been appointed to the position. Potzler was also the recent Parish Life Coordinator at Orchard Park’s Nativity of Our Lord Parish. She will also serve as Vice Chancellor.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying they are “disappointed in the lack of results from this settlement,” and that they hope justice and accountability will still come.
SNAP’s statement criticized the fact that the settlement does not result in the public disclosure of abusers or enablers, nor does it involve any perpetrators facing trial.
“In practical terms, the settlement adds a new staffer to the hierarchy in Buffalo, a Child Protection Policy Coordinator,” the statement said. “We are concerned that the person appointed to this role is someone who already works within the Diocese itself and would have greatly preferred to see a truly independent, non-church-related individual take over this office.”
The statement continued, pointing out how two previous bishops have been prevented from serving in roles with fiduciary responsibility, but are not barred from serving in ministerial or pastoral roles. It said the ‘punishment’ doesn’t even qualify as a slap on the wrist.
Bishop Michael Fisher believes changes to policies and protocols have been working and said the Diocese is committed to accountability and transparency.
The settlement that the Diocese and the New York Attorney General have agreed to confirms that the rigorous policies and protocols the Diocese has put in place over the past several years are the right ones to ensure that all young people and other vulnerable persons are safe and never at risk of abuse of any kind by a member of the clergy, diocesan employee, volunteer, or member of a religious order serving in the Diocese of Buffalo. At the same time, we have strengthened our Safe Environment policies with the Priest Supervision Program which I implemented in June of last year to account for priests removed from active ministry, and with the additional appointment of a new Child Protection Policy Coordinator. We hope that these initiatives, along with our commitment to producing an additional detailed annual compliance audit by an independent auditor, will provide further evidence of our commitment to the level of accountability and transparency that all Catholic faithful and the broader public rightly deserve and require.”Bishop Michael W. Fisher
The Diocese has reportedly contracted with an external firm annually since 2002 to conduct a thorough audit of its policies and protocols, the results of which have been published on the Diocese’s website.
The Diocese hosted a press conference Tuesday afternoon to discuss the settlement. The full presser can be seen here:
The settlement and exhibit documents can be viewed below.