Lawsuit claims Trautman, former Buffalo diocesan leader and Erie bishop, covered up clergy abuse case

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A new Child Victims Act lawsuit filed Thursday details the lengths the accuser says Church officials took to cover up clergy abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo. It specifically blames Donald Trautman, who served as vicar general and auxiliary bishop in Buffalo before becoming the Bishop of Erie in 1990.

“In the lawsuit, we state that Bishop Trautman covered this abuse up,” said Paul Barr, who represents the alleged victim.

The abuse in question is alleged to have been committed in the early-to-mid 1980s, while Trautman was still in Buffalo, by Rev. Gerald Smyczynski. Smyczynski’s name appears on the list of clergy who are credibly accused of abuse against a minor in the Diocese of Buffalo. He died in 1999.

The lawsuit alleges, “Bishop Trautman expedited an annulment for a member of the plaintiff’s family with the hope of ensuring their silence about the abuses perpetrated by Smyczynski.”

At a news conference Thursday morning, Barr said the annulment was for the victim’s parents. He also said Trautman arranged a four-digit cash settlement with his client.

“(Trautman) paid a paltry sum of money to the survivor of that abuse, which amounts to hush money,” Barr said.

“As a result, the priest was permitted to go on and abuse at least another child,” he added.

The lawsuit names both the Diocese of Buffalo and the Diocese of Erie as defendants. Trautman retired as Bishop of Erie in 2012. He currently serves in that diocese as bishop emeritus.

Trautman had previously been criticized in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clergy sex abuse, which was released in 2018. It said the Diocese of Erie had been false and misleading regarding abuse complaints under Trautman.

“We see a pattern in Trautman’s behavior,” said James Faluszczak, an advocate for victims who works with Barr’s law firm.

Anne-Marie Welsh, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Erie, said she does not handle communications for Bishop Emeritus Trautman, and would not comment on his behalf.

“Bishop Lawrence Persico has seen a copy of the suit, but the diocese has not been served,” Welsh said. “As with any litigation, Bishop Persico will cooperate, but will not comment during the legal process.”

Meanwhile, Greg Tucker, a spokesman for the Diocese of Buffalo, sent News 4 a statement, which said of Smyczynski, “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.”

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