Buffalo sex abuse victims frustrated as diocese case drags on

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BUFFALO, NY – Several Catholic dioceses in New York State continue to work through the clergy abuse crisis, with numerous filings for bankruptcy after being served with hundreds of lawsuits.

The end of February marks two years since the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Since then, many clergy sex abuse survivors who have filed lawsuits against the diocese have grown increasingly frustrated with how slowly the wheels of justice turn.

Paul Barr of Lewiston recently returned to the scene of the crime, an alleged clergy abuse in the rectory of the former Church of the Sacred Heart in Niagara Falls.

When Paul was 16, he says the late Reverend Michael Freeman invited him over to discuss starting a new youth group.

“And he brought me inside and long story short, he sexually assaulted me,” Barr said.

Barr filed a Child Victims Act lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo more than two years ago, after initially rejecting an offer from its private mediation program. It is one of some 950 lawsuits filed against the diocese since the two-year lookback window closed last August.

“For a religious institution that had my full trust, most of my life, to behave like any other society is very frustrating,” Barr said.

Equally frustrating, Barr says, is that it will be two years since the diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, further delaying the court process.

Despite Spectrum News 1After repeated attempts at an on-camera interview with the diocese, the leaders, in a written statement, said a mediator had been appointed late last year to negotiate a comprehensive settlement with the survivors.

They say their top priority is to provide fair and equitable compensation, adding:

“Achieving a settlement will also allow the Diocese to emerge from Chapter 11 and continue its vital ministries that meet so many needs in Western New York.”

“It was frustrating that they used bankruptcy protection to shield them from liability, Barr said.

It’s also frustrating for Barr’s clients, because he’s not just a survivor, but an attorney representing about 40 other people with lawsuits against the diocese, awaiting justice.

“And it was especially difficult because we lost survivors,” Barr said. “Two of my clients have passed away.”

For those still alive, Barr remains optimistic that a settlement will be reached.

“Hopefully this process will happen fairly and quickly,” Barr said. “They shouldn’t be ashamed of being mistreated. It’s not a reflection on them as people. It’s a reflection on the predator.”

Barr hopes to be at the negotiating table in the coming months.

In total, more than 9,000 lawsuits have been filed statewide, with three other dioceses joining Buffalo in filing for bankruptcy, including Rochester and Syracuse.

Buffalo Diocese leaders say Freeman was removed from active ministry in 1989. He died in 2010.

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