July/August 2019 Church & State Magazine - July/August 2019

Buffalo Police Refrained From Investigating Priests, Newspaper Report Says

  Rob Boston

Police officials in Buffalo, N.Y., for years followed a policy of not investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic priests, the Buffalo News has reported.

In a major investigative story, the newspaper’s Dan Herbeck reported May 19 that the police department’s policy until 1994 was to turn complaints about priests over to church officials to be dealt with internally.

“The department’s unwritten policy was that Catholic priests did not get arrested,” Martin Harrington, a retired detective, told the News. “I never had any experience with priests who molested children. I never heard of any priests molesting children. But we had priests we caught with pornography or masturbating in the city parks, and our orders were to turn them over to the Buffalo Diocese. The diocese would deal with them … but they would not be arrested.”

Martin Jurewicz, a former vice-squad lieutenant, backed up the claim.

“When I joined the vice squad in 1968, the department had just changed its policy on priests,” Jurewicz said. “You used to just let them go. Starting around 1968, when you picked up a priest, you had to call the bishop’s office. The bishop’s office would send someone to pick up the priest. No arrest was made. The diocese handled these problems.”

The policy covered only priests and did not extend to clergy members of other faiths.

The department’s lax policy on allegations of sexual misconduct by priests may have fostered an atmosphere where members of the Cath­olic clergy felt empowered to commit crimes against children. The News surveyed old records but found no instances of police in Buffalo charging a priest with molesting a child in the past 50 years, even though a number of allegations were later made.

The News quoted a retired police captain who recalled an incident that occurred in the 1970s. A couple in Buffalo came to a police station and accused a priest of molesting their son. Two detectives were assigned to investigate the matter and later reported that they had uncovered enough evidence to back the parents’ claim, but the priest was not arrested.

“All that happened is that he was transferred immediately to another parish,” said the retired captain, who spoke to the paper anonymously. “It was a horrible thing. If this happened today, I would make sure it was handled differently. We should have been arresting these people.”

In another case, Buffalo police officers found a priest, the Rev. David Bialkowski, in a parked car with a 16-year-old boy twice in the same night. No arrest occurred, and it was only years later that Bialkow­ski was accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

The police department’s policy on arresting priests did not change until 1994, when R. Gil Kerlikowske be­came police commissioner.

Kerlikowske, who is now retired, told the News, “But when I came into the department as an outsider, I made it clear that we were going to operate on a level playing field with situations like that. No more special favors to certain groups of people.”

Continued Kerlikowske, “Something that serious, if it had been reported to our detectives, would have come to my attention. I believe the church hierarchy would deal with these things themselves as opposed to going to police. It’s only in recent years that people are finding out that things were not being done properly.”

Herbeck reported that in 2003, officials with the Buffalo diocese “signed an agreement with district attorneys in Western New York promising for the first time to report to the prosecutors any allegations against priests involving sexual misconduct of minors.”

Deferential treatment of priests accused of sexual abuse of minors has occurred in other states. In March 2016, former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a grand jury report about the rampant sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese. The report found that government officials were aware of the abuse but failed to stop it.

The report discussed a priest named Leonard Inman who was known to be soliciting boys for sex. Altoona police began to investigate, but backed off after pressure from the local bishop.

“The Grand Jury finds that Inman was actively engaging in prostitution and oral intercourse with minors at Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament Altoona,” reads the report. “Altoona Police were aware of allegations and investigated the matter. The Diocese sought to protect the image of the institution rather than protect children or hold Inman accountable. No charges were ever filed in part due to the undue influence of the diocese over local officials.”

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