The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo announced Tuesday afternoon that Rev. Ryszard Biernat, Bishop Richard Malone's secretary and the diocesan vice chancellor, is taking a leave of absence.
Biernat's leave was announced in a brief statement issued by the Diocese: "Rev. Ryszard Biernat consented on Wednesday, August 14, to take a leave of absence from his position as Secretary to the Bishop and Vice-Chancellor for personal reasons. This leave is for an undetermined length of time.
"The release of this statement today was out of respect for Fr. Biernat’s request to delay this announcement until he had the opportunity to confer with his legal counsel."
Biernat, as reported by the Buffalo News in September 2018, revealed to a local congregation in September 2018 that he, too, was a victim of sexual abuse by a priest. He reportedly had also advised others within the diocese that he was subject to sexual harassment by a veteran priest while he was a seminarian.
Siobhan O'Connor, the former personal assistant to Malone who turned whistleblower last fall, issued a written statement coming to the defense of Biernat: "It was a privilege to work with Father Ryszard Biernat for three years. I am a better person and a stronger Catholic because of him. Since I am no longer privy to the inner workings of the Chancery, I can only note that the Diocese’s cryptic statement makes it clear that this is a highly unusual situation.
"Whatever is going on in there, I can tell you one thing: I have total trust in Father Ryszard’s selfless commitment to the priesthood, our diocese and Our Lord. Father Ryszard’s name is Polish for 'Richard,' which means that I worked closely with two Richards during my time in the Chancery. One of them I trust with my whole heart. The other is Bishop Malone."
Biernat's leave of absence was announced hours after a seminarian announced his resignation from Christ the King Seminary and, during a late morning protest, called on the shutdown of the seminary and the resignation of Malone. Matthew Bojanowski's resignation is the second by a seminarian in a week. Stephen Parisi, the former dean of seminarians, quit last week.
Bojanowski, according to WKBW-TV, complained of sexual harassment at the seminary, but announced his resignation Tuesday in protest of what he describes as the bishop's inaction.
Late Tuesday night, the diocese issued a 2-page statement responding to the latest allegations. By way of background, the diocese said Steven Halter, the former FBI agent who now leads investigations into abuse complaints, continues to investigate Bojanowski's complaint and it did not allege sexual abuse by Nowak originally.
The diocese reminded that Nowak "has been asked to undergo an evaluation and has been informed that he is on leave from his parish assignment." Additionally, "given the information we have today and after review by a canon lawyer, Mr. Bojanowski has not provided any specific evidence to support his claim that the seal of the confessional has been broken."