Former priests-turned-advocates for victims of alleged sexual abuse by clergy were standing outside the entrance to Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora Thursday afternoon, offering their support for the seminarians who recently came forward to their leaders about alleged inappropriate sexual conversations by three local priests at a recent gathering. The activists say seminarians have since been subject to interrogations. The priest leading the school on an interim basis since September denies that.
Robert Hoatson, a former priest who now leads the advocacy and support group Road to Recovery, stood with James Faluszczak, also a former priest and a 1995 graduate of Christ the King Seminary. They held signs suggesting the seminarians who reported inappropriate conduct are heroes.
Just before they were scheduled to deliver their opening remarks, two men walked to the entrance from the heart of the campus. One of them was Father John Staak, who has led the seminary on an interim basis since former President-Rector Joseph Gatto went on leave following a complaint of alleged sexual misconduct.
Father Staak perhaps surprised the activists and news reporters there to cover the event, when he expressed his support for their presence and for their defense of the seminarians.
"I want to thank you for your support of the seminarians and what they're doing," Staak said to Hoatson and Faluszczak. "We're doing so much to try to get them to have the freedom to make these reports and right now, as we close up the year, you're an encouragement to them. So we're actually happy you're here."
Several seminarians reported alleged crude, sexual conversations took place during an April party, comments made by three priests: Father Arthur Mattulke and Father Patrick O'Keefe of Saints Peter and Paul in Hamburg; and Father Robert Orlowski of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Blasdell. Those priests were since placed on leave.
Hoatson later detailed the reason for their presence. He says it came to the attention of his peers that following a leak of information about the incident to WKBW-TV, seminarians were subject to intgensive questioning by the seminary's dean of academics, former police officer Michael Sherry.
Father Staak denies that a "leak investigation" has taken place and told Hoatson and reporters that while seminarians were questioned, follow-ups were done voluntarily.
"In this case we had multiple complaintants for the April 11 situation," Staak said. "And then we do the report after their complaints. Then the report goes in. When the others - there were a lot more there - who didn't make complaints, they felt that after the report came out that they wanted to have their say as well. They voluntarily came in. There was no interrogation thing going on."
Staak also revealed that upon the end of the school year he will report back to the order in which he belongs. He also told the gathering that Gatto will not return.
The exchange between Staak, Hoatson and Faluszczak was respectful. After Staak and his colleague, a public relations officer working on behalf of the seminary, left the scene Hoatson and Faluszczak revealed that they simply don't believe the interim leader's explanation.
Faluszczak says any attempts to speak up about alleged wrongdoing got one subject to interrogations during his days as well.
"Par for the course was to be hauled in multiple times and to be questioned by multiple people," he said.
Hoatson, who says he was fuired by his bishop in 2003 for speaking up about alleged misdeeds, says the seminarians are well within their rights under Church law to speak out.
"Canon 221 of Canon Law in the Church is almost like the First Amendment to our Constitution," Hoatson said. "It gives Catholics the right to speak, especially in cases that are particularly egregious. This is one of those cases."
Faluszczak previously spoke of his own experiences at Christ the King Seminary, which he described as allowing a discreet culture of sexual activity and tolerance of it, as long as it was kept private.
Two days ago, the Buffalo News and WKBW-TV reported that an alleged drunk driver who crashed a car into a house on Knox Road in East Aurora was identified as a seminarian. The Diocese of Buffalo issued a statement following the incident: "We are aware of the accident that occurred last night involving one of our seminarians and are thankful that no one was seriously injured. We will await the final report from the East Aurora Police Department before commenting further."
Father Staak on Thursday acknowledged the problems afflicting the seminary but insisted the culture is improving, led by the seminarians.
"This is the real sign of hope for every place," he said. "This is where the change will happen. And you're already seeing that happen now. There's a corner that's being turned. It's not fully turned but it's happening and these are good guys. You don't want to close it just because there have been a few incidents. That's like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. You don't want to do that."