Three suburban Catholic priests have been suspended in the wake of an April 11 incident among priests and seminarians at a Hamburg rectory. A statement from the diocese explaining the incident indicates sexual harassment was involved.
According to the statement, there was a "social gathering of seminarians and priests" that evening in the rectory of Sts. Peter & Paul Church. At some point, "unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations" occurred. Several students at Christ the King Seminary found the conversation "disturbing and offensive," so they reported it to seminary leaders.
The diocesan statement says the incident did not include physical sexual abuse of a minor or adult.
"Seminarians in attendance stepped forward to report they were uncomfortable with what they felt was inappropriate conversation and stories being shared by some of the priests in attendance," said a statement from Christ the King Seminary. "Rev. John M. Staak, OMI, interim president-rector at Christ the King, said the seminarians followed established protocol in expressing their concerns to seminary officials."
“Our primary mission is the education of our students and the formation of our future priests, deacons and pastoral ministers,” said Staak. “I am pleased the seminarians stepped forward to voice their concerns about unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations which occurred.”
The seminarians had received VIRTUS training on sex abuse and knew how to report the incident to seminary officials. Created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, VIRTUS identifies best practices "to help prevent wrongdoing and rightdoing by religious organizations," according to its website.
There was an immediate investigation of the April incident and report to Bishop Richard Malone and other diocesan officials.
"One of the seminary’s two designated officials to investigate incidents, Michael Sherry, academic dean at Christ the King Seminary and a retired law enforcement official, promptly conducted a thorough internal investigation," said Christ the King. "Sherry provided his findings to Fr. Staak and to the Most Rev. Richard J. Malone, Bishop of Buffalo and chair of the seminary’s board of trustees."
"The Diocese of Buffalo is thankful the seminarians followed the proper protocol and the Seminary responded correctly by immediately investigating and forwarding the findings to Bishop Richard J. Malone and other diocesan officials, including the Office of Professional Responsibility," said the diocese.
As a result, the bishop ordered suspensions for three priests: Sts. Peter and Paul Pastor Fr. Arthur Mattulke and Parochial Vicar Fr. Patrick O'Keefe and Our Mother of Good Counsel Pastor Fr. Robert Orlowski. Saying this was a matter of accountability, the bishop also ordered psychological evaluations of the three and possible treatment, retraining in sexual harassment policies and individual retreats.
Based upon that, there may be future action.