NEW YORK — Yet another U.S. bishop has been caught up in the wave of sex abuse cases unleashed by the state of New York’s “lookback window” that took effect earlier this month.
Bishop Edward Kmiec, the now retired bishop of Buffalo, has been named in a lawsuit against the diocese of Buffalo by 23 plaintiffs alleging that the diocese systematically covered up the abuse of minors.
Kmiec, now 83 years old, served as bishop of the diocese from 2004 to his retirement in 2012 after serving as bishop of Nashville and as auxiliary bishop in Trenton, New Jersey. He was succeeded by Buffalo’s current bishop, Richard Malone.
The lawsuit claims the diocese engaged in a “racketeering enterprise” and is in violation of the Racketeers Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which is meant to target criminal organizations.
Using the RICO statute is a rare move in suits against the Catholic Church, although the recent cascade of cases in light of last year’s Pennsylvania Grand Jury — which chronicled over 1,000 cases of abuse at the hands of 300 priests — has led to an uptick in efforts to use RICO as a means of challenging Catholic institutions.
The suit describes an environment of “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct,” and comes at a time when the diocese and Malone are under Vatican scrutiny for their handling of abuse cases.
Malone, who is also named in the suit, has faced multiple calls to resign after his former secretary, turned whistleblower, leaked internal church documents evidencing that Malone kept known abusive priests in ministry. Malone has denied those charges.
In the new lawsuit — one of over 100 filed against the diocese since August 15 — Kmiec is accused of transferring $90 million in assets to protect the Church from civil litigation over abuse.
Along with Malone and Kmiec, retired Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, New York and Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston were named in the new round of lawsuits. Both Hubbard and Guglielmone, who are accused of abusing minors, have denied the allegations.
In Albany, the diocese noted that Hubbard has the presumption of innocence while an investigation meant to comply with newly released Vatican norms for bishop accountability is completed.
Earlier this week, Guglielmone announced that he would take a step back from his public ministry to defend himself against the charges.
“This false accusation against me has no merit whatsoever; I have vigorously defended myself and will continue to do so,” he wrote in a letter that was distributed at Sunday Masses last weekend.
“I do not want to distract the focus from the important ministries of the Church in South Carolina–including creating safe environments for our children,” he continued.
To date, more than 500 lawsuits have been filed as a result of New York’s look back window, with experts predicting that number to increase significantly over the next year.
Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212
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