DA Supports Probe Of Abuse Claims

Patrick Swanson

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said he supports the idea of a joint investigation to review allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests within the Diocese of Buffalo.

Swanson’s remarks came after several Buffalo media outlets reported Wednesday that the state Attorney General’s Office contacted the Erie County district attorney about a potential joint investigation into sexual abuse complaints against priests. John Flynn, Erie County district attorney, said he would continue to investigate any claims of abuse brought to his office.

Swanson made similar comments when contacted regarding the possible joint venture between the state and Erie County prosecutors.

“Certainly a joint investigation would be of interest,” Swanson told The Post-Journal. “The resources the AG’s office has compared to what I have cannot be compared. Until then, we will aggressively investigate any claims that are made to our office.”

To date, Swanson said he has not received any complaints of alleged abuse by priests locally. The Buffalo Diocese in March released the names of 42 priests who were removed, retired or left the ministry since 1950 due to sexual abuse allegations. Of the priests named, almost a dozen served in churches throughout Chautauqua County.

Though Swanson said no claims have been brought to his attention, it doesn’t mean the abuse did not take place locally. He noted that allegations against priests were long silenced by the church, sometimes even from local police.

“It wouldn’t surprise me that some of these incidents were never investigated,” he said.

The district attorney said he supports passage of the Child Victims Act in the state Legislature that would extend the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes against a minor for five years. In the bill — which passed the state Assembly in May but stalled in the state Senate — victims could file civil lawsuits until the age of 50 and seek criminal charges until age 28. Under current law, abuse victims have until the age of 23 to file a civil suit or seek criminal charges.

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted against the Child Victims Act when brought to a vote in the state Assembly. Goodell, as an attorney, said he disagrees with the five-year extension on the statute of limitations for criminal cases because, legally, it is preferable to have the evidence be as fresh as possible for law enforcement.

“Right now, under the current law, the statute of limitations is age 23, which means if you’re abused as a child you have five years from the time you turn the age of 18 to pursue criminal prosecution,” Goodell said in May. “Even then it’s going to be difficult given the lapse of time unless there is physical evidence — DNA and things of that nature. As a matter of public policy I want these things to come forward as quickly as possible so we have the best chance of arresting and prosecuting the case and preventing abuse.”

The state Senate has created its own bill, the Child Victims Fund, sponsored by state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean. The bill, which also stalled in the Senate, would create a $300 million compensation fund.

“By creating a state compensation fund for victims, monetary reparation for the horrific crimes victims endured will be available to them, regardless of the amount of time that has passed or their abusers’ financial status,” Young said of her bill. “More efficient and expedited than a civil action, deserving victims who have been denied justice in other venues will find redress through this process.”

At the moment, Swanson said current law limits what prosecutors can do with sexual abuse claims, many of which involve incidents that took places decades ago. “We’re pretty hamstrung there with the current law,” Swanson said.