Two Buffalo-area priests were put on leave this past weekend as the Diocese of Buffalo investigates complaints of childhood sexual abuse.
Bishop Richard J. Malone suspended the Rev. Samuel J. Venne and the Rev. Arthur S. Smith from ministry due to allegations that the priests behaved inappropriately with minors.
Venne, who is retired, regularly celebrated Masses at St. Stephen Church on Grand Island. His administrative leave was announced to parishioners at Masses this past weekend.
Smith was working at Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta parish in Depew. Parishioners there also were informed at Masses this past weekend in a letter from the bishop that was read to them.
Diocesan spokesman George Richert confirmed the leaves Monday. Richert did not say when the diocese learned of the allegations. He also wouldn’t specify when the alleged incidents involving the priests happened, other than to say they were not recent.
Malone’s letter stated that the priests were put on administrative leave as an investigation continues.
“Please note that this administrative leave is for the purpose of investigation and does not imply any determination as to the truth or falsity of the complaint,” Malone’s letter also stated.
Venne and Smith are the second and third instances of active or retired priests being put on leave, after Malone for the first time publicly identified 42 priests as having had credible allegations of sexual abuse against them.
The Buffalo Diocese currently has 246 active and retired priests. Most retired priests continue to assist in parishes, particularly by celebrating Masses on weekends throughout the diocese and filling in for sick or vacationing pastors.
The Rev. Dennis G. Riter, pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Dunkirk, was the first active priest to be put on administrative leave following Malone’s announcement in March about the list of 42 accused priests. Parishioners learned of Riter’s leave at Masses the weekend of March 24 and 25.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, to guide them in handling allegations of clergy abuse. The charter was revised in 2005 and 2011. The charter states that when a diocese receives an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon, it must conduct a preliminary investigation in accordance with canon law.
When there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor occurred, the diocese must then notify the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, a Vatican judicial body. The bishop must remove the priest from public ministry if “even a single act of sexual abuse” is admitted or is established “after an appropriate process in accord with canon law,” according to the charter.
Smith left unexpectedly from a parish before. He was replaced as pastor of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Hamburg in 2012, after less than two years in the post. A pastor’s appointment typically spans six years, and diocesan officials gave no explanation at the time as to why he left.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) – Two more active priests in the Diocese of Buffalo have been suspended for allegations of child sexual abuse, the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team has learned.
Fr. Samuel Venne of St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church on Grand Island and Fr. Art Smith of Blessed Mother of Calcutta Catholic Church in Depew have been put on administrative leave, diocesan spokesman George Richert confirmed.
“After receiving an abuse complaint against Rev. Samuel J. Venne, Bishop Richard J. Malone has placed Father Venne on administrative leave as an investigation continues,” according to a written statement released by the diocese. “Please note that this administrative leave is for the purpose of investigation and does not imply any determination as to the truth or falsity of the complaint.”
The diocese released an identical statement regarding Father Smith.
The nature and time period of the allegations are unclear. Richert refused to name any parishes where Smith was recently assigned before Blessed Mother of Calcutta in Depew.
Father Venne is listed on the St. Stephen website as “priest in residence,” a term often used for retired priests who help staff weekend Masses. He previously served at St. Martin of Tours in South Buffalo, where he was remembered by some for driving a conversion van with an oversized stuffed animal in the front seat.
Father Smith is also listed as a priest in residence at Blessed Mother of Calcutta. He previously served at parishes in South Buffalo and Hamburg.
In 2002, as the clerical abuse scandal was breaking in Boston, Smith said in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News, “I can assure you, that the priests of this diocese are good, holy, loving people.”
He went on to say the Diocese of Buffalo did not have the type of problems that were being revealed in Boston.