Former FBI special agent talks Diocese of Buffalo scandal

LISTEN: Peter Ahearn on criminal conduct and FBI investigative practices

Mike Baggerman
September 06, 2019 - 3:00 am

Diocese of Buffalo with two dozen protesters calling for Bishop Malone's resignation. September 10, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) - With the FBI reportedly investigating the Diocese of Buffalo in its role in the clergy sex abuse scandal over the last year, former FBI agent in Buffalo, Peter Ahearn, said it's hard to say how long the investigation will take.

Channel 7 and The Buffalo News have both reported that agents spoke with victims of clergy sex abuse in Buffalo, who said they're looking for proof of a cover-up in the diocesan ranks. 

"If they are (doing an investigation), they're going to be very thorough and follow the trail wherever it takes it," Ahearn told WBEN by phone. "If it's a one-allegation type of issue and it's not anywhere else, the case could move quickly. If there's an allegation that one person did something to another person -in this case a priest or something else- they're going to look at it the same way."

Ahearn said an FBI investigation into the Diocese is no different than any other type of investigation they do. They'll deal with allegations and interview witnesses. The FBI will then work with the US Attorney's Office to bring charges against the organization. The US Attorneys Office would not confirm or deny any investigations into the Diocese of Buffalo.

"Just because it's a church, it should not change anything at all," Ahearn said.

While Bishop Richard Malone has come under intense criticism over the last two years for his handling of the abuse crisis including allegations of cover ups, Ahearn said he can't comment on if he believes the bishop has done anything criminal but did note that his actions based on media reports are "questionable".

"It's out there," he said. "There are things that are being looked into. If there's anything going on from an investigative standpoint, it's still going on. These type of cases don't happen overnight. You might have individual issues with a person or a priest but the investigation will go on. It will go wherever the investigation takes it."

The diocese last September hired former FBI agent Steve Halter to conduct internal investigations on clergy or employee abuse and misconduct. He's also tasked with investigating financial mismanagement and serves as a consultant to the Diocesan Review Board. We reached out to the Diocese to ask if Halter is allowed to directly contact local, state, or federal authorities if he finds anything that could be deemed criminal before Halter notifies members of the Diocese of Buffalo. WBEN did not receive a response from diocesan spokesperson Kathy Spangler.

Ahearn worked with Halter and called him a "tremendous investigator". He said that Ahearn reports to the bishop and whatever happens in those investigations that is deemed criminal should be turned over to authorities.

"That's the way the system should work," he said.

Ahearn said he remembers investigations into the Catholic Church as far back as 2001 and 2002 during his time in Western New York. He said the controversy became re-focused after last year's grand jury report on the church's activities in Pennsylvania.

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