Leaked letter by whistleblower complicates scandal in Buffalo diocese
BUFFALO, New York, September 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― The ongoing sex abuse scandal in the Diocese of Buffalo, which has led to increasing calls for the bishop’s resignation, has become more complicated with the release of a private letter by a key whistleblower showing he has a personal stake in the matter.
Bishop Richard J. Malone’s priest-secretary, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, 38, is the second whistleblower from inside Bishop Malone’s chancery to leak apparently damning information on his handling of abuse cases.
But the release of an apparent love letter by Fr. Biernat, written to seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, 38, suggests his role in the matter is more complicated than it first appeared.
The Diocese of Buffalo has been in the headlines since Bishop Malone’s secretary Siobhan O’Connor photocopied and leaked documents to WKBW’s Charlie Specht last summer. Hundreds of pages showed that Bishop Malone had allowed priests accused of sexual assault to stay in ministry. It was not known that O’Connor was the diocesan insider until she gave an interview last October to “60 Minutes”. Following the publication of information in the documents, and O’Connor’s interview, there has been increasing pressure on Malone to resign.
Last week a new chapter in the scandal opened when Buffalo’s WKBW published secret recordings Fr. Biernat had made of private conversations he and others had had with Bishop Malone. The discussions centered on allegations that Fr. Jeff Nowak, 39, a parish priest of the diocese, had sexually harassed Bojanowski. Fr. Nowak is also alleged to have stolen the letter by Fr. Biernat from Bojanowski’s former home in Boston in 2016.
In one of the secret recordings, made August 2, 2019, Malone had asked Biernat not to complain publicly about Nowak and his theft.
“I think we’re gonna blow this story up into something like an atom bomb if we start talking about that. You know?” Malone told Biernat during one of the conversations. “Cause then it sounds like, it sounds like a soap opera. It sounds like a love triangle. And you know what the media can do with that.”
Biernat said last week he released the secret recordings because they implicate the bishop in covering up abuse of seminarian Bojanowski by Fr. Nowak.
“I thought, 'I need to do something,' so I started recording those meetings because they say one thing but they do nothing,” he told WKBW.
But the secret recording also touches on Biernat’s relationship with Bojanowski, as does his three-page handwritten letter.
Written on July 13, 2016, the letter reveals that Bojanowski, then a seminarian, had first told Fr. Biernat that he loved him and that the priest had at first hesitated in reciprocating.
“Remember? The library of the bishop’s house? I hesitated at first in saying that I truly love you. What I have been feeling for you is something totally new and different from all the other feelings of love I have experienced,” Biernat wrote.
“Now, I have no hesitation in saying that I love you (in private and in public). And I will always love you more than yesterday.”
The letter underscores that Biernat feared the seminarian felt “entrapped” in their relationship because the priest held an important post in the diocese. Biernat also worried that Bojanowski would feel emotionally tied to him because the priest had revealed painful stories about being hurt by other men.
“So to get to the point of my letter, I am afraid that all you know about me may compromise your freedom to love or to leave,” Biernat wrote.
“At this point I cannot imagine my life without you. But I cannot bear the thought of you being entrapped either,” he concluded. “So my beloved Matthew, I hope and pray that you are my “other ½ that walks life’s journey with me.”
Biernat thanked Bojanowski for loving him “first” and ended with a lyric from “This Life”, a pop song by Ryan Houston: “P.S. ‘Only you know me like a winter knows the rain.’”
Siobhan O’Connor, Bishop Malone’s former secretary and the original diocesan whistleblower, told LifeSiteNews that she believes there is nothing wrong in the relationship between her former colleague and Matthew Bojanowski, both of whom she has known for years. Biernat has given her his word on that.
O’Connor told LifeSiteNews that she believes the emotional tone of the letter can be explained through cultural differences. She noted also that Biernat had difficulty getting used to American ways.
“Father told me he has a hard time in the West because everything [here] is hypersexualized,” she said.
On her website, which is dedicated to cleaning up corruption in the Buffalo Diocese, O’Connor stressed that she believes this is merely a friendly letter.
“I do not believe it is a love letter,” she wrote in “Proclaim the Truth.”
“I genuinely believe that it was a letter of friendship, which is a form of love and a very important one at that. Have we forgotten that love is a multi-faceted term?”
Fr. Biernat and his lawyer said in a statement to LifeSiteNews that the letter was “a letter of friendship and nothing more should be read into it.”
They underscored that the letter had been stolen from its recipient by Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, who had been the Bojanowski family’s parish priest.
“We have respectfully declined to discuss the letter that was improperly and surreptitiously taken by Fr. Jeffrey Nowak from his penitent approximately 3 years ago,” they state.
“At the time that he improperly and surreptitiously took an unauthorized photograph of that letter, Fr. Nowak was a guest of his penitent at his apartment in Boston, Massachusetts. Fr. Nowak was not authorized to rummage through or read his penitent's personal belongings or correspondence. He was not authorized to take a photograph of any personal letters,” they continued.
“Fr. Nowak's surreptitious and unauthorized acts against his penitent were an absolute violation of the priest-penitent relationship. The letter in question is a letter of friendship and nothing more should be read into it,” they added.
LifeSiteNews has obtained Facebook posts suggesting the Nowak and Bojanowski were good friends by late 2015, not merely a priest and a penitent. They travelled and socialized together. Nowak, who is only a year older than Bojanowski, wrote to him saying that he had considered him his best friend.
Nowak is now on administrative leave. Biernat is on personal leave.
In its article about the letter, Crux revealed that Biernat and Bojanowski bought a house together in 2018. A source close to both men told LifeSiteNews that the house had been owned by Bojanowski’s family who were reluctantly putting it on the market. When Biernat offered to buy it with Bojanowki, the family was delighted that it would thus stay in the family.
Biernat, who until recently was best known as a beekeeper, wanted to buy a house so that he would have somewhere permanent to keep his bees.
“Father Ryszard [Biernat] went through the diocesan lawyer to purchase the house with Matthew [Bojanowski],” O’Connor told LifeSiteNews. “He never tried to hide it.”
Biernat was born and raised in a small town in southern Poland. As a seminarian in Tarnów, he discerned a calling as a missionary to the United States. His English was poor when he arrived at St. Cyril and St. Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan, where Polish-speaking seminarians normally attend before entering Christ the King Seminary in Buffalo.
In an interview last week, Biernat alleged that he was sexually assaulted by Buffalo’s Fr. Art Smith soon after arriving in the United States and lacked the linguistic ability to comfortably tell authorities what had happened. He did not even know what Smith allegedly did to him was a crime.
“At that time, I knew enough English to order (a) latte at Starbucks, not to report the sexual assault,” Biernat said.
“You know, they don't teach you these words in English second language classes.”
Smith has denied the allegation.
The Polish priest also alleged that Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz told him that if he didn’t stop talking about the abuse, he would never be ordained to the priesthood. Having become an American citizen in July, Biernat no longer fears being deported back to Poland for speaking out.
Editor's note: LifeSite has updated an earlier version of this story in order to more fully account for the facts available.