Buffalo Priest Placed Back in Ministry Despite Substantiated Allegations

(For Immediate Release June 1, 2023) 

A Catholic priest from the Diocese of Buffalo has been returned to ministry despite a "substantiated" accusation that he had a sexual relationship with an adult woman. This decision by Bishop Michael W. Fisher causes us grave concern.

The Bishop acknowledged that an investigation by the  Independent Review Board determined that it was "substantiated" that Father F. Patrick Melfi engaged in a sexual relationship with an adult female in 2007. However, Bishop Fisher went on to say that based on the circumstances of this relationship, Father Melfi’s response to the investigation, and his faithful behavior since the relationship ended, the IRB recommended, and Bishop Fisher determined, that Fr. Melfi should be returned to ministry.

Placing Fr. Melfi back on the job with so little information about the circumstances of the accusation makes us uneasy.  Pope Francis has changed Church law to explicitly criminalize the sexual abuse of adults by priests. With this new understanding, accusations of a "relationship" between a cleric and an adult can no longer be so easily dismissed. 

Nancy Fratianni, a SNAP Leader who works with survivors who were abused by clergy as adults, shared her thoughts, “Meanwhile the true victim is often ostracized, or further victimized and even asked to leave their job, their parish, and what once was their support system. Returning a priest to service after the fact is encouraging future abuse of vulnerable people."

SNAP Leader Dorothy Small, who works with Nancy, added, "The priest is placed back in active ministry where he has access to supply with minimal supervision or accountability.  Priests make vows of chastity and celibacy and operate in power differentials that make consent between equal powers impossible, that includes adults. The Church minimizes the language used for abuse of adults as 'inappropriate' relationships and boundary violations. It’s an abuse of spiritual power and authority."

We recognize that we have limited information about the accusation. However, in our 35 years of expertise, we find it unlikely that this is Fr. Melfi's only such "relationship" in his 17-year career. Church officials are doing a disservice to parishioners by not fleshing out the particulars of the accusation. Did the woman attend Fr. Melfi's church and/or was she employed there? In secular culture, a supervisor who faced similar claims in the workplace could be fired and might have difficulties finding another position. We do not believe that the Church should be any less scrupulous in protecting those who walk through their doors, even if they are over the age of majority.

Fr. Melfi, who worked as a temporary administrator for Our Lady of the Angels Church in Cuba and St. Patrick's Church in Belfast and Fillmore, was placed on leave in December 2022, after the accusation was made public. The priest, who was ordained in 2006, only a year before the time of the accusation, was also a parish vicar at St. Christopher's Parish in Tonawanda. In addition, he formerly worked as pastor and rector of St. Mary of the Angels Basilica, as well as pastor of St. John's Roman Catholic Church.

We encourage everyone, which includes adults, who have experienced sexual contact by a Catholic cleric to reach out to trusted professionals and to groups like ours for help and support. If someone believes a crime has been committed, they should also contact law enforcement. 

Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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