AMHERST — A Niagara Falls native and a Buffalo resident who allege their abuse claims were mishandled by the Buffalo Diocese have appealed to Pope Francis to begin a papal investigation.
In a Tuesday press conference delivered from the law offices of HoganWillig, attorney Diane Tiveron sat between Niagara Falls resident Vanessa DeRosa and Antonio “Tino” Flores of Buffalo and called for Pope Francis to investigate the diocese’s handling of their complaints and others in the region.
DeRosa and Flores have also dispatched a letter to the Vatican and asked to meet with Francis during his September visit to the United States.
“Our stories of abuse and neglect by the Church are different yet similar, and we have united in our desire for closure and peace,” the two wrote in the jointly signed letter.
The request is not without precedent. Pope Francis in November wrote to a Spanish bishop after hearing from a victim, urging an investigation into abuse that took place 10 years earlier.
DeRosa and Flores’s attorney said an expired statute of limitations bars the two from suing the diocese, requiring the involvement of the Vatican. Tiveron said that with her clients an appeal will be made to the state legislature to extend the statute of limitations in New York, which now expires after any plaintiff reaches age 23.
“We’re asking for any extension possible at this point,” Tiveron said. “It’s hard, it takes people time in their life to come forward. It takes time to feel strong enough.”
DeRosa, now 24, claims a former teacher at St. Dominic Savio Middle School, repeatedly abused and harassed her over the course of the 2002-03 school year.
In her portion of the letter, DeRosa maintains the teacher exposed her to pornography and pressured her into sexual behavior, including the removal of her clothes, intercourse, and other abuses. She also suggests school officials defended the teacher after the alleged abuse was reported.
After hearing of others who were abused, DeRosa took her claim to the Niagara Falls Police in 2004.
“I have found myself unable to trust anyone in a position of authority, especially members of the church, and have been a victim of further abuse in almost every relationship I’ve had since,” DeRosa wrote.
Flores was abused by a local priest for five years beginning at the age of 10. Flores said the priest was like a “father figure” to him and his brothers. He also indicated that his mother had appealed to the church for help while raising the children by herself.
Over that period, first intermittently, then on a daily basis, Flores wrote that he was subjected to “oral sex, masturbation, and attempted intercourse.”
“My life was forever ruined by this abuse, and has caused me overwhelming stress, psychological trauma, depression, physical illness, and panic disorders,” Flores wrote.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening to the Associated Press, Bishop Richard J. Malone said the cases were handled in accordance with diocesan policies.
A bill that would extend the statute of limitations on such crimes has passed through the state assembly but not yet the senate. Tiveron said a number of bills have sought to address the matter and she feels confident in legislators’ potential interest in pushing the legislation forward.
Though DeRosa and Flores opportunity for legal recourse has passed, new legislation will give them hope.
“When you’re increasing the statute, you grandfather in people who have been left out in the cold,” Tiveron said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story