Father Roy Herberger, a priest at UB’s Newman Center, returned to active ministry in December.
He returned to a warm welcome in light of a six-month suspension, caused by a sexual abuse claim.
“The only way that I could say mass was by myself in my residence,” Herberger said. “Because if I went into a church, someone could recognize me and say ‘Oh there is that priest, why is he allowed to be here in the pews where we have children?’”
Bishop Richard Malone suspended Herberger after a sexual abuse claim surfaced in June, according to Herberger. A person, whose name was not released by the Buffalo Diocese, claimed that Herberger assaulted him when he was a student at St. Anne’s Parish in Buffalo during the 1980s. No lawsuit was filed, but the Buffalo Diocese conducted an internal review.
The Diocese lifted the suspension after reviewing investigative reports.
But sexual abuse claims against priests are arising throughout the United States over the past two decades.
Just a month ago, the Jesuit West Province order released 11 priests’ names tied to sexual abuse claims in the Sacramento area, according toTheSacramento Bee. In August 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury reported over 1000 identifiable sexual abuse victims with claims against over 300 priests, according to The New York Times.
Buffalo has also had its share of controversy.
Over the summer, a whistleblower within the Diocese released confidential documents that revealed Bishop Malone covered up dozens of sexual abuse cases. Since then, a growing list of 118 clergy were named with substantiated claims of sexual abuse, according to WKBW.
Herberger, prior to the claim, was assisting Father Patrick Keleher at the Newman Center. Herberger was forbidden from performing any of his priestly duties while on suspension and he could not enter any church property to attend masses. The accuser, Herberger said, claimed he was abused when he was a student at the Parish school of St. Anne’s during the 1980s.
“I was never at that parish during the time that this abuse apparently took place,” Herberger said. “I came to St. Anne’s in 2010, [which was] years later.”
Herberger said he met the accuser a few times incidentally when he was helping his father.
The accuser’s father, Herberger said, was addicted to drinking alcohol. Herberger would drive his father to and from rehabilitation services.
“If I saw the boy, [it was] maybe three times in passing, never outside the house and never without his parents,” Herberger said.
Herberger wrote to family, friends and parishioners he knew and denied the claims of abuse following his suspension. The Buffalo Newspublished details of the letter in June.
“As crass as this may sound, I want everyone to know the following: I have never had anal or oral sex or even normal sexual intercourse with a woman, a man or any female or male child,” Herberger wrote. “I am a 75 year old virgin who is proud to say that I have never broken my vow of celibacy.”
Herberger also wrote that he was willing to undergo a lie detector test to prove his innocence.
The Diocese notifies the district attorney after receiving the sexual abuse claim. The district assigns an investigator to interview both parties and recieve any respective evidence, according to the Diocese Communications Director Kathy Spangler.
Once the investigator completes the report, it is presented to the Diocesan Review Board. The independent board then makes a recommendation to the Bishop based on the claim.
“If the claim is substantiated, then the priest remains on leave, and the diocese begins canon law proceedings to remove the priest from ministry,” Spangler said. “If not, then the priest is returned to ministry.”
Herberger, after being accused, hired Buffalo lawyer Kevin W. Spitler. Herberger used his savings, along with donations from friends and family, to pay for Spitler’s services.
“I have reason to believe that this individual was mistaken,” Spitler said. “Roy and I don’t take the position that [the accuser] was not abused, it’s just that it wasn’t [Herberger].”
The Spectrum reached out to 14 Catholic students, but only two agreed to comment.
Junior mechanical engineering, Marianne Cites, said she was disturbed when she heard about the abuse case at the Newman Center, but she is glad the priest has been cleared.
“I am glad that the priest was absolved of the sexual assault claims against him, and I just hope that everything was resolved with the individual that came forward,” Cites said. “I am glad that it turned out that [sexual abuse] wasn’t happening, and I am hoping that is true.”
Father Patrick Keleher, mostly known as Father Pat, is a campus minister at UB’s Newman Center. Keleher has known Herberger since they were students in the Christ the King Seminary. Keleher said he was shocked when he heard the news of Herberger.
“I always say that there are two saints in our class in the seminary, and Roy was one of them,” Keleher said.
Herberger was known for his community service. He spent part of his ministry as a chaplain in a prison, volunteers as a driver for Meals on Wheels, and regularly visits elderly in nursing homes, Keleher said.
Herberger arrived at the Newman Center’s Sunday mass after his vindication in December to announce he was returning to active ministry. Parishioners applauded at the news, according to Keleher.
“They all jumped up and gave him a long standing ovation,” Keleher said. “Everyone was gracious and welcoming.”
Herberger said returning to the Newman Center was like coming home.
“It was quite emotional for me,” Herberger said. “I am very happy to be back.”
Herberger said he will continue to assist Keleher at the Newman Center along with regular, weekly masses.
Isabella Nurt is a junior film production major. She is keen to get off campus and cover underground topics in the greater Buffalo area.