Father Joseph E. Vatter
Diocese of Buffalo
Placed on Leave: 2023
- 1980s: St. Christopher Church (Tonawanda, NY)
- 1991-1996: Leave of Absence
- 2005-2015: St. Mary’s Church (Medina, NY)
- 2015-2022: Saint Paul Parish, Pastor (Kenmore, NY)
Summary of Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Father Joseph E. Vatter:
Father Joseph E. Vatter was a Catholic priest who worked in various parishes in the Diocese of Buffalo, specifically in Jamestown, Buffalo, Dunkirk, Depew, Belmont, and Kenmore, before his retirement in 2022. According to Bishop Accountability, in September, a Rochester area man reported that Fr. Joseph E. Vatter sexually abused him when he was a 9-year-old altar boy at St. Christopher Church in the Town of Tonawanda in 1980. The victim claims that he told his sister and parents about the abuse when he was in college in the early 1990s. Vatter has since been put on leave since the allegation came about. Vatter, 71, who retired in 2022 as pastor of St. Paul Parish in Kenmore but continued to celebrate Mass at various churches occasionally, will be on leave while the diocese investigates the allegation.
When Vatter retired, the victim knew it had to come to light. He stated, “That’s why I’m doing this now, to give myself some peace, to move forward with this and to say, ‘yes, it absolutely happened. In the back sacristy, it was very dimly lit. Our robes were in the back corner. And some of my memories are like almost being on my hands and knees, seeing the texture of the carpet with the direct beam right on the floor. I shut down. I completely, emotionally shut down to protect myself without even knowing it.”
Media reports state that Diocesan records show the church in 2004 received an abuse complaint about Vatter but found there was “no basis” to the accusation. It is unclear what steps the diocese took to investigate the claim. A 2005 memo written by Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz said members of the diocese’s review board of lay professionals “conscientiously studied the case, as well as Terry Connors attempted to make contact with any other complaints against Fr. Vatter.”
New York’s Child Victims Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2019, changed the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse from age 23 to age 55. It also included a “look-back window,” allowing victims from decades past to sue their abusers or the institutions who enabled the abuse. During the two-year look-back window in New York, lawyers filed more than 10,000 lawsuits against various institutions.
In September 2023, the Diocese of Buffalo announced that Bishop Michael Fisher accepted the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board that determined an abuse claim made against Rev. Joseph Vatter is substantiated. The claim alleged that Vatter abused a minor female. Vatter retired in 2022, but he is now officially removed from ministry. He is listed by the Diocese on its website as a priest with substantiated claims of abuse.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo and throughout New York. The Diocese of Buffalo filed for federal bankruptcy protection in February 2020. Anyone sexually abused by a priest or employee of the Diocese of Buffalo may be entitled to file a claim against the Diocese in these bankruptcy proceedings, but very strict filing deadlines apply. Most victims of abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo will never be able to take action against the Diocese of Buffalo if they miss this bankruptcy filing deadline, so it is important that you contact us immediately to discuss your potential case. Contact us at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your legal options today.