Listen to one-on-one with Melissa Potzler, diocese’s Child Protection Policy coordinator
On Oct. 25, 2022, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo announced its new Child Protection Policy coordinator, Melissa Potzler. Her legal experience includes service as an assistant Erie County district attorney, and as a criminal defense attorney. She also previously served as the parish life coordinator at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park.
Potzler recently sat with WNYCatholic.org audio producer Michael Mroziak to discuss her new role within the diocese. What follows is a portion of that interview.
How do you achieve that proper balance of objectivity with compassion?
That’s a very good question. Even as an attorney, even though I had to leave my empathy out of it, you always naturally have some feeling for both the defendants and the victims in any case. And I think that in this role as a Child Protection Policy coordinator, I will have empathy for the victims, of course. We all do here in the diocese, and we want to make sure that the wrongs of the past are not repeated. So, in bringing that human side of ourselves to the strict procedures and policies, it just makes everything flow more seamlessly. It takes into account that people everywhere have been hurt by this, the victims, the lay people, our parishioners, our congregations, and the good priests of our diocese have all been hurt by these past several years.
Let’s talk about the structure of your office. You will answer directly to Bishop Fisher. What are your primary duties? And, as you report to the bishop, what is it you report to him, and with what frequency?
As the Child Protection Policy coordinator, I’m also the chief compliance officer. So, my job is to ensure that all of our governing policies are followed. The governing policies are the five documents that we follow, most of which are either developed by the USCCB or the diocese itself, and they make sure that we are following every possible precaution, and doing everything properly to follow a suspected case of abuse through to its natural and just conclusion. I ensure that those policies are followed, and I notify the bishop when the governing policies are not being followed. I also let them know when we can make adjustments or modifications or improvements to those policies. And, I also oversee the priest supervision program, which is for any priests that have been credibly accused.
How will your work enhance the efforts that have already been put forth by the diocese in recent years?
I will be the one to make sure that all of the different parts are communicating with each other. So, from the instance that a complaint comes in, I’m notified that it’s come in. It is handled by our victim assistance coordinator, Jackie Joy. Of course, it’s reported to law enforcement, and then it goes through the steps. The next step would be notifying the bishop, and the vicar general. The vicar for clergy would start with an initial investigation to make sure that the dates line up, that the accused was actually where the victim says he was, to make sure that we are focusing on the right people. After that, it goes to the bishop with the notifications from the vicar for clergy as to whether or not there is even a kernel of truth in the allegation. If there is, it goes directly to the Independent Review Board, which hires an investigator. That investigator does a report, and presents it to the Independent Review Board. They decide whether or not this is a credible accusation. If it is, that goes immediately back to the bishop, who puts the next steps in place for the protection of our young people.
This is just a portion of Melissa Potzler’s interview. You may hear the full 12-minute interview online at WNY Catholic Audio.