Reflections on All Survivors Day

All Survivors Day is “an international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse, bring their stories into the light, raise awareness of the widespread nature of the issue and organize for change in the culture that allows sexual abuse to continue,” according to their website. For me, it is also a day to reflect on what I’ve learned from survivors and how knowing them has so powerfully influenced my life.

Talking to survivors at the Chancery during the spring of 2018 was a truly transformative experience for me. I often say that I’m not the same person I was before that time. Those conversations with survivors opened my eyes to the reality of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in a raw, powerful and lasting way. I vividly recall the emotions I felt as I took those calls or spoke to survivors in person. It was a “no turning back now” experience. Once you know, you know…. and there is no retreating to the Land of Before.

How grateful I am to no longer need to speak to survivors in hushed tones on a Chancery phone. I vividly recall modulating my voice when a survivor would call during a time when the Bishop or other Chancery officials were afoot. The hallway behind my desk led to Bishop Grosz and Steve Timmel’s offices, so I had to be careful. I knew I’d be in quite a predicament if one of the bishops or Steve heard me urging a survivor to get a lawyer and not sign anything without legal counsel. Likewise, I tried to hide my tears as best I could because otherwise there would be talk about “Siobhan having a tough day” or “Siobhan not being able to handle it.” Why, I thought, is the emphasis on me? Shouldn’t they be worried about the survivors and their plight, which was what brought those stinging tears to my eyes in the first place? Why were they treating survivor calls and visits to the Chancery as a nuisance rather than as a plea for help and a call to action? Why was Bishop Malone more worried about “isolating” me from survivor calls than addressing the issues the survivors were raising?!

zero abuse logo

These days, I no longer have to modulate my voice or hold in my tears. Through my job as a Victim Assistance Civil Specialist with the Zero Abuse Project (ZAP), I am able to spend my entire workday helping survivors. It used to be that I would work during the day and then devote my evenings and weekends to survivor-related efforts. But now my side passion has become my full-time focus and it’s AMAZING! How deeply grateful I am to be working for this awesome non-profit organization whose mission is to protect children from abuse and sexual assault, by engaging people and resources through a trauma-informed approach of education, research, advocacy, and advanced technology. The ZAP vision is “a world where every child is free from abuse.” Every ZAP employee is zealous about making this vision a reality.

Gone are the days when I had no place to bring a survivor visitor so we ended up in an unused storage room on the 4th floor. Now I can invite survivors into a conference room where they’ll share their story in a safe, secure and comfortable environment. Gone are the days of lowering my voice to tell a survivor what I really think. Now I share my thoughts and advice freely. And even though I don’t need to hold my tears in anymore, I find that I don’t cry nearly as much as I did back in my Chancery days. Why? I believe it is because now I can actually DO SOMETHING for survivors and that makes all the difference. During my Chancery days, I was crying for a lot of reasons: the suffering of survivors, most of all, but also my inability to help them plus the moral quandary of working for the Diocese. Basically, there was a lot to cry about.

Do I still cry? Absolutely. The sorrow is still there. It always will be. It’s impossible to hear survivor stories and not be moved by them. But now, sorrow isn’t my only response. I can take action and assist survivors. I can encourage them, support them, guide them, and help them. It’s sorrow that can roll up its sleeves and get to work: tears transformed.

My work with the Zero Abuse Project has taught me so much about what “all survivors” really means. In my new role, I speak to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, but also survivors of teachers, counselors, troop leaders and others. Talking to “all survivors” has taught me two very important lessons:

  1. Predators are frighteningly similar in their strategies and techniques
  2. Survivors are amazingly similar in their strength and resiliency

Of course, every survivor has a very different path to navigate. Some are struggling more than others due to circumstances over which they have little control. Others are just coming to grips with what happened to them and the experience is overwhelming them. One survivor told me recently that, “I always thought I was okay and that was in the past, but now I realize it never went away and it’s almost harder now than it was back then.” No matter where a survivor is at on their healing journey, they are dealing with daily challenges that non-survivors cannot truly fathom.

Navigating

As a non-survivor, I’ve been pondering the fact that survivorhood is somewhat like a country with its own language, customs and culture. It is a land that no one wants to enter, but once you are there, you see, hear and feel everything differently from those who are not citizens of Survivorhood. For non-survivors, the word “trauma” might bring to mind blunt force trauma or a traumatic brain injury. For survivors, that word is deeply personal and painful. Likewise, the word “flashback” might make a non-survivor think of a narrative technique in movies or books. For survivors, flashbacks are disturbing and often daily elements of their lives.

I’ve learned to appreciate these new definitions for familiar terms and to respect the culture of Survivorhood. I now choose my words carefully and am determined to always act in a survivor-friendly and trauma-informed manner. Whenever I’m not sure of what to do or say, I pray to God for guidance and I reach out to a survivor for advice. They are always more than happy to help! I have learned so much from them, but I know that I will always have more to learn.

On All Survivors Day, I want to recommit myself to helping all survivors in every way I can. I am fortunate that my job allows me to do this on a regular basis. But no matter what your circumstances may be, you can help survivors!

anne frank.png

The first step is to be the sort of person you’d want to turn to if you were a survivor yourself. If you were dealing with the immense pain and trauma of sexual abuse, what kind of person would you turn to for help or support? Most likely you’d be looking for someone who would believe you, listen to you and show you compassion.

“I believe you.” Just knowing you believe them is a tremendous gift to survivors. Survivors have many burdens to bear – they should not also bear the burden of proof.

Listen. Listen more than you talk. Listen more than you tell. Just listen. Don’t judge, don’t analyze, don’t criticize… treat the survivor as you’d want to be treated.

You may never know how much you’ve helped a survivor just by believing them and listening to them.

From there, compassionately assist them as you’re able. Express your support for them and encourage them to find help if they need it. Maybe you’re able to check in with them occasionally to see how they’re doing. You could invite them to an event they’d benefit from or include them in an activity they’d enjoy. Perhaps you have or know of a therapist who might be a good fit for them. If you’re of the prayerful persuasion, you can keep them in your daily prayers by name. If you have compassion, it will show and it will make a difference. It will help more than you know.

Robert Shelton
Infographic created by Robert Shelton

This helpful infographic shows the progression of engagement from pity to compassion. Compassion comes from Latin and means “suffering with another.” That is what we are called to do to the extent we are able: to suffer with survivors so that they are not alone as they have so often been. We cannot actually experience their suffering, but may we do all we can to relieve it.

Sometimes survivors are told to “move on” or “get on” with their lives. These are not a survivor-friendly or trauma-informed phrases yet they are frequently used. I believe that “carry on” is a much better and more accurate way to look at it. Survivors can’t leave their abuse behind and just “move on.” They will carry their abuse and its effects with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, survivors will continue their journey toward hope and healing, but they may end up taking two steps forward and falling back three. They will have to get back up and try it one more time. Why? Because what they are carrying is extremely hard and heavy:

  • pain
  • trauma
  • fear
  • isolation
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • estrangement
  • flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • trust issues
  • emotional distress
  • loss of faith
  • separation from God
  • loss of family support
  • financial difficulties
  • drug or alcohol dependency
  • self-esteem issues
  • problems with authority
  • anger
  • sorrow
  • physical ailments
  • self harm
  • panic attacks
  • self-blame and shame
  • relationship challenges
  • inability to concentrate
  • insomnia
  • suicidal thoughts

They are carrying on as best they can, but they are bearing burdens heavier and harder than we non-survivors can even comprehend. Let us be there to lift them up and help them as they carry on.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

The last item on the list above is a tragic but important one to remember. Many survivors are no longer with us because the burdens they carried became overwhelming. Let us remember and pray for them in a special way today. May we also pray for those who mourn them.

Before I close, I want to mention and salute survivors’ spouses, children and loved ones, who are victims of the residual effect of abuse. The ripple effects of abuse know no bounds and impact so many people. Please remember that a survivors’ family members may need support and encouragement just as the survivor themself does.

To all of my survivor friends: thank you for changing my life, helping me to become a better person, and teaching me what strength and resilience mean. Those are no longer mere words to me – they are real people with names and faces.

As you carry on, know that you are not alone. You are believed, respected and loved.

 

Those We Cannot See

[This is a two-part reflection… the first half focuses on the living – the second concerns the dead.]

A great deal of the work of life goes on behind the scenes and is accomplished by people who are not often seen or always acknowledged for it. These behind-the-scene folks are so often extremely humble and hard-working. Please allow me to introduce you to two such people. 

Yesterday was a difficult day for the I-Team at WKBW-Channel 7 as it marked the last day for Jeff “The Wizard” Wick. Jeff has been an integral part of the I-Team investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo as well as the other award-wining investigations they’ve conducted over the past several years. You may never have seen Jeff’s face since he’s always behind the camera – not in front of it, but you’ve certainly seen his work. The stellar graphic design and impeccable production value of the I-Team’s reports are all a credit to Jeff’s skillful talent. As a Catholic and former altar boy, Jeff shared Charlie’s commitment to the Diocesean investigation as well as the sorrow of covering such a dreadful story. Charlie and Jeff have something else in common: humility. Despite being enormously talented, Jeff never made a big deal about it. He and Charlie were always focused on getting the truth out and, in particular, sharing survivors’ stories. It was never about them – collectively or individually.

Although I didn’t work with Jeff as directly or frequently as I have with Charlie, I certainly came to appreciate his talents and his temperament. If you could define an adjective with a person, Jeff would be in the dictionary under “chill.” He remains calm and easy going no matter what time constraints or deadlines he may be facing. “Yeah, sure – yep, I can get that done” would be his relaxed response and then he’d work his magic and make it happen. I so enjoyed watching Jeff and Charlie work together. Theirs was a collaboration marked by congenial, harmonious camaraderie. Jeff was a true teammate to Charlie – keeping up with the Diocesan doings while also covering completely different stories for WKBW. It’s really a wonder that he was able to do it all and do it all so well.

When Jeff mic’d me up yesterday morning for my interview with Charlie, it was a bittersweet moment to know he’d be behind the camera for the last time. I was deeply grateful that I could do one last interview with the two of them, but it saddened me so much to think of Jeff making his departure. Ultimately, gratitude got the upper hand as I considered how fortunate we were to have Jeff on the I-Team especially for these last 18 months. His contributions were extremely significant and made a lasting impact on our diocese and community. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Jeff. I know that he will be successful in his next endeavor because talent, skill and humility are always a winning combination. Please join me in thanking Jeff for his amazing work and in wishing him well as he heads off to DC to work for Newsy!

I can’t talk about Charlie’s behind-the-scenes guy without highlighting his behind-the-scenes girl… his wonderful wife, Shannon. In fact, I’ve been waiting for just such an opportunity to express my gratitude and respect for her. During the course of Charlie’s work on the DOB story, Shannon has made truly innumerable sacrifices while her husband has been devoted to this difficult and time-consuming work. Especially last summer and fall, Charlie’s I-Team responsibilities resulted in a lot of late nights and weekend work. I remember thinking of Shannon so much during those tumultuous months. A year ago, I wrote this to her in an email: “It’s almost as if you’re a military wife whose husband is engaged in a very unusual battle that keeps him away for extended periods of time. Charlie has the greatest work ethic I’ve ever witnessed, which is awesome and so crucial for our cause, but a real sacrifice for you. Thank you for making that sacrifice for the greater good. You are one of my heroes!” I certainly feel exactly the same way a year later.

Thank you, Shannon, for sacrificing you and your family’s time with Charlie so that he could complete the investigations and reports that have had such a seismic effect on our diocese. Thank you for your crucial input on the stories especially #3 last fall! Thank you for being selfless when it would have been quite easy (and very understandable) for you to have a different reaction. Thank you for helping your three sweet children to understand why Daddy was working so much even though you couldn’t explain the substance of his work due to its dark nature. Thank you for enduring the frustrations, challenges and even harassment that have come your family’s way over the past 18 months. The Mom is like the flight attendant of the family – if she remains calm and composed, everyone takes comfort in knowing that it’s going to be okay. Thank you, Shannon, for keeping it all together through all of the turbulence of this past year. You are the definition of a behind-the-scenes hero and we all owe you more than we realize!

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Paying Pedophiles

“Follow the money” is an expression commonly used when describing suspicious political or business dealings. It is not a phrase that I would have associated with the Catholic Church… at least not before last year. 2018 opened my eyes to the corruption and complicity within the Diocese of Buffalo, which we know is sadly present within the entire Church. But during my time at the Chancery, I never had anything to do with financial matters and had very little ability to follow the money. However, I know someone who did and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you.

When Kim Petrella started working for the Diocese of Buffalo in September of 2014, she was part of the Payroll Office. Soon after I started at the Chancery in July of 2015, Kim moved to Accounts Payable. Considering the amount of accounts that needed to be paid, I assumed that Accounts Payable was a multi-person department just as Payroll was. But at the Catholic Center, Accounts Payable was just one person: Kim. A single staff member was responsible for writing all of the checks and overseeing all of the money flowing out of Diocesan headquarters. Kim would receive check requests from all of the different departments within the Catholic Center as well as external bills from various vendors.

No matter how busy she was, Kim always had time for a smile and never let me feel bad about adding another request to the pile. The fact that Kim was able to keep Accounts Payable running smoothly is a credit to her work ethic, ability and tenacity. She was exactly the kind of employee the Catholic Center needed: capable of doing more than one person’s worth of work and keeping her chin up while doing so. I remember thinking how crazy it was that one person was responsible for all of that work, which included dealing with a check-writing system that was older than I was.

ibm computer
This is what Kim’s computer looked like with the IBM AS400 software to match. 
ibm software
I used to do a double take every time I saw Kim’s computer screen or saw her using green bar printer paper. Visiting her cubicle felt like traveling back to the 80’s in terms of technology. 

Kim was handling an unbelievably intense workload with only decades-old technology at her disposal. Catholic Center managers were not used to Accounts Payable actually asking them for receipts or reminding them to use tax exempt forms. From Kim’s perspective, they had all been coddled by past employees in her position, who must have looked the other way.

The CFO at the time, Steve Timmel, requested that Kim let her supervisor, Chuck Mendolera, know of any red flags or issues she encountered. But this was purely an illusion – they didn’t actually want to know about any misspending. Kim’s proactive approach resulted in a reactive response from Chuck. When Kim brought up questions about overspending, misappropriation of funds, personal spending, missing documentation or missing petty cash, she was pacified by Chuck with comments such as: “Don’t get involved with budgets,” “That department brings in a lot of money so we can’t tell them how to spend it,” “Leave that department alone” and “Why are you always at my door with another issue?” As Kim explains it, “I never really understood what gaslighting was until it was being shoved in my face anytime I had a legitimate concern while working there.” Despite those legitimate concerns, she was supposed to “just do her job.”

But then the time came when she couldn’t just do her job.

MW

When Michael Whalen stepped forward on February 27, 2018 to tell his story and hold the Diocese accountable, Kim and other Finance colleagues were watching from the windows of the 4th floor reception area. They saw Michael standing in the cold “just speaking his truth” as Kim put it. All Kim could think was “This poor guy has no idea what he’s up against!” Kim reflected on the stark difference between the special treatment priests received and the minimal assistance a few victims were getting. She recalled the lavish spending by Bishop Malone and the mindless spending within various departments. Cringing, she thought of the diocesan lawyers and the millions of dollars they make from defending the Diocese. She knew that the cards were stacked high against Michael Whalen.

When Kim arrived to work shortly after Michael’s press conference, she took a quick glance at the Insurance Services checks to be processed that day. She saw a $500.00 deductible reimbursement check request for Rev. Norbert Orsolits to be sent to his personal mailing address. Kim was flabbergasted. Orsolits? she thought. Wait, no – that can’t be. Just days prior, the WNY community had learned of Orsolits’ crimes against young boys. He had personally admitted to molesting “dozens of them.” And now she was expected to write a check for this man?

InkedOrsolits struck by unknown_LI
This is a photo Kim took from her flash drive of a previously paid reimbursement to Orsolits. Kim no longer has the hard copy – it is with the FBI.

Kim remembers thinking to herself, “This has to be a mistake – there’s no way they’d be paying a priest who was JUST named as an abuser.” Stepping away from her cubicle to clear her head, Kim thought about asking her co-workers if they thought the payment should go through. She knew that if she asked Chuck about the payment she’d be met with opposition. As Kim described it, “In a moment of divine intervention, I happened to look at my co-worker’s chair and saw Michael’s picture on the front page of the paper that was sitting there. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Michael’s picture. I knew I had stumbled onto something bigger. There was something wrong going on if they were knowingly paying and supporting a priest who just admitted to abusing ‘probably dozens of boys.'”

Kim quietly retreated back into her cubicle to try and figure out what was going on. This is how Kim describes her thought process at this seismic moment:

Was this check request intentionally given to me or was there some kind of probation period for an accused priest? As soon as I sat down and started reading Orsolits’ file, I saw that he had four previous reimbursements paid to him within the past few years. They were all for collision work. I even made one payment to him without knowing who he was! At that moment, I realized that this check request in front of me was an intentional payment to Orsolits. I literally felt a shift in reality. Everything I’d seen in the past 4 years finally made sense. A montage of memories paraded through my mind: sorting mail for priests with the 795 Main Street address because they were “unassigned” with no other address, internal memos about priests going on ‘Special Medical’ leave, meetings between Finance and Insurance Services, the Diocesan Review Board meetings, all of the catered priest parties at the Bishop’s Residence, the monthly payments for Art Smith’s luxury apartment in Williamsville – even the treatment I had received from management. I was poking at the scum that was thinly hiding the network of people and paperwork it takes to keep this scam going.

The circumstances of the check request on her desk didn’t help matters. Orsolits’ car had been found on the side of the road in Ellicottville – damaged to such an extent that it required a tow to the nearest collision shop. When the mechanics contacted Orsolits, he stated that he had no idea how his car was found all banged up on the side of the road. At the time, he said, he’d been at a yoga class in Sardinia. (These two locations are a 30-minute drive apart.) No further explanation was required of Orsolits. The Diocesan Insurance Department didn’t look into the matter or take into account the multiple vehicular mishaps Orsolits had experienced over the past few years. All of them were labeled “Hit and run” or “Struck a deer.”

This time, Kim couldn’t “just do her job.” She couldn’t stomach the idea of writing a check for Norbert Orsolits. Not after learning what he’d done to young boys over the course of so many priestly assignments throughout the diocese. She was morally repelled by the idea of preparing a check for Orsolits and mailing that check to the exact same cabin where he had abused young boys – including Michael Whalen.

Kim couldn’t help but think of all the costs the diocese had covered for Orsolits over the years: health insurance, dental insurance, auto insurance, pension, etc. She realized that for decades, the diocese had been paying pedophiles a LOT of money. This was just one such pedophile and he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

orsolits 10 years
This is the pension amount that Orsolits has received from the Diocese of Buffalo over just the past 10 years. This figure was calculated by using the diocese’s own Priests’ Salary Scale. It does not include health or auto insurance premiums and payouts or other costs.

Not long after her Orsolits check awakening, Kim was talking to Chuck in the copy room when he began screaming at her. In fact, he became so apoplectic that the entire Finance and Payroll departments could hear him. At the end of his outburst, he yelled at her: “Get out!” At this, Kim went to the office of Steve Timmel in tears and threw her papers on his chair. She told Steve that she didn’t print out the Insurance Services checks that were due. As she explained: “I had an involuntary, visceral reaction seeing the Orsolits’ payment request and seeing Michael’s story on the front page. I knew that I physically and morally couldn’t print that check. I told Steve I wasn’t being insubordinate, but I wouldn’t pay that pervert priest his check.”

Kim was so upset by the situation that she took a few days off as suggested by Colleen O’Connell, the HR Director at the time. Colleen had recommended that she “cool off.” On the morning of March 13th, which was Kim’s birthday, she received a call from Colleen who said, “Happy Birthday! I need your resignation letter if you’re not coming back.” So Kim sent the following email of resignation:

Kim resignation
Text reads as follows: Hi Colleen,
Please accept this email as my resignation and two week notice as of March 13, 2018.
The reasons I gave to Chuck were that I owe it to myself to start looking for a job where my hard work is recognized and appreciated. I can’t stay at a job where I’m crying, shaking and throwing up. And that I’m tired of getting ignored or yelled at whenever I bring up a concern. Either involving financial red flags I thought I was supposed to be looking for or any suggestion I asked from him regarding struggles I have with department managers, concerns about timely check processing or concerns about my job duties in general. I have been an outstanding employee and I am to the point where I am physically sick from the work environment and atmosphere. Starting with my bullying concerns with [Employee name removed by their demand] I experienced within my first few months of employment, and ending with having Chuck Mendolera screaming at me to get out on March 12, 2018 I can no longer perform my duties in that environment.
Kimberly Petrella
Kim Petrella couldn’t pay pedophiles. So she resigned from her position.

Kim Petrella left a steady job for the sake of her conscience.

Michael Whalen stood outside of the Catholic Center and courageously told his story of abuse.

Kim Petrella took a stand inside the Catholic Center for the sake of Michael Whalen and all other victims of abusive priests.

She wouldn’t and couldn’t do her job one day longer. She couldn’t write one more check or insurance payout to a pedophile while also knowing that Payroll was taking care of paying pedophile their pensions.

We owe Kim a tremendous debt of gratitude for courageously following her conscience.

Earlier this month, Michael Whalen was able to extend his gratitude to Kim. After meeting Kim, he listened as she told her story and how his actions had influenced her so much last year. Michael was awed by Kim’s story and her courage in the face of such pressure to “just do her job.” He told her again and again how proud of her he was and how grateful he was to her. As Kim shared her story, there were some laughs and a few tears and there was a great big hug at the end of it. Michael told Kim that she’s now “part of his family” – the family of survivors and supporters he has been gaining for well over 18 months now.

For Kim, this is what meeting Michael meant to her: “Finally being able to meet Michael was a huge honor for me. I wanted him to know that I saw him that day when he stood on the corner bravely naming his abuser. He had no idea I was watching from the 4th floor. I needed him to know that I SAW him.”

Do you want to know what made Michael smile the most during his meeting with Kim?

The fact that her departure from the Accounts Payable department meant that the check for Orsolits wasn’t written for approximately 7 weeks. It gave Michael some satisfaction to know that his abuser had to wait for that check instead of receiving it right away as he normally would.

For decades, the Diocese of Buffalo has treated its pedophile priests better than the survivors of those pedophile priests.

Thanks to Kim, we know about it. And so does the DA and the FBI.

Kim has fully cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and looks forward to speaking with the Attorney General’s office regarding the financial concerns she discovered during her employment with the Diocese of Buffalo. 

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Nota Bene: There are 23 (alleged) pedophile priests on the Diocese of Buffalo’s current payroll. 22 deceased priests stayed on the DOB payroll after abuse allegations against them were known to the diocese. The Diocese of Buffalo has been paying pedophiles for decades. These abusers were never held accountable for their crimes and they continue to receive regular financial support from the Diocese. Members of the Diocese of Buffalo have been unknowingly funding this pedophile payroll the whole time.

[Here is the Diocese’s current list of Priests with Substantiated Allegations of Abuse of a Minor: https://www.buffalodiocese.org/documents/News/PublishedDiocPriests91219.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1G5Cge0e0zaLex_t9n_R2zTouB5goatBuTcdEPgeMxFpV86z1MgAjsm7w]

In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a motu proprio entitled Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. Motu proprio means “of his own accord,” which indicates that the order was drawn up and issued by a pope on his own initiative, and not conditioned by any petitionary requests. A motu proprio is always signed personally by the pope.*

The salient section of this motu proprio is as follows:

Whenever an Ordinary (Bishop) has at least probable knowledge (notitiam saltem verisimilem habeat) of the commission of one of the reserved grave delicts**, after having carried out the preliminary investigation, he is to inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which, unless it called the case to itself because of special circumstances, would indicate to the Ordinary how to proceed. 

By Bishop Malone’s own admission, this process of sending cases to Rome would have resulted in many abusive priests in the DOB being dismissed from the clerical state. They would have lost all of the rights and privileges of the clerical state INCLUDING FINANCIAL SUPPORT. The Diocese of Buffalo would have saved millions of dollars since 2001. We would not have been financially supporting clerical criminals as they lived in their cabins, cottages and condos. 

Bishop Malone likes to go on and on about how his predecessors didn’t follow this motu proprio and send cases to the Vatican as they should have. It is undeniably true that Bishop Mansell and Bishop Kmiec didn’t follow this protocol and they’ll have to answer for that in this life and/or the next.

But the fact remains that Bishop Malone allowed those same cases to languish in the Secret Archives! The infamous black binder – which he received a month after he was installed as our bishop – clearly alerted him to the existence of all of these cases. He knew about the “bad guys” and the “broken toys,” as he and Bishop Grosz referred to the abusive priests. Bishop Malone knew they were in there and he did nothing about it. He put the black binder in the vacuum closet and was done with it.

Prior to August 2018 – exactly 6 years after he was installed as bishop – only one case had been sent to Rome for adjudication. And that did not happen at Bishop Malone’s initiative! Rather, it was Father Bob Zilliox who initiated the filing of that case***. If it hadn’t been for Father Bob – with support from Father Ryszard – NO CASES WOULD HAVE GONE TO ROME BEFORE AUGUST 2018.

Bishop Malone would have been here for SIX YEARS and never processed EVEN ONE CASE despite a papal order from nearly twenty years prior.

Meanwhile, the people of the Diocese of Buffalo continued to innocently contribute to the pedophile payroll. 

Bishop Malone has publicly stated that a decision about bankruptcy will be made before year’s end. For many reasons, the Diocese of Buffalo should not file for bankruptcy. One of the primary reasons is that bankruptcy wouldn’t even be a consideration if pedophile priests hadn’t been on the diocesan payroll for decades.

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*Thanks to the Catholic Dictionary for this definition.

___________________________________________________________

** The delicta graviora are as follows:

Delicts against the sanctity of the Most Holy Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Eucharist:

1. Throwing away, taking or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose, or profaning the consecrated species (CIC can. 1367; CCEO can. 1442).

2. Attempting the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice or the simulation thereof (CIC can. 1378 § 2 n. 1, can. 1379; CCEO can. 1443).

3. Concelebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice together with ministers of ecclesial communities which do not have Apostolic succession nor recognize the Sacramental dignity of priestly ordination (CIC can. 908, 1365; CCEO can. 792, 1440).

4. Consecrating one matter without the other in a Eucharistic celebration or both outside of a Eucharistic celebration (cf. CIC can. 927).

Delicts against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance:

1. Absolution of an accomplice in the sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (CIC can. 1378 § CCEO can. 1457).

2. Solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in the act of, context of or pretext of the Sacrament of Penance (CIC can. 1387; CCEO can. 1458).

3. Direct violation of the Sacramental seal (CIC can. 1388 § 1; CCEO can. 1456).

Delicts against morality:

The violation of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, committed by a cleric with a minor under the age of 18.

___________________________________________________________

*** This was a case that I wanted to take with me because it involved Bishop Malone having assigned the priest as a pastor when that priest had multiple allegations of abuse of minors in his file. However, this case had finally gone to Rome for adjudication and I was worried about messing with the process. I figured our Diocese had only sent one case to Rome and I didn’t want any actions of mine to disturb that long-awaited process. I trust that this story will come out eventually. The truth always does.

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Both of the staff members mentioned in Kim’s resignation letter have been promoted this year:

Employee Name Removed by Their Demand

Chuck Mendolera: https://www.wnycatholic.org/news/article/featured/2019/04/10/103600/diocese-announces-new-executive-director-of-financial-administration

 

Photo credits: Kim Petrella and Michael Whalen with thanks for allowing me to interview them.

 

 

 

An Apostolic Visitation

Well, I must admit that the timing made me laugh. Just yesterday I noted that I would be stepping away from social media for a time and then this afternoon’s announcement happened! Obviously these things are completely, totally and utterly unrelated, but the timing was amusing nonetheless. I’m still planning to take a break from social media, but wanted to react to this milestone announcement.

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There’s a lot to unpack here so I’ll use bullet points for brevity:

  • “Near future:” It will be interesting to see how quickly this visitation occurs. Region II bishops – the ordinaries of all the NYS dioceses – are due over in Rome in early November for their ad limina visits with Pope Francis. (The entire USCCB will meet as usual in mid-November. It remains to be seen what they’ll do about the bishops missing from Baltimore due to their being in Rome.)
  • “Fact-finding mission:” This sounds great! But from whom will the facts be found? THAT is my primary question. If the facts are going to be sought from Malone, Grosz, Karalus, LiPuma, Halter and the like, it will be a mission impossible.
  • “Reports specifically to the Congregation for Bishops:” Okay… so we’ve got a bishop investigating a bishop and reporting to a congregation for bishops. Got it. This can’t go wrong.
  • “To evaluate situations in dioceses:” There are situations and then there are SITUATIONS. There is a SITUATION in the Diocese of Buffalo – all caps, full stop. The language of this message makes the matter sound much more minor than it is.

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  • “DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn has been assigned to… conduct this fact-finding mission:” This is the ecclesial equivalent of having an employee investigate their colleague. DiMarzio and Malone are equals. They are in the same province and are very familiar with each other. They’ve been at World Youth Day together, they’ve attended the same NYS Bishops’ Retreats in Florida, and they see each other at several meetings a year – the NYS Board of Bishops meetings and the NYS Province meetings at the USCCB gatherings. They’ve been on countless conference calls with Cardinal Dolan over the years. There is a natural concern here as to how objectively DiMarzio can investigate a fellow bishop of his own province. I mean no disrespect to Bishop DiMarzio here. I am simply asking a genuine and crucial question: how effectively and objectively can a bishop investigate his brother bishop especially if they are from the same province? When Bishop Holly’s Diocese of Memphis was under an apostolic investigation, they sent a bishop from Atlanta and another from St. Paul-Minneapolis as the “apostolic visitors.” This is a crucial difference. It’s hard enough for a bishop to investigate a fellow bishop! If they are colleagues from the same province, the objectivity concern increases significantly.
    • Let’s not forget what Father Ryszard told us last month… how several NYS bishops were saying to Bishop Malone that “if you go, we will be next.” The sentiment was: Don’t resign, Richard, or it’ll be a domino effect and we don’t want the laity to have power over us like that. I don’t know if Bishop DiMarzio was one of the bishops who shared those sentiments, but it does raise a serious concern. The bishops of NYS have stuck together through lobbying against the CVA and starting IRCP’s in their dioceses… why wouldn’t two NYS bishops stick together through an apostolic visitation as well?
  • “This visitation is a non-judicial and non-administrative process.” I suppose that first adjective means that DiMarzio will not be making any judgments – just collecting information and passing it on. But I don’t know how the process could be non-administrative. “Administrative” is defined as “relating to the running of a business, organization, etc.” The diocese is an organization AND a business and this will be a process focused on the diocese. I don’t think that adjective is accurate.
  • “It is not subject to the recent instruction… Vos Estis, Lux Mundi.” WHY NOT??!!! Vos Estis outlined new norms against those who have abused or have covered up abuse. It offered some hope that bishops would be held accountable for their actions (or inactions, which was often the case with Malone). I simply don’t understand why Vos Estis hasn’t been invoked in our diocese. The fact that it has NOT been invoked after all these months strongly suggests that Rome and DC don’t have grave concerns about Bishop Malone’s leadership (or lack thereof) and his handling of the abuse scandal in our diocese. But I certainly have those grave concerns… and I know so very many people share them.
  • “The results will be submitted to the Holy See.” The “results” of a “non-judicial, non-administrative process?” Results would suggest some sort of judgment, assessment or administration.

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It was good to read that Bishop DiMarzio is aware of what a difficult time we’re having here in Buffalo. I hope that he will have a chance to hear about the difficulties from a variety of people to get a fuller sense of it. As for his promise to maintain an open mind, I sincerely pray he can fulfill that vital promise.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sources have informed me that the Diocese of Brooklyn has many troubles of its own. One source with personal experience there noted that within the Diocese of Brooklyn, there are accused perpetrators still in ministry despite having CVA suits filed against them. This source noted that it’s only a matter of time before more comes out of Brooklyn. This is extremely distressing information, but it is important for us to be aware of it.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Malone had a statement all ready to go in response to the Nuncio’s message:

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Well, that’s two more things DiMarzio and Malone have in common – they both have spokeswomen and none of them will be making any further comments on this matter. Must be nice to be the head of an organization, institution or business where you can just say “no comment” as much and as often as you’d like!

As for Bishop Malone welcoming this visitation, that’s a cause for concern in and of itself. Of course, he could just be putting on a brave face, but that’s not a visage he pulls from his countenance closet very often. More likely, Bishop Malone doesn’t feel he has anything to worry about because his buddy Nicholas is going to come by for a visit and all will be well because… #bishops.

So what do I think about this Apostolic Visitation?

I’m torn between natural optimism and learned cynicism.

It’s about time SOMETHING was done. I was beginning to wonder if Rome and DC had turned our diocese to the “DNR” setting. A “Communique Regarding the Diocese of Buffalo” from the Nuncio’s office is, if nothing else, a significant milestone along the path of this marathon.

But the newly cynical side of me struggles to see how a bishop investigating a bishop for a congregation of bishops will result in any concrete change or actual accountability. I worry that this is meant to placate us: “We took care of everything – aren’t you pleased? You got an apostolic visitation! What more could you ask for?”

In many respects, we will have to wait and see. How will DiMarzio go about finding facts? With whom will he consult and inquire? As two of Bishop Malone’s closest assistants, I hope that Father Ryszard and I will be meeting Bishop DiMarzio sometime soon. I would love to give him a binder full of facts! How long will DiMarzio spend here? How open will his mind be? What information will ultimately end up with the Holy See? AND WHAT WILL BE DONE ABOUT IT?!

Yet I take it a sign of hope that the Noah’s Ark dove figures so prominently in Bishop DiMarzio’s coat of arms. That dove and its olive branch are such an ancient, enduring symbol of hope. We must have hope. His motto is also a beautiful one: “Behold Your Mother.” A timely reminder that Our Lady, whose rosary we celebrate this month, is always with us in this vale of tears. I’m off to say my rosary… I will be praying for our diocese – and Bishop DiMarzio – with all my heart and soul.

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The Case of the Missing Calendar

The October edition of the Western New York Catholic was published online yesterday and can be viewed via this link. The first thing I looked for was Bishop Malone’s calendar of meetings and public events, which is a standard feature of our diocesan newspaper. I scrolled directly to the first few pages, which are always devoted to the “Ministry of the Bishop” and contain the Bishop’s calendar and photos of his ministry around the diocese. But this month? The calendar and photos are not to be found.

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Now I can’t say that I was totally shocked by the absence of the calendar. There are two primary reasons why I believe it was eliminated this month: 1) a desire to prevent public protests, which require advance notice of where the Bishop will be and when; 2) the fact that his calendar may be in a substantial amount of flux these days.

For example, last night was the St. Therese feast day Mass at the Carmelite Monastery. It is a longstanding tradition for the bishop of the diocese to celebrate that Mass. But Bishop Malone wasn’t there last night. Either he decided not to attend or he was asked not to be there. This is just the latest in a growing list of events the Bishop has not attended for scandal-related reason.

October means the autumn Confirmation season begins in earnest. Although the fall Confirmation schedule is never as full as its spring counterpart, it still includes many stops on the “chrism trail,” as Bishop Malone used to refer to it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from quite a few parents who do not want Bishop Malone to confirm their confirmand(s). And they’re not happy with the idea that Bishop Grosz or Father Peter Karalus (the other designated diocesan confirmer) would be the replacement for Bishop Malone. I don’t know how this is playing out at parishes where Bishop Malone intended to confirm, but I’m sure there have been discussions about it. Perhaps the Bishop’s Confirmation schedule was still in flux when the October issue went to print. (We always had to have the Bishop’s calendar and column ready about 1 week before the paper was printed.)

The greater surprise for me in this month’s edition was the shocking absence of Bishop Malone’s face and name amidst its pages. This is the first time I know of when Bishop Malone does not appear in any photo in the publication. I remember how Msgr. Litwin used to go through the paper every month and count how many times Bishop Malone’s image appeared within its pages. Sometimes he would have us guess how many times – the average was usually around 5. Many times, the Bishop figured prominently on the cover itself! By contrast, this month’s issue contains 0 photos of him and only 7 mentions of his name – most in standard usage (his appointment of priests, for example). By contrast, the Bishop’s name appeared 28 times in the August edition of the paper with two photos of him on his “picture page.”

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I have myriad memories of working on the Bishop’s public and private calendars with Fr. Ryszard and Bishop Malone. When I first started at the Chancery, I realized that calendar-related questions and decisions would be a major part of my job. There were so many calendar requests and clarifications to discuss that I asked Bishop Malone if we could meet regularly to go over the calendar. When the Bishop acquiesced, I began referring to “Calendar Club Meetings” on his daily agenda and the name stuck. I even started using this Calendar Club logo on our meeting agendas! We would joke around that it was a very exclusive Club with membership limited to the three of us. Our Chancery colleagues would laugh and say they weren’t jealous – who would want to handle all the details of the Bishop’s calendar?

But you know who loved calendar work? Bishop Malone! Whenever I’d mention that I had a calendar question for him, his eyes would light up and he’d eagerly pull his “black book” (his trusty Day-Timer) out of his jacket pocket. He genuinely enjoyed the puzzle work of the calendar and never tired of taking questions about it. On the rare occasions when he left his black book at home, he would quip that he felt “incomplete” without it. And even when our Club agendas were 4 or 5 pages long, the Bishop was not distressed. He would tell other staff about those long agendas and seemed proud that we had so much calendar work to accomplish.

We sure have come a long way since those rosy Calendar Club days. Now the Bishop’s public calendar is not available to the public… at least for this month. This calendar concealment will curtail our peaceful protesting for a few weeks, but it won’t cease our efforts to call for Bishop Malone to resign.

Bishop Malone has disappeared from the Western New York Catholic.

Now he needs to disappear from Western New York.

Bankruptcy in Buffalo?

Is the Diocese of Buffalo (DOB) going to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy? That’s a question on many minds here in Western New York.

Last Wednesday, DOB credit card holders received a memo informing them that the diocese’s current (HSBC) credit card account is being closed. It also informed them that they would be updated soon regarding the replacement card program. A WGRZ reporter immediately took this as a sign of an impending bankruptcy announcement as this story makes clear.

As for me, I don’t believe the credit card situation is as pertinent as is being suggested. For one thing, I know that the diocese has had issues with their HSBC credit cards for at least a few years now. Well do I recall the time that Father Ryszard’s card got hacked and someone ordered hundreds of dollars worth of food via UberEats somewhere in California. I remember that it was a hassle for Father (and the Accounts Payable staff member) to work it out with HSBC. We did have a good laugh over it though… especially because of the time difference, which suggested that someone was ordering large amounts of food well into the night!

So I’m aware that the diocese has been planning a credit card switch for a while now. I’ve confirmed with an inside source that over a month ago, DOB officials were making arrangements to switch from HSBC to another bank for their credit cards. In other words, this credit card switch is most likely an independent occurrence that is being given greater importance than it merits due to the timing of the announcement. It seems to me that it was an unrelated situation that became significant to those looking for clues as to impending bankruptcy.

The Diocese of Rochester surprised everyone when they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 12th. No one saw that coming especially since Rochester has far fewer CVA claims than Buffalo does. Yet the Rochester diocese decided to pursue Chapter 11 in order to protect itself against the financial fallout of those legal claims.

When Bishop Malone’s interview with WGRZ was released on September 18th, it was no surprise that he was asked about bankruptcy. The interviewer noted that the Diocese of Rochester had become the 20th US diocese to file for bankruptcy and asked whether the DOB was heading in the same direction. To this, Bishop Malone answered: “To be honest with you, we’re trying to figure that out now and that’s the honest to God truth.” When asked about the time frame for such a decision, Bishop Malone said: “There’s a debate going on among the experts [we’re conferring with] as to whether we should litigate – or try to litigate – or file chapter 11. That is an ongoing debate.” I’ve been curious on that point… just who is debating whom? We’ll return to this question in a paragraph or two.

Since that interview with WGRZ, the Bishop has met with two important groups – the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council. Both meetings occurred on the same day – Tuesday, September 24th. The College of Consultors is the most important of the “canonically-defined diocesan consultative bodies,” as the USCCB refers to them. The College of Consultors “assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese in accord with the provisions of Church law. For particular exercises of ecclesiastical governance, canon law requires that the diocesan bishop consult the college, and even obtain its consent. The college is comprised of no less than six priests, and no more than twelve, who are members of the presbyteral council.”

To my knowledge, the last time the College of Consultors was convened was in the spring of 2018 when Bishop Malone was deciding to sell the residence on Oakland Place. He called a meeting of the College to obtain their acceptance of his decision to put the residence on the market. I believe they had to sign their names to their acceptance of the decision to sell. I definitely remember that it was a big deal that the College was convened as it happened so infrequently.

As for the Presbyteral Council meeting on the 24th, I’ve learned that it was a “highly controlled” meeting, as usual, and focused largely on the bankruptcy question. The priests were told that the DOB is still weighing its options on the matter and Bishop Malone did not give any hint as to which way they were leaning. He had to leave the meeting early to catch a flight to NYC for the NYS Board of Bishops meeting on the 25th.

This was a regular meeting of the bishops of New York State – not one called for an urgent or unusual purpose. Were the bishops talking about bankruptcy at their meeting? I can only imagine that they were. Buffalo can’t be the only diocese that is contemplating or at least considering that legal move. The Diocese of Brooklyn, for instance, has many more lawsuits against it than Rochester does. As the chart below makes indicates, no diocese has had more lawsuits filed against it than Buffalo. This is due to the tragic number of perpetrators and thus victims in our area, but also because of the restrictive nature of the DOB’s IRCP program. More applicants were ineligible than were accepted, as this article makes clear. Because the DOB’s IRCP program rejected so many applicants, many more survivors ended up filing lawsuits under the CVA.

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So we know the DOB is considering filing for bankruptcy. Bishop Malone has confirmed it while also referencing a “debate” among the “experts” he is consulting on the matter.

According to inside sources, this debate seems to be primarily between two entities:

Bishop Malone’s General Counsel and his Defense Attorney. 

As his website proudly proclaims, Joe Stoeckl has served as General Counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and its related and affiliated entities for 40 years. He and his colleagues are in favor of a bankruptcy filing.  (I should note that I greatly enjoyed working with Joe and always felt he was a genuinely good man. If he turns out to be corrupt, I’ll pierce my ears.)

Terry Connors has been defending the DOB for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. He does not want the DOB to file for bankruptcy. Why?

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BILLABLE HOURS.

Yes, you read that right. If the DOB files for bankruptcy, it would eliminate many, many billable hours for Terry and his firm. The CVA lawsuits would involve all sorts of legal counsel and legal work. Terry’s firm would charge “an arm and a leg” (source quote) for their work on each of the CVA cases. Terry Connors and his firm would lose millions of dollars if the DOB goes for bankruptcy. Please note that Terry and his firm have already received many, many millions of dollars from the DOB over the decades. Bishop Malone was asked about this very point during his recent WGRZ interview:

Question: “Why can’t parishioners know what’s being spent on legal advice – it’s the money they give to you… shouldn’t they know how much is spent on lawyers?”

Bishop Malone’s response: “We have had a longstanding policy that prevents us from giving that kind of information out about our vendors. It’s up to those vendors if they wish to give that information out. It’s a worthwhile question to be pursued, but the point at which the response finds itself right now is we don’t feel that’s an appropriate way to go.”

Of course they don’t feel it’s an appropriate way to go! The people of the Diocese of Buffalo and the WNY community in general would be shocked at the amount of money given to Terry Connors and his crew each year. And as if Terry would ever “wish to give that information out.” Yeah right.

Any discussion of bankruptcy must necessarily include the question of insurance. At the Bishop’s final listening session on August 17th, he shared the following information regarding the insurance element of the bankruptcy question:

“I’ll just tell you this – a new term I’ve learned in this whole process by working with an expert attorney from New York who is doing what’s called ‘insurance archaeology.’ It means digging deep into the dioceses and parishes to find every single insurance policy that has ever existed to see what’s covered for these kind of cases and what isn’t. Sometimes parishes in the past had their own insurance policy and so the archaeology term is appropriate because sometimes they have to go down into old files and boxes in the basement of the rectory and they’ll say ‘Aha! Here’s the policy that covers the 1980’s.’ We have periods of time when many of these abuse cases happened when we had insurance for these kinds of offenses. They’ll be some gaps though. So that’s all going on right now. So there’s a lot of work behind the scenes and there’s no decision at this point about which way we’re going to go with that.”

It appears that the insurance archaeologists have done their work for I have learned from a trusted source that “except for two years, the Diocese is covered by insurance for all settlements and litigation.” According to this insider source, bankruptcy should not be necessary for the Diocese of Buffalo. Terry Connors must have been thrilled to receive the insurance information.

Will the DOB file for bankruptcy? It shouldn’t need to.

A bankruptcy filing would mean that survivors go from being claimants in front of a jury to creditors in front of a bankruptcy court. The vital discovery process – a primary goal for survivors – would be eliminated by bankruptcy.

In my opinion, it will all come down to the money. Will Terry Connors get his way… and his millions?

It’s deeply saddening to realize that Bishop Malone is more likely to consider what’s best for Terry than what’s best for survivors.

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What My Tears Taught Me

I will not say_ do not weep; for not all tears are an evil

It was a late morning sometime in MarchAprilMay of 2018. Those dark months have melded together in my mind to such an extent that I think of them as one dreadful month that seemed never to end.

After making sure Bishop Malone had whatever he needed for his latest meeting, I made a swift retreat from the Chancery. Walk-running with my head down, I sped down two flights of stairs to the one spot in the Catholic Center that brought me any consolation: the Chapel. Sitting in front of the tabernacle, I let the tears fall and poured my aching heart out to Jesus. Sobbing silently with my eyes closed, I became aware that someone else had entered the Chapel. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least I don’t have to explain why I’m crying. Anyone in this building won’t have to guess.” But this unknown person had chosen the seat right next to me! Opening my tear-gilded eyes, I saw my closest colleague- Father Ryszard, who had tears in his own eyes. He smiled sympathetically and whispered, “I’m having a hard day too.” I smiled back at him as tears tumbled down my cheeks. We sat there in front of Our Lord for as long as we could enjoying the peace of His presence. There was great consolation in knowing we were not alone in human or divine terms.

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I was vividly reminded of this Catholic Center Chapel experience last night when I was at Christ the King’s Chapel for my weekly Adoration hour. Overcome with emotion and exhaustion, I began to cry in a way that I haven’t in a very long time. I realized that I was doing the same kind of crying I’d perfected last year in the Catholic Center Chapel: silent, shaking sobbing. Praying to Jesus for consolation, I also reflected as to what brought on these tears. Not all tears are an evil, as Tolkien put it so beautifully, and they are rarely present without cause. The following is the reflection that my tears generated.

The past week has been the most challenging one since all of this began over a year ago. When Father Ryszard’s story was broadcast last Wednesday and Thursday, I was filled with gratitude, admiration and relief. How proud I was of my former colleague for his courage in blowing the whistle and then coming forward with his story of survivorhood! How wonderful it was to hear references to “whistle blowers” with that delightful pluralization. How relieved I was that Father was no longer required to cater to the whims of the bishop who had revictimized and retraumatized him multiple times.

But almost immediately, I began to realize that the same thing was going to happen to him that had happened to me last year: people were going to question his motives, doubt his sincerity and attack him personally. And I learned that it is exponentially harder to have this happen to a loved one than it is to bear it yourself. I’m no longer bothered by anything people say to me and I’ve learned to quickly spot constructive criticism, which I value, amidst the sea of ever-swirling critiques. But now people were saying things about Father Ryszard and oh I couldn’t abide by it! So I devoted myself to defending him at every opportunity.

And what an experience that has been! Because of my defense of Father Ryszard, I’ve been told that I’ve lost my credibility, lost my focus, lost it altogether. I’ve been told that my defense of him is “not a good strategy” as if I’ve ever had a strategy unless you call Telling the Truth a strategy. I’ve been warned that I’ll regret my support for him. I have lost followers and friends (of both the real and Facebook variety). But you know what I haven’t lost? Peace in my heart and in my soul.

I know Father Ryszard. I know that he is honest and that lies are antithetical to his very being. He does not have to prove his honesty or sincerity to me – I saw it in action day in and day out. He never hesitated, equivocated or prevaricated no matter the circumstances. In fact, he can be brutally honest in a way that I often needed! I know that he is faithful. His “office sermons” helped me to maintain my faith during the darkest days of my life. When he celebrates Mass, he raises his hands to heaven as though he is reaching right up to Jesus in love and gratitude. His devotion to Jesus and his example of faith in action inspired me to not give up on the God and the faith I’ve always loved. I know that Father is good because I witnessed his goodness every day for three years: cheerful charity, selfless service, and an energetic eagerness to help anyone and everyone he could.

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Comrades at the Chancery; Competitors at the Corporate Challenge

Father Ryszard once said to me, “You understand without words.” What he meant was that he doesn’t have to explain the details of an interaction with the Bishop or the circumstances of his actions or inactions, his words or his silence. Having been with Father Ryszard on the Chancery battlefield for so long, I understand circumstances and details with no explanation necessary. Likewise, I don’t have to question Father Ryszard’s motives because I understand them without words too.

Lest you think that there have been no words between Father Ryszard and me, I can tell you that we have spoken about the matters at hand. His answers to my questions were immediate and guileless. He has been open and honest with me as always. He has been reasonable and rational as I’ve always known him to be. During one of these conversations, there were tears in both of our eyes because what we spoke about was so serious and intense. Never far from the surface is the reminder of his own abuse by a priest, the subsequent threats from our auxiliary bishop, and the callous complicity of our bishop.

Father has never given me reason to doubt his words, his motives or his actions. My loyalty to him is not blind – it is informed. This is not a loyalty based on naivete or niceness. It is not simply a matter of one whistle blower defending another because she’s so grateful for company in the weird world of whistle blowing. Rather, it is the loyalty between friends and comrades who have never had a reason to doubt each other and who understand each other without words.

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It is appropriate that the anniversary of September 11th occurred during this past week.  That will always be a day of sorrowful remembrance for our country. The terrorist acts of 9/11 were beyond despicable, but in their wake we witnessed unity and charity on a tremendous scale. This country came together in a manner I’ve never seen before or since. People showed their love for each other in ways large and small. In the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy, we emerged as a people grounded in unity and charity.

The Diocese of Buffalo is currently dealing with a tragedy of a vastly different nature, but one that also requires unity and charity in order to be overcome. Sadly, this past week has been filled with division and animosity in so many ways and so many areas. I’ve witnessed the corrosive effect of gossip, slander and rumor, which have been running rampant throughout the diocese. I’ve observed conflict and dissension among people who were previously friends and allies. I’ve raised my eyebrows in alarm at a “mob mentality” that has seemed to take over various discussions or threads. I’ve had people contact me out of concern that all of this division will detract from our mission.

What is that mission? My primary mission is to obtain healing for survivors and for our diocese. Healing for survivors is multi-faceted: justice, empowerment, support, resources, closure and community. For the diocese, that mission is a little simpler: let’s get through this with as much unity and charity as we can. We will eventually be a Post Malone diocese whether it’s in two weeks or two years. We have to move toward healing and that can only occur if we’re united and loving. There are no separate teams here – we are the team – Team DOB! There will be things we disagree on and areas where we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we can’t let that drag us down and distract us.

Bishop Malone has tried to distract us and deflect our attention away from him. This is the same bishop who regularly used a “divide and conquer” strategy when dealing with his priests.

We know that the Devil loves nothing more than to divide good people so as to limit or level their effectiveness. He is a divider, but we know that he is never the conqueror.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he prays: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’d say that’s a pretty good motto to guide us in our mission! We certainly can’t achieve any semblance of harmony without God’s grace, mercy and guidance.

The word harmony ultimately comes to us from the Greek word for “joint” – harmos. If our joints don’t work in harmony, we won’t get very far. If we didn’t have joints, we’d be rigid and inflexible. Of course, we’ve all experienced varying levels of creakiness and/or soreness in our joints. Things do get out of joint sometimes! But just as our joints work in harmony with their anatomical neighbors, we need to work in harmony with each other. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I believe it will be necessary.

This is meant as a reflection to be shared – not a sermon to be delivered. I need to listen to my own words as much or more than anyone! All week, I’ve been feeling very much out of joint. Peaceful though my mind and heart have been, my mind has been troubled and my spirit has been deflated. I’m going to try and take a break from it all this weekend. I will attempt to heed this additional advice from St. Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… and the God of peace will be with you.”

Peace be with you, my friends. Please pray for me as I will for thee.