The January 2019 edition of the WNY Catholic, Buffalo’s diocesan newspaper, contained the above statement from the Presbyteral Council in place of Bishop Malone’s usual column. When I first read this statement on Thursday the third, I was very disappointed, dismayed and distressed. I had to let a few days pass before I could write respectfully and coherently on the subject. While still incredibly disheartened by this statement, I am now better able to respond to it.
Let me begin by allowing Canon 495 to define the Presbyteral Council in case that is an unfamiliar term: “a group of priests which, representing the presbyterium [priests of a diocese], is to be like a senate of the bishop and which assists the bishop in the governance of the diocese according to the norm of law to promote as much as possible the pastoral good of the portion of the people of God entrusted to him.” The Diocesan Directory provides further information about this group: “The Council of Priests is the chief consultative body to the bishop. Twenty-one members are elected, six are appointed by the bishop and four serve by reason of the office they hold. Three of the elected members represent rural areas and three represent religious congregations. The remaining fifteen represent seniority groups of the diocesan clergy.” The Chairman of the Council was Father Peter Karalus until he assumed the role of Moderator of the Curia/Vicar General in September 2018. Msgr. David LiPuma, who was Secretary to three bishops for over two decades before becoming Pastor of St. Peter’s in Lewiston, has taken over the role of Chairman.
Having maintained connections with some of the priests of our diocese, I was aware that the Presbyteral Council had been tasked with developing suggestions for how the diocese might begin to heal from the 2018 clerical sexual abuse scandal. Apparently they made their presentation to the Bishop at their December 11th meeting and the associated action steps are articulated in the statement they are now promulgating.
This statement was posted on the Diocese’s Facebook and Twitter accounts on Thursday, January 3rd, which is the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. That calendar occurrence made this statement’s most glaring omission even more chilling:
Jesus’ name is not mentioned even ONCE in this statement.
Yes, they refer to “our gracious Lord” in the final sentence, but there is no mention of Him by name nor of reliance on Jesus, taking His example, turning to Jesus or invoking His Most Holy Name. Besides, they reference Him by stating that He “has begun this good work in us.” I would argue that it is not particularly good work they have begun.
A Year of Healing to begin this Lent: The clerical sexual abuse scandal erupted in our diocese on February 27, 2018. Lent 2019 begins on March 6th. That means it will be over a year later that our diocese will take any organized, concerted steps toward healing of any kind. However, the description of the Year of Healing is appallingly deficient. First off, it does not make any mention of survivors. In fact, survivors (referred to as “victims” in the statement) are mentioned only twice in the entire document! It is particularly outrageous that there was no mention of them made in reference to the Year of Healing. They are the people who most need and deserve healing! The people of our diocese also need and deserve healing since this scandal has bruised our souls and challenged our faith.
You know what would go a long way toward healing for survivors and diocesan members alike? ACCOUNTABILITY. SORROW. TRANSPARENCY. Bishop Malone, Bishop Grosz and various other Chancery staff (past and present) need to be held accountable in a definitive, public manner. Penance should be imposed on all those who were complicit in the cover-up. As I’ve been saying since October, Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz should resign as a public act of accountability and penance. At the very least, someone like Bishop Grosz should not be on the Board of Trustees for the Seminary. Msgr. LiPuma should not be on the Presbyteral Council and certainly not its Chairman! All clergy who have participated in the cover-up should be banned from leadership and advancement in our diocese and the Church. Instead of being banned from leadership, Msgr. LiPuma is the first author of this statement. He is in charge of the group that has been tasked with bringing “healing” to our diocese. This is simply not acceptable.
Furthermore, the Diocese should be reaching out to survivors in genuine, apologetic and personal ways. Such outreach is unlikely under our present leadership, which has had ample opportunity to begin such overtures. Our diocese and the survivors deserve and need a wholesale change in diocesan leadership beginning with both bishops. Otherwise we are faced with business as usual under the guise of “healing initiatives” and “special projects” and a lot of other euphemistic vacuity. New prayers for the Universal Prayer at Mass? Color me underwhelmed.
A Study Day for Priests: The fact that they included this description amazes me. How utterly obtuse! If the priests need to gather to discuss their canonical and civil rights and be assured of support and accompaniment if they’re under investigation, we don’t want to know about it. I want to hear about support and accompaniment for survivors, which this statement simply does not address! There are good priests in our diocese and they should know their canonical and civil rights. But this should not be the second priority of a diocesan plan for healing. Besides, the priests have had several meetings that should have accomplished what this Study Day entails. They met in May 2018 to hear several talks by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, who is an expert on priestly spirituality and wellness issues particularly concerning clerical sexual abuse. I would assume priestly canonical rights were discussed during this gathering. The priests also had their special meeting with Bishop Malone on November 5th where both diocesan lawyers were present to answer any questions about their civil rights.
I’ve heard from several priests who were in attendance at the 11/5 meeting that the primary focus for the majority of priests was on their own protection and their reputations. They were asking about their canonical and civil rights during the Q&A session that closed the meeting. Thus this “study day” would certainly not be the first opportunity for priests of our diocese to raise their concerns and receive answers to their questions. One priest shared with me that he was very discouraged by the attitudes and priorities of his brother priests that were on display at the 11/5 meeting. As he put it, “Their only concern was themselves and their reputations. But we don’t obtain a good reputation simply by virtue of being priests. We obtain and retain our good reputations by being good and holy men of God.” Amen to that, Father!
Please note that I am not implying that our priests should not be well-informed or receive support, but this cannot be the #2 priority right now.
A Diocesan Synod:
First, the definition of a diocesan synod according to Canon 460 and 461: “A diocesan synod is a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community. A diocesan synod is to be celebrated in individual particular churches when circumstances suggest it in the judgment of the diocesan bishop after he has heard the presbyteral council.”
Okay, but what does a synod actually accomplish?
The Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples provides this additional information on diocesan synods:
“The purpose of the diocesan Synod is to assist the Bishop in the exercise of the office proper to him, namely, that of governing the Christian community. In the process of the Synod, the Bishop exercises the office of governing the Church entrusted to his care. He determines its convocation, proposes the questions to be discussed in the Synod and presides at the synodal sessions.
Moreover, it is the Bishop who, as sole legislator, signs the synodal declarations and decrees and orders their publication. Those who participate in the Synod assist the diocesan Bishop by formulating their opinion with regard to the questions which have been proposed by him… the Bishop remains free to accept or not the recommendations made to him by the members of the Synod.
The circumstances which would suggest the convocation of a Synod are various in nature: lack of an overall diocesan pastoral plan; the need to apply at local level norms and other directives; acute pastoral problems requiring pastoral solutions; a need to further a more intense ecclesial communion, etc.”
Here are my primary issues with a Synod:
1. It would be solely led and governed by Bishop Malone, who has already demonstrated that he does not have the judgement, courage or skills necessary to lead and govern our diocese.
2. While our diocese certainly does have “acute pastoral problems,” a Synod is a time-consuming and unnecessarily complex way to address these crucial issues. Take a look at this Vatican webpage to learn more about what goes into establishing a Synod let alone carrying one out. A Synod would essentially be an unwieldy task force under the sole jurisdiction of Bishop Malone.
3. In July 2017, the Buffalo Diocese participated in The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America — a 4-day event that was held in Orlando, Florida. This USCCB-convened gathering was hailed as “an unprecedented gathering of key leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations from across the country to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time, particularly in the context of the Church in the United States. An initiative of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, this historic gathering assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation, under the leadership of the bishops, on forming missionary disciples to animate the Church and engage the culture.”
As you can guess, addressing clerical sexual abuse and reaching out to survivors was not one of the “challenges and opportunities of our time.” You can check out the Convocation guidebook here to learn more about what they discussed. That whole event is very sad to consider in light of what has happened in our local, national and international Church since the summer of 2017. Talk about misguided priorities.
The Diocese of Buffalo sponsored roughly 20 people to participate in this event along with Bishop Malone. It was a very costly trip. I clearly remember the often-heated discussions about the fiscal component of this venture. Because of the high price point, it was emphasized to Bishop Malone and all DOB attendees that they would need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their participation in this Florida vacation… I mean convocation. One of the stated goals of the Convocation was for it to be “a deep reflection and creative movement that helps dioceses, parishes, organizations, apostolates, and associations across the United States celebrate, implement, and live out the key principles of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation).”
Thus the DOB Convocation cohort met monthly (under the leadership of Dennis Mahaney, Director for Evangelization and Catechesis) during the 2017-2018 year to discuss how their participation in this event could bear fruit in our Diocese. Guess what they came up with?
A Diocesan Synod.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Bishop Malone was quite enthused about the idea of a Synod especially since there hasn’t been one in Buffalo since the 1950’s. I remember him obtaining the synodal documents from that last Synod and eagerly showing them to me in the spring of 2018. Yes, as the clerical sexual abuse scandal was rapidly unfolding, Bishop Malone devoted brain power (from his self-described weary brain) to discussing and pre-planning a diocesan Synod. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise us that he would want to convene a diocesan Synod:
- He would be the only one in charge of it, but everyone else would do the work.
- He would get to take on a teaching role, which he loves. “For his part, the Bishop directs discussions during the synodal sessions and, as a true teacher of the Church, he will instruct and correct when such is deemed necessary,” as the Congregation for Bishops puts it. Take it from me, Bishop Malone loves to instruct and correct whenever he gets the opportunity.
- His word would literally be law on all things Synod.
- He could use it to form his legacy. I can see the WNY Catholic cover now: “Bishop Malone is first Bishop of Buffalo in over 50 years to convene and preside over a Diocesan Synod.”
- He could answer any critics of the Florida Convocation by saying that it yielded this Diocesan Synod.
We do not need a diocesan Synod. It will be a whole lot of smoke and mirrors masquerading as a solution. It will cost time, money and energy that should be devoted to more effective solutions.
Also, the Synod paragraph in the statement concerns me because it references the Canisius Symposium and how it is “currently independent of the Diocese.” Does that imply that its independence is only temporary? We were told at the start that the Symposium and its resulting work enjoyed the blessing of Bishop Malone. I would hate to see him co-opt that lay-led movement for his own purposes.
In closing, we need a diocesan plan that includes:
- JESUS. He is our Redeemer, Brother, and Lord. We need to turn to Him as our model. What would Jesus do in a situation like this? He would be honest, humble and heroic. He would flip the tables of those who dared to turn His Church into a corporation and a badly run one at that. He would already have reached out to survivors because He always sought out those who were suffering, hurt or lost. How can we possibly move forward as a diocese without turning to the One who founded our Church in the first place?! We need an abundance of Masses, Holy Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, etc. We need leaders who at least try to act as Jesus would act and invoke His holy name at every opportunity!
- Ongoing support and outreach to survivors that is tangible, transparent, genuine and effective. This is nonnegotiable and needs to begin yesterday.
- The resignation of Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz. I will not stop saying this just because it is unlikely to happen due to episcopal hubris.
- The imposition of penance on those who participated in the cover-up and a permanent ban on advancement/leadership for any such persons. They should be leading lives of prayer and penance rather than retaining leadership positions or aspiring to hierarchical heights.
- The assurance that our diocese and its leaders are not being misled by Terrence M. Connors and company, the legal team that has received literally MILLIONS OF DOLLARS from the Diocese of Buffalo in exchange for legal counsel that has perpetuated the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. I believe that Terry Connors, Lawlor Quinlan and Randy White are complicit in this cover-up (along with any lawyers of theirs who worked with the Diocese in the past). They must be held accountable and should no longer represent the Diocese of Buffalo unless they can verify that they have changed course from the legal practices that they have had in place within the Diocese for over three decades.
- Immediate, verifiable action regarding those priests who should have been laicized decades ago. So many of these confirmed abusers have simply never felt the repercussions of their diabolical actions. Despite committing and often confessing to heinous crimes, they never set foot inside a jail cell. Instead, they’re relaxing in cabins in the Southern Tier, living the high life in Sin City, or lounging by pools in Florida. They are still receiving regular financial assistance from the Diocese of Buffalo! This is beyond outrageous. I have seen firsthand how Bishop Malone dragged his feet regarding this vital issue. Perhaps instead of worrying about USCCB Convocations and Committee meetings, Diocesan Synod pipe dreams and the diocesan flags for his new residence, Bishop Malone should have been focused on proper action regarding these abusers who should no longer hold the title of priest in any capacity.
The Presbyteral Council’s statement was titled “A Statement of Solidarity.” I must respectfully ask – with whom or what are they in solidarity?
The people of the diocese?
I would argue that they are simply in solidarity with Bishop Malone and themselves. They are orchestrating this “healing and strengthening of the Diocese of Buffalo” to avoid or mitigate any of the difficult realities they face. Those complicit in the cover-up are essentially absolved and of course Bishop Malone will be heralded as the one to lead us to healing through a Synod.
Solidarity is a very important concept to me. My undergraduate thesis was on Pope John Paul II as the “Solidarity Pope” and posited that his 1979 visit to Poland planted the seeds of the Solidarity Movement in his homeland. I have always been inspired by the quote from JPII that is featured at the start of this post. The Diocese of Buffalo, her people and her survivors are yearning for peace. In order to achieve that peace, we are in desperate need of fairness, truth, justice and solidarity.
I stand in solidarity with survivors.
I stand in solidarity with the people of our diocese.
I stand in solidarity with our good and holy priests.
I stand in solidarity with my Savior, Jesus Christ.
May His Holy Name be ever praised, reverenced and invoked.