Stephanie’s Letter

For several reasons, it is not hard for me to recall April 17th, 2018. I remember the snowy, 30-degree weather as I hurried into the Catholic Center that Tuesday morning. Such weather in April is not unfamiliar to Buffalonians, who are accustomed to Second Winter replacing Spring. But that morning, the chilly temps were more notable because I was returning from a visit to a warmer clime. Given the scandal swirling within the Diocese at the time, I had been tempted to postpone or cancel my long-scheduled trip to San Francisco and Yosemite. In the end, I had decided that a 4-day weekend to a beautiful area might be just what I needed.

plane-pic.jpg

By the early hours of Tuesday the 17th, I was beginning to doubt that decision. My flight home had been delayed due to weather, which meant I didn’t make it into Buffalo until 2 am. Due at the Chancery by 8:30 at the latest, I began to mentally prepare myself to return to the Catholic Center running on empty. The Wednesday prior, I had prepared the office for the Bishop’s return from Easter vacation. As these photos indicate, he was greeted by a full counter and a plethora of mail to process. I wondered what would greet me upon my return a week later.

It was now 11:40 am. The preceding 3 hours had been a dizzying blur of emails, voice mails and requests. Grateful that the Bishop was now otherwise occupied, I took a moment to catch my breath at my desk. Father Ryszard must have been waiting for this opportunity because he immediately approached my cubicle. I figured he was going to update me on what had transpired during my absence, but he had only one thing to say: “You should read this.” His expressive eyes told me all I needed to know: the letter he had given me pertained to the abuse scandal and it was going to be a painful read.

I have never been so viscerally affected by the written word. While reading Stephanie McIntyre’s 7-page letter to Bishop Malone, I had to stop multiple times. At least three times to brush away tears, which were blurring my vision and preventing me from reading further. Once to bend over and hope I didn’t throw up on the anti-fatigue mat upon which I stood. By the time I reached the letter’s end, I was sobbing with sorrow for Stephanie while my blood boiled at the thought of her abuser, Fabian Maryanski. Just writing these words brings me back to that seismic moment. It was as though I had survived an earthquake that only I had felt.

Around 12:20 pm, I realized that I needed to explain my crying fit to my nearest co-worker. Close to me both figuratively and literally, she could see and hear me crying. She was accustomed to my tears during and after speaking with survivors on the phone, but would have had no idea what brought on the waterworks this time. I could not trust myself to speak about Stephanie’s letter yet, which is why I resorted to email. Our email exchange can be found below:

When reading this email thread,

please begin at the bottom of the second image and read up. 

top-email-pic.png

bottom-email-pic.png

This is the first time that I’m sharing the background of my “burn this place down” remark, which was made public during 60 Minutes Overtime last October. How vividly do I recall the moment when Bill Whitaker startled me by reading that line and asking for my comment on it! As the blood rushed to my cheeks, I thought of Stephanie and the intense anger I had felt upon reading her letter. Reviewing this email thread a year later, I winced at the burning and skinning I wrote about a year ago. Those lines make me sound angry and violent. And yet that is how I felt after I read Stephanie’s letter: enraged and wanting to somehow release that rage, which affected me so powerfully. I fear fire and can hardly skin grapes, so I’m no threat as an arsonist or otherwise. But how I burned with anger after reading what had happened to this innocent young girl! Her entire life was traumatically and permanently impacted by a priest’s repeated abuse in every imaginable category: sexual, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.

steph-photo.jpg

Stephanie’s story impacted me at a deep level for many reasons, but especially because I could relate to her story as a woman. Hers was one of the first female survivor stories I encountered and certainly the most disturbing in its detail. A few of the events she described made my skin crawl because I could not fathom having physically experienced what she had been made to endure. Other elements of her story resonated with me on personal levels of a different nature. For example, Stephanie described how she rode her bike to Mass to meet her new pastor, Maryanski. Later on, he would give her a new bike among other special, expensive gifts. This mention of bicycles reminded me of how as a kid, I used to ride my bike around my neighborhood so much that an elderly man at the end of the street called me “the bike girl.” Stephanie was Maryanski’s “bike girl”– an innocent young lady who would never be the same after that fateful bike ride to meet her new pastor.

To make matters somehow even worse, I knew that Maryanski had friends in particularly high places:

  • He was a classmate and personal friend of Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz
  • He was a golfing buddy of Msgr. Paul Litwin – longtime Chancellor for the Diocese of Buffalo, who had just recently left to become pastor of a wealthy parish
  • He was also a “Thursday night dinner” friend of Msgr. Litwin, who gathered with a tight group of classmates and friends every Thursday evening for cocktails & dinner

I wondered if Stephanie knew this information about her abuser and how his high-ranking friends (and a grossly negligent* Bishop Malone) had protected him all these years.

Although I was highly distressed by Stephanie’s letter, I was grateful to Fr. Ryszard for showing it to me.** I remember asking him these questions about Stephanie’s letter: “When did Bishop Malone read this?” and “What did he do about it it?” His answers were simple: “When it arrived on Friday the 13th” and “He sent it on to Terry and Lawlor.” I knew the Bishop would have read the letter himself – he always did so with correspondence labeled “Personal” and/or “Confidential.” It was important to know that he had read it the same day it arrived. While not surprised to hear that her letter was sent directly to the lawyers, I was extremely disheartened nonetheless. This letter requires a pastoral, personal response – not a legal one! I thought to myself. Here we go again with Bishop Connors and Most Reverend Quinlan. 

stphe-pic.png

It was indeed a legalistic response that Stephanie received in early June. I remember being shocked by just how brief, cold and impersonal it was. Drafted by the lawyers and approved and signed by Bishop Malone, the letter merely mentioned his “sadness” regarding Stephanie’s “history with Fr. Maryanski” and emphasized that Bishop Malone was not in Buffalo at the time. The words “abuse” and “crime” were, of course, never used. There was no personal expression of sympathy or pastoral support. No indication that the Bishop wanted justice for 15-year old Stephanie or appropriate consequences for her abuser’s abhorrent offenses. The letter closed with a stern request that Stephanie cooperate with the Diocese’s investigator.

I was appalled. As I formatted the ugly little paragraph on the Bishop’s letterhead, I thought to myself: How can we possibly send such an awful thing to this brave woman? I remember thinking that this was the worst thing I’d ever cut and pasted onto that familiar cream and green stationery. I was so tempted to humanize those heartless words, but stopped myself as I remembered my recently adopted rule — no more making the Bishop look better than he was. As I folded the letter and prepared to stick it in the envelope, I thought about adding a post-it note that simply read: Someone in this Chancery cares about you and is sorry that you are receiving such a miserable missive. How I wish I had.

Bishop Malone may not have appreciated or respected Stephanie’s courageous testimony, but the people of Buffalo and beyond surely did. Stephanie’s story would be compellingly told by Jay Tokasz of the Buffalo News in a May 6th front page article. The next day, Monday the 7th, I witnessed two unbelievable reactions from Maryanski’s close friends.

It was after 10 am and Bishop Malone and his Senior Staff were in the fourth floor’s large conference room for their regular Monday morning meeting. Next thing I knew, Msgr. Litwin waltzed through the Chancery’s oak doors. He had started at Christ the King Parish about a month before… just a few days after Easter. Monsignor was holding the Buffalo News Sunday edition in his hand and his face was filled with consternation. I could only assume he was distressed by the Maryanski cover story. He was, but not for the reason I expected. This is what he exclaimed to me: “You won’t believe this! My winning golf score is listed in the Sunday paper, but now I can’t ask people ‘Did you see what was in yesterday’s paper?’ because they’ll think I’m talking about the cover story!” Then he opened the paper to show me this mention of his name and score:

golf.png

At this, I was bereft of speech. I have no idea what my facial response looked like, but it was of little consequence since Monsignor paid me no heed while he proceeded to collect his mail and then exit the Chancery. I never uttered a syllable in response to him, but oh the things I said upon his departure!!

After it was determined that Maryanski would be summoned to the Chancery that afternoon and put on Administrative Leave, Bishop Grosz worked with me to prepare the appropriate documentation. I was becoming sadly familiar with these documents, but Bishop Grosz always made sure I had all of the details accurately noted. He was visibly crestfallen as he finalized these documents. At one point he starting shaking his head as he expressed the following sentiments:

“Oh poor Fabe, this will be so hard on him!” 

Again, I was speechless. ‘Poor Fabe?’ Are you freaking kidding me?!!!!! It SHOULD be hard on him – finally!! He got away with this for long enough! Not once had either bishop lamented the damage done to “poor Stephanie.” Not once had they expressed distress over the abuse she had endured or the trauma she suffers to this day. But now “poor Fabe” had to face mild consequences for his crimes and it was suddenly a dark day at 795 Main Street. Bishop Grosz was in quite a frenetic state as he prepared for his friend’s visit to the Chancery. I wondered what Bishop Grosz had done in the past to prevent this very thing from occurring. Now he could no longer save his beloved buddy.

Stephanie’s story went on to become the heart and soul of Charlie’s third report as well as the 60 Minutes report that followed. Without her courageous testimony, we would not have known the full story behind Maryanski, whose infamous entry on the Bishop’s draft list reads as follows: “We did not remove him from ministry despite full knowledge of the case, and so including him on list might require explanation.” Yes, it does require explanation, Bishop Malone, and we are still waiting for that explanation.

I must admit that it has been challenging to write this post. Reliving these specific days last year was more emotional than I expected. Reviewing the emails included above, I recall so vividly how it felt to be “in the pits of despair” at the Chancery. I often felt trapped in my cubicle as if it were a cell… wondering if the air quality in the Chancery had always been this bad or if my inability to take a deep breath was due to psychological factors rather than environmental ones. Wishing that I could do something – anything – to help survivors such as Stephanie.

Eventually I realized there was something that could be done to assist them in their quest for truth and justice. In the process, I was able to “meet” Stephanie via social media. Her gentle demeanor, courageous spirit and deep faith are a tremendous example to us all. I keep trying to express just what Stephanie means to me, but all of my words fall short. She is an indescribably incredible woman. 

Stephanie: ever since April 17th, 2018 you have been a hero of mine. I believe you, I respect you and I admire you. May God reward you – in this life and the one to come – for your strength, your faith and your courage.

superman s.png

 

__________________________________________

 

*By “gross negligence” I mean that Bishop Malone was made aware of Maryanski’s history a month after being installed as bishop in 2012 and never properly addressed the allegations against him (and many other abusive priests) or initiated the process of having such cases adjudicated by Rome as canon law clearly mandates.

**Father Ryszard broke no Chancery protocol by sharing Stephanie’s letter with me. We were both authorized to process Bishop Malone’s mail and often saw “Personal/Confidential” correspondence after the Bishop read it. We would be the ones scanning things to the lawyers or otherwise forwarding/handling such letters. Father was sharing the letter with me because I had missed its arrival and he wanted me to be aware of it.

Cover image: A Girl Writing by Henriette Browne – chosen because I imagine young Stephanie encouraging current Stephanie as she wrote her powerful letter to Bishop Malone.

One thought on “Stephanie’s Letter

  • Today’s Bflo News has an editorial about the latest in the attempt by the powers that be in the diocese to work with the Movement to Restore Trust in implementing changes in the ways they deal with this crisis

    Reading your account makes me wonder once again whether you think they’ll really do things differently this time?

    Your account is very moving. I recall reading something in the past about this on your blog but then it mysteriously disappeared

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s