The weather was remarkably windy – the most challenging conditions for protesters. I only managed to hold my two signs up for a few minutes as I feared losing them to the constant gusts.
It was nearing 4 pm and we’d been standing by the main entrance of the Seminary for more than a few hours now. We knew the Nuncio had landed at the airport, but weren’t sure when he would be arriving at the Seminary. It was 40 degrees and overcast with winds that nearly blew us over if we were standing at the wrong angle with our signs. I was glad I’d thrown my fleece in my backpack at the last minute or I would have been shivering more than is becoming for a Buffalonian in May.
We were all on the lookout for the Bishop’s black Toyota Avalon as we assumed that would be the vehicle used to transport the Nuncio. The Bishop’s Avalon is best known as “BF-1” since that is the license plate it bears. The Mayor’s license plate is BF-2 and the joke is that if the Diocese is ever negligent with vehicle registration for the Bishop, the Mayor will snag BF-1 from him!
The Seminary Commencement would begin with Vespers at 4:30 so we knew the Bishop and the Nuncio would have to arrive soon. As 4 pm neared, my fellow protesters would get excited whenever a black vehicle began to approach the Seminary entrance. Each time someone exclaimed about an approaching black car, I would note that it was too high or too narrow, or had the wrong headlights or frame. I was surprised to realize just how well I knew the Bishop’s car.
But then again, I saw it pretty regularly. Not infrequently, the Bishop would have me run down to the Catholic Center garage to grab something from the passenger seat or trunk of BF-1. I would often fly down the stairwell to try and catch the Bishop and Father Ryszard before they left in BF-1. (Both of them have an endearing habit of forgetting necessary items when leaving the Chancery.) Papers, program or phone in hand, I would do my best to flag them down and make the drive-by delivery. I’ve ridden in BF-1 several times to events such as the Mayor’s State of the City Address or the Irish Civic Luncheon. And, of course, I could never forget the epic day last year when BF-1 was stolen right from the Bishop’s garage. It was eventually recovered and the Bishop’s “traveling crozier” was still in the trunk! Bishop Malone ended up getting a brand new Avalon after that, but the BF-1 license plate remained.
All of a sudden, a black vehicle crested the small hill near the Seminary entrance. “That’s it!” I shouted, “That’s them!” I recognized immediately that this car was of the proper width and height. The angle of the windshield was correct as was its grille. Suddenly they were right there – a mere arm’s length from me as I was the protester closest to the road. Father Ryszard was driving with the Bishop and the Nuncio in the left and right back seats, respectively. A hanger with clothing was hanging near the front passenger door.
I hadn’t prepared myself for this moment. All of a sudden it wasn’t the wind stinging my eyes – those were tears. This was the closest I’d been to the Bishop since August 21st of last year. I spotted his familiar hair and glasses, but could not see his face or expression clearly. At the same time, I saw my former coworker, Father Ryszard, resolutely driving past protesters and signs to enter his Seminary, which did nothing to protect him from or support him after sexual abuse by a priest. I saw the Nuncio too, but although my sign addressed him directly, he was not my priority in those fleeting seconds. I was focused solely on my former boss and colleague.
How incredibly strange it was to be literally on the outside looking in. I couldn’t help but think of how often I’d called or received a call from the Bishop and Father Ryszard while they were driving in BF-1. “Father Ryszard here” was the familiar, cheerful greeting I would hear followed by: “I’ve got you on speaker so we can both talk to you.” Next I would hear the Bishop’s resonant voice: “Siobhan, we’re just leaving now. Can you call the Cafeteria and ask them to save some lunch for us? We’ll be too late to go through the line.” Then the Bishop and Father Ryszard would begin determining their specific time of arrival. The two of them enjoyed predicting the exact moment: 10:39 am or 2:17 pm, for example. I would laugh at their hilarious precision and tell them I’d be expecting them at 1:42 pm – not a minute before or after. After hanging up, I’d run downstairs to get their usual lunch choices, which I’d bring up to the small conference room for them. I genuinely loved helping both of them and have many fond memories such as this. No matter what came after, we were a fantastic team for several wonderful albeit rose-colored years.
And now here I was, staring into the windows of BF-1 while holding a sign that read: “+Pierre: Take Malone and Grosz with you.” I was asking the Papal Nuncio to somehow intervene on behalf of our diocese so that our current episcopal leadership could be removed. As much as I believed wholeheartedly in what my sign said, it made my heart and stomach ache to hold it as I did. This was my very first time protesting in Buffalo since all of this began. I protested in Baltimore last November, but have no idea if Bishop Malone ever saw me – the bishops entered and exited the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott in Suburbans with highly tinted windows… we had no clue which bishops were in there and whether they looked our way or avoided us and our signs.
But now I was almost positive that Bishop Malone saw my sign – he was mere feet from me and seemed to be looking in my direction. I was purposely standing as close to the road as I could. The lead off-duty cop on patrol at the entrance had already “read us the riot act,” as my Mom would say, about not impeding the path of the Bishop’s vehicle or otherwise causing a disturbance. We had no such intention, but we did want our signs to be read. I believe they were. Bishop Malone is quite proficient in French so he would have been able to easily translate Bob Hoatson and Jim Faluszczak’s brilliant signs. I had tried to mimic a French font for my signs, but Bob and Jim had cleverly used the Nuncio’s native language itself!
Looking down after BF-1 swiftly passed us by, I smiled faintly at my blue windbreaker. I remembered how I’d bought it before the Ireland pilgrimage I went on with Bishop Malone and Father Ryszard in the fall of 2017. Given that it rained a little bit nearly every day we were there, that windbreaker was my constant sartorial companion. Many of the pilgrims commented that Father Ryszard and I both had blue jackets on all the time. They said we were such coordinated staff for the Bishop. Father and I could only laugh… we were lucky to have the essentials coordinated let alone our attire!
The Bishop and Father Ryszard were not the only familiar faces I saw that afternoon. Many diocesan priests and former colleagues drove into the Seminary to attend the Commencement. They had to stop right at the entrance to be checked in by one of the three policemen on duty there. It was an odd procedure to witness: people being elaborately checked in in order to proceed on to the Seminary grounds. What were they so afraid of that they hired private security? I thought to myself. Concerned members of the Diocese? Courageous survivors? The truth? Reality?
As familiar faces pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t help but notice their reactions to us protesters: a few smiled or waved at me, but the majority looked away or even shook their heads at us. No matter how awkward this is, I remember thinking, I’d rather be on the outside of this operation. I know the Diocese pretty much from the inside out… and as painful as it can be, I’d rather be on the outs than on the inside!
You may be wondering what led me to protest the Bishop and the Diocese for the first time in 10 months. The impetus was the rare visit from the Papal Nuncio to the Diocesan location that has been most on my mind and heart over the past few weeks: Christ the King Seminary. If you are not familiar with the recent and ongoing plight of our Seminarians, you can read about it by clicking on this hyperlink. I wanted to stand in support with our Seminarians – especially the ones who blew the whistle on the recent Pizza Party from Hell at a local parish rectory. I am concerned for those whistle blowers, who were subjected to interrogations as the Seminary and Diocese focused more on who leaked documents than on what those documents revealed. Nothing has changed since this exact same thing occurred last August!
Our Seminarians deserve so much more than they are receiving at Christ the King Seminary. At the very least, they deserve to be treated with respect rather than interrogated. I hope to say more about their plight in the coming weeks. For now, please join me in prayer for the Seminarians here in Buffalo and throughout the world. The global Seminary system needs a major overhaul.
Let me close by noting that no matter how difficult it may have been for me to protest this particular event, I recognize that it is infinitely harder for survivors of clerical sexual abuse to protest in any capacity. I share my protesting perspective as a way to reflect on what this experience was like for me. It still surprises me how emotional this whole situation continues to be. I’ve talked to three new victim-survivors during the past week alone. They are always my priority – it is for and with them that I protest… through bracing wind, startling tears and dispiriting memories.