Listening Sessions 2, 3 & 4 in a Word: Sick, Sarah & Sue

Listening Session #2: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this event on June 15th due to a nasty respiratory virus that laid me low. I was initially determined to still attend, but ultimately decided that I only want to spread truth – not germs! The MRT provided notes for session 2, which can be found at this link. I believe these notes were compiled by Dennis Mahaney, who took notes by hand at the first session and then wisely upgraded to a laptop.

st. marks.jpg
St. Mark’s Parish, Buffalo


Listening Session #3: The only session held during the evening, this event took place at St. Mark’s Parish in Buffalo on Thursday, July 27th. For me, it was a very special occasion because I finally got to meet Sarah Ann, a survivor I’ve gotten to know through social media over the past months. Everything she has stated or shared has demonstrated that she is equal parts sweet and strong! As much as I looked forward to meeting her at St. Mark’s, I was anxious to ensure that this would be as positive an experience as possible for her. We arranged to sit together and I picked the table closest to the only easy exit from the St. Mark’s gym. I wanted to be sure she had an escape hatch in case it became too much for her.

As difficult as it must have been, Sarah not only stayed for the entire session, but edified and educated those at our table by sharing some of her testimony. Unfortunately, she was not given the opportunity to do so for the entire group of approximately 60 people. On Tuesday the 25th, Sarah had reached out to the MRT (Movement to Restore Trust, the lay group running these listening sessions) to see if she could speak at Thursday’s session. She noted that she “would not take too much time” and that her “intention is to let others know of the ramifications of the abuse on adult survivors, the detrimental impact on our faith, and awareness that continued support from the community is essential to our healing processes.”

Unbelievably, Maureen Hurley (wife of Canisius College President John Hurley) responded to Sarah in this fashion: “It is not appropriate for you to have a formal spot on the agenda for the listening session tomorrow night as the flow and agenda for the session has been planned for some time.” It is hard to fathom why Maureen Hurley or any of the MRT organizers would not welcome or at least accommodate a survivor’s request to speak at this type of event. If anyone deserves to be listened to, it is the survivors. In fact, they are the ones we should be listening to the most. The only “appropriate” response to Sarah would have been a warm, inviting welcome. Instead, she was given the run around about “flow and agenda” – both of which could have been modified to accommodate Sarah’s request. The MRT head honchos are professionals with years of experience running all sorts of things. In particular, Maureen and John Hurley are extremely successful and experienced leaders. If they can’t adjust the “flow and agenda” of an event of this nature with two days notice, they shouldn’t be in charge of a convenience store let alone a college.

You can read more about this debacle via the WKBW story at this link.

  • Regarding John Hurley’s statement (in that linked story) that the listening sessions are set up by the Bishop – this was directly contradicted by Bishop Malone’s words at the Olean session on Saturday morning when he stated: “These sessions are intentionally arranged by the planners – not by me.” Sounds like a classic case of “It wasn’t me – it was the other guy.” Hurley and Malone are cut from the same cloth…

Getting back to the session, here are my notes:

Stephanie, the MRT Moderator, gave the standard intro and overview for the event. Certain phrases really stuck out to me this time given Sarah’s experience such as “this is an opportunity for all to be heard” and the desire for “unvarnished, unedited comments” to be expressed and recorded.

I have to give Stephanie kudos for holding up the “stoplight timer” that I mocked after the St. Greg’s listening session. She noted that “it didn’t go well the first time” and that her use of it was “really awkward” and made her look like “a spaz.” She invited people to play around with it as long as they gave it back to Dennis Mahaney, who must own the thing. I can’t imagine anyone took her up on the offer, but I appreciated Stephanie’s humor and candor regarding that infamous timer.

Sitting at the front of the room were Bishop Malone, Dennis Mahaney and Dr. Nancy Nielsen, who is a member of the organizing committee of the MRT.

At our table, Sarah and I were joined by three gentleman: one was very well informed/researched about the scandal, another who had a self-identified rosy view of things, and Stephanie’s husband. Stephanie’s husband is not Catholic, but attends Mass with her and their family. (Stephanie’s husband was already seated at this table when Sarah and I joined it so he was not a plant lest anyone wonder about that.) As you can imagine, this was a very unique and diverse group! Each of us had an opportunity to speak and were listened to respectfully by the others. Sarah, of course, had the most powerful contribution. She spoke about the personal toll of her abuse and how it has affected her entire life and her family as well. Sarah noted that she’s focused on healing right now, but knows that her pain will never fully go away. She made several excellent suggestions and remained so strong while she was speaking. It was clear that her words had a profound impact on her listeners.

According to the MRT directives, each table is to have a scribe and a spokesperson. I volunteered to be the scribe, but ended up being the spokesperson by default. The three gentlemen declined to speak and Sarah had understandable apprehension given the response she’d received from Maureen Hurley. Thus I prepared to read the list I’d just compiled.

It was both a strange and emotional situation for me. I would be addressing the room as a whole, but in some sense I was also speaking directly to the Bishop. That was a strange realization. I was also extremely humbled to be speaking for Sarah as she wanted her suggestions to be shared with the entire group. I wanted to be certain that I represented her well – that was incredibly important to me. I don’t usually get too nervous before speaking in public, but this time I did. Here was our table’s contribution to the “report out” segment:

  • We were privileged to have a survivor at our table, who shared their perspective. As you can imagine, this was a very powerful and impactful part of our table’s discussions.
  • This survivor made several suggestions including:
    • Counselors who work with abuse victims should be trained and well versed in the ramifications of sexual abuse
    • Survivors should not have to call the media to get answers about their abusers- that information should be made available to them by the Diocese
    • Anyone who has been abused should call law enforcement to report
    • It is important for the Diocese to follow-up with survivors. They will struggle for the rest of their lives and need as much support as possible
  • Our table noted that the laity must be involved in holding bishops accountable as they cannot do this themselves
  • Concerns were raised regarding the fact that so few young people are here tonight
  • Regret expressed that these crimes and related matters were not handled properly so it became a scandal and an even greater tragedy
  • It is up to the laity to save our Church
  • We must have truly zero tolerance of any abuse of a child or an adult
  • At the other end of the spectrum, we need to recognize and support good priests

Other tables’ contributions were as follows:

  • The news media is doing the digging – we get the truth from them
  • Why aren’t priests punished as regular people would be?
  • Why is there a watering down of abuse as if some types of abuse “aren’t so bad”?
  • We have to be honest – we need to know the truth
  • From a 96 year-old attendee: “The Catholic Church is losing its prestige and holiness due to the scandal and the cover-up”
  • Attendance is down at all the parishes
  • Priests violating their position of trust is a savage thing
  • Why is Bishop Malone allowing active homosexual priests to remain in ministry – they should not be priests
  • Can we count on the Church to handle this correctly?
  • People feel bad about priests who are accused but not found guilty – no information is provided on that and their reputations are at risk
  • There should be sympathy and support for accused priests
  • Everyone needs to be involved in this renewal
  • There needs to be collaboration with the laity on all key issues within the Church
  • After Vatican II, priests were not educated to teach the faith
  • Great concern for the future of our Church – schools are closing and young people are leaving
  • People are sick of hearing about this and want to move on
  • This didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight
  • Disappointed in the turnout tonight – not as many people here as there should be
  • Part of how this happened is that priests were treated like they were God
  • We need more and constant transparency
  • The Church teaches us to be moral and truthful, which makes it even more horrible when the leaders of the Church are not being moral and truthful themselves
  • People are not giving to good and worthy charities because of the scandal
  • We are angry and upset at the attitude of hubris not humility that we see from bishops
  • We are worried about inaction – the hierarchy is not moving fast enough to address this scandal and make things right
  • We need to move forward with other issues – such as the border crisis – that will unify people and help to build community
  • There should be other people sitting up there with you, Bishop Malone – it’s not just your mess – you are cleaning up other people’s mess too
  • We feel more disappointment than anger
  • Most pedophiles are homosexuals
  • We have great fear for our young people – we are losing them
  • We cannot let this divide us or freeze us – we have to keep being Catholic
  • When will Bishop Malone be answering our questions?
  • The Diocese should consider having a Board of Ethics (made up of clergy and laity) that would investigate with accuracy
  • Children are not being catechized enough
  • Concerns about the formation of priests – the Diocesan Counseling Center reviews who will become priests and the Center is run by an old priest and two older nuns. They are the ones picking our future priests
  • As someone familiar with the science, I want to note that there is a difference between homosexuality and pedophilia
  • Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, foundress of a religious congregation of the Benedictine order called the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope, is waiting for a bishop to invite her community to his diocese. Would Bishop Malone consider this for our diocese?
  • We have not had a satisfactory apology statement from the Diocese – nothing that’s been said has matched people’s feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration
  • We have to fix this for real this time and prevent it from happening again
  • The only hotline we need is 9-1-1!
  • I’d like to thank the survivor at our table for attending tonight despite the anxiety they must have felt. Survivors should feel welcome to be present at an event like this and hopefully they will receive a warm welcome and support from the laity.
  • Survivors should be able to meet directly with the Bishop
  • Restorative justice is needed – not just a settlement amount because that alone doesn’t validate victims
  • There has been silence from the Church on other matters – such as the NYS abortion laws – because of the focus on this scandal
  • We still don’t have transparency. Fr. Joe Gatto was to be sent to St. Christopher’s and now he’s not going there. Why? What is the process? We don’t need just the decision, but the process behind it. How was that decision made and by whom?
  • We are angry at the abuse of power and the secrecy
  • The Church could become a leader in this area if we respond to this properly

Bishop Malone’s Remarks:

  • Thank you for all of your comments. I feel the passion in your voices and especially your desire for me to reach out more effectively to those abused by trusted clerics.
  • I also heard your concerns about the future of our Church and how we need to be formed in faith. The key is to teach about Jesus – that’s the key.
  • There is not time for me to answer directly all of your questions, but I am grateful to you for articulating them. I hear your tremendous concern about these matters.
  • Before the scandal broke last year, I was preparing to hold a Diocesan Synod, which hasn’t happened in this Diocese since 1954. In fact, when she worked for me, Siobhan was very helpful in finding information on synods around the world. [When the Bishop started talking about the Synod, I decided to take a break from writing and count the attendees. I was in the mid twenties when I heard the Bishop say my name, which was startling to say the least. I do recall that Synod research I did for him… guess he does too. He talked for about 3 minutes about the Synod, which was not a very effective use of time since by his own admission, a Synod won’t be happening anytime soon in our diocese. I remember thinking Sarah could have used those 3 minutes to speak.]
  • I want to assure you that I do meet with victims – privately and quietly
  • Laity and clergy are co-responsible for the Church
  • I wish I had done listening sessions like this when I first got here
  • I want to do another round of these after the scandal – it is good for this time of gathering and listening to happen
  • The USCCB is united in how to move forward to ensure that this never happens again.
  • I hear your rage, sadness and disappointment
  • I believe at this point, our Catholic schools and organizations are the safest places for children and teens because of our elaborate VIRTUS process, which is audited every year and we always get excellent marks
  • Pope Francis thinks the metropolitan method is most effective. With this method, a person would make their report to the metropolitan bishop, Cardinal Dolan in our case, who would draw in lay people in the response. There is a strong call for lay people to be involved in the process. Bishops are committed to lay involvement. We don’t want bishops policing bishops either. If the metropolitan is accused, the report would go to the next senior bishop.
  • This is a global scourge – the abuse of children and all of that
  • EthicsPoint – this program has been in our diocese for two or three years, but was used for accusations of fraud with Church funds. Now it can be used for anyone to make an anonymous report – any kind of ethical concern can be reported.
  • As for why priests weren’t punished – 30 or 40 years ago, offending priests should have gone to jail. A few have gone to prison in our diocese.
  • We do hold ourselves accountable to law enforcement
  • We have to be very careful when speaking about homosexuality and pedophilia. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear that homosexuals must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Whether a person is homosexual or heterosexual, the problem is acting out one’s sexuality in a manner that is not consistent with their state of life. I do not know of any priests with a homosexual orientation who are acting out – they are living chaste, celibate lives. We cannot draw a straight line from from homosexuality to pedophilia as the John Jay report makes clear. Pedophiles are most likely to be heterosexual, married men so we can’t lump pedophilia with homosexuality as that is a slam on those who live out that orientation chastely and faithfully.
  • I understand your concern about losing young people. In fact, there will be an 8th listening session this fall where I will be meeting with college students. I didn’t run this by the Joint Implementation Team, but I think they will be okay with it. I did a lot of ministry with young people in the past so I am looking forward to this final listening session.
  • I believe that the MRT is a working of the Holy Spirit in our diocese. I have pledged to work with them. The leaders of the MRT are making good demands of me.
  • I hear your call to include more laity and women within the leadership of our diocese. We recently welcomed 3 women to the Finance Council, for example. These may seem like small things, but they are significant.
  • The Diocesan Review Board has a new Chair – Judge Sal Martoche. There is one priest on the Board, but otherwise it is all lay people. I go to their meetings and listen to their reports, but I have no vote.
  • I’m going to ask Nancy Nielsen to take the mic and explain some of the next steps for the MRT:
    • The full MRT report will be coming out soon so keep an eye out for that. The people on the MRT are not pushovers as Bishop Malone can tell you. Also, there may be not just one survivor here tonight, but others who were victims of teachers, Boy Scouts, etc. Be welcoming to survivors – help them and it will transform you. We need to feel their pain in order to understand their anger and frustration.
  • Bishop Malone again: In your comments, I sensed a combination of hope, fear, anger, dismay… I get it – more now than I ever have in the past. Some of the things said are hard to hear, but it is good to hear the focus on the mission of the Church. We cannot neglect the larger mission of our Church including ministry to migrants and immigrants, pro-life ministry, evangelization and catechesis. We have to focus on these too or we will be worse off than we are.
  • I would be interested in learning more about the religious order that was mentioned with which I am not familiar. Please talk to me afterwards so that I can get more information from you.
  • Please pray for me no matter how you feel about me – please send a prayer my way. Not just a quick prayer during Mass – “for Francis, our pope, and Richard, our bishop.” Prayer is a spiritual energy that runs among us.

After Bishop Malone concluded his remarks, Stephanie gave a brief pitch for the MRT and JIT. She also noted that although the Bishop could not answer every question, he did address the most contention questions raised during the evening – the ones raised about homosexuality/pedophilia.

The evening closed with the “Our Father” about which a question was raised regarding the Pope’s recent change to the prayer’s translation in Italian. Bishop Malone noted that so far that wording change is only in effect in Italy. He is not aware of when such a change might be made here in the US.

After the event formally concluded, I was able to say farewell to Sarah, who had remained so strong and resolved throughout the evening. It was such a pleasure to meet her and an honor to sit with her. Before I headed out, I spoke with an attendee who made this insightful observation: “I think the Bishop is so deep in it that he doesn’t hear himself or how he comes across when he’s talking about the MRT or EthicsPoint or whatever else. He really doesn’t know how it comes across to us.” Well said!

Archbishop Walsh High School, Olean

Listening Session #4: This session was held at Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean on Saturday, June 29th. I’m not usually down much farther south than Ellicottville and that’s normally in the winter for skiing. It was incredibly beautiful to make that drive – and go even farther south – when the landscape is lush and green.

Upon entering the cafeteria, where the listening session was being held, I surveyed the room to see where I might sit. I don’t have any strategy for where I sit – it’s very much a spur=of-the-moment decision. In this case, I spotted a lady in a teal shirt seated by herself at the end of a table one row in from the back on the right side of the room. I decided to sit opposite her and introduced myself. Her name was Sue. Another gentleman sat down at our table, but that was it. There were approximately 65 people in attendance and only a few tables had 5 or more people. Most of us were spread out rather sparsely among the remaining tables.

Bishop Malone took the microphone first this time and welcomed everyone. He made a point to note that he “was happy to say he recognized many of your faces from my many visits here. This area has deeply Catholic roots and great beauty. I always find it a calming experience driving down here from Buffalo. If I were a young priest, I would volunteer to be assigned down here.” He then took his seat with Dennis Mahaney in the far left corner of the cafeteria behind the main podium. (Nancy Nielsen got there late due to GPS issues and sat up with the Bishop upon her arrival.)

Stephanie then took the mic and gave her usual spiel although she manages to not sound like she’s said it three times before. With Sarah in mind, I noted that one of the objectives listed on the MRT slideshow behind Stephanie is for the listening sessions to be an “intentional period of listening to victims, survivors and the larger Church to inform and influence the Bishop during this Paschal moment in the Diocese of Buffalo.” That sure sounds nice, but is this really occurring? It didn’t on Thursday night, that’s for sure.

Before she closed her intro, Stephanie said that she wanted to “address the elephant in the room – the news story that was on TV last night.” (See WKBW link above) She noted that “we received some feedback that these sessions are overly structured and not allowing people to speak.” She emphasized that she is “staking her professional reputation on her participation in these events and she does not intend for people not to speak if they want to. But today is not an unstructured open mic or town hall style event.” She never mentioned Sarah or her situation, which I found odd since Sarah was the heart of that story. But Stephanie’s mention of the story in general was important because it indicated that the DOB and MRT teams watched it and took note of it. I do wish that they had acknowledged Sarah and apologized for the response she received last week.

Stephanie again mentioned the stoplight timer, which “made me look stupid,” and noted that they’ve “retired” it.  I appreciate her candor and ability to laugh at herself. For someone who witnessed the timer’s debut, I was very glad to hear about its retirement.

Lastly, Stephanie encouraged smaller tables to come together to form larger groups so as to better facilitate discussion. At this suggestion, the gentleman at my table (who turned out to be the principal of the high school) and I started to move to the table just behind us. I asked Sue, the lady at my table, if she would like to join us. She said, “No, I’ll stay here. I’m going speak later if I can.” There was a pained look in her eyes as she spoke and she seemed almost relieved to be left alone at the table. I told her it was nice to meet her and then turned to my new tablemates.

Here are the comments from the table “report outs” (beginning with my table, which is why some of the comments are in the first person singular because I heard them directly from the individual speakers before the formal statements began):

  • As a convert from atheism, what drew me to the Catholic Church was the moral clarity of the Church’s teaching. So these troubling revelations are all the more distressing because it show’s the hierarchy’s lack of moral clarity on these issues. At the very top of the Church, there was a lack of understanding of what is the right thing to do. This is very disturbing. People on the street know what is right and wrong more than the bishops do.
  • There can’t be two sets of standards – we have to deal with these issues and address them directly
  • I question the validity of many of the claims because I grew up in Salamanca and knew hundreds of priests and there were no problems that I knew of. Maybe I was just lucky, but maybe not.
  • Jesus called the high priests hypocrites because they put burdens on people that they themselves would not carry. We need to reestablish the moral authority of the priests. There is laziness and laxity within the priesthood that needs to be addressed. We need to build virtue and be more aware of virtue ethics.
  • You can’t taste your soup while you’re stirring it – the bishops cannot hold themselves accountable. Bishop Malone has shown us that.
  • I question the MRT’s independence and priorities especially since many of the members are social friends of Bishop Malone’s.
  • Where does the Bishop get his advice and input from? Who is advising and informing him? No one from the Southern Tier or very few.
  • How are priests being personally held accountable and the Diocese being held accountable?
  • What is the current screening process for the Seminary?
  • Has the culture and training at Christ the King changed for the better?
  • When men become priests, there should be ongoing mentorship and supervision. What does this look like currently? It needs to be annual and ongoing.
  • Grave disappointment that this has gone on for so long as well as shame about the cover-up
  • Are children safe today? We need to listen better to our children and young people
  • Seminarians should enter older and with more experience
  • Media concern – some allegations are false and ruin lives and reputations
  • What about the possibility of allowing some married priests?
  • There is a lack of moral clarity among the hierarchy
  • We need to build virtue within the priesthood – not just a focus on theology
  • Bishop Malone is surrounded by people who agree with him or protect their friends and keep information from the Bishop
  • There has been a devastating effect on Catholic education – funding and enrollment have suffered greatly because of the scandal
  • The second group of victims are the good priests, who are being unjustly lumped in with criminals
  • The Catholics of the Southern Tier are neglected on the Bishop’s councils and advisory boards. The MRT is composed of members exclusively from Erie County
  • We need to utilize law enforcement and have a well-established processed to file reports – an objective process
  • The mother of a victim was at our table and reminded us that the families of victims need to be healed as well. They trusted the abuser and feel guilt. Children should never be alone with an adult. The Boy Scouts have a rule where there are always two adults and two children or more. It is important to seek understanding of the pain of victims
  • This scandal is bringing us to our knees – the only way out is up
  • Church administration is a closed system, which breeds dysfunction
  • More lay participation is needed on advisory boards and seminary decisions. The lay people should be elected not selected – at both the parish and diocesan levels
  • The laity is the Church as well as the priests – there needs to be an increased awareness of the role of the laity
  • Youth ministers have concerns about how to reach out to families with kids in the early grades who have lost trust in the Church
  • The Diocese and the Church are not getting to continue their ministry and mission because of this scandal
  • This is not just a Church issue – the greatest amount of pedophilia is in families
  • People need to learn about these things through Diocesan channels – not from the media
  • There is a lack of trust and people are voting with their feet by not showing up at church
  • There is anxiety over where the money goes – no one wants their hard-earned money going to settlements for priests’ crimes, but people do want victims to be compensated
  • The Bishop has vowed responsibility to the people of his diocese – we need to see an open, humble, apologetic approach from him
  • Is most of the guidance to Bishop Malone from a legal and PR stand point? The language that is out there – “pay off” versus “pay out” – shows the distinction between business language and that of a spiritual nature
  • People feel on the outside on these issues – like they’re sitting in the cheap seats. They have an overall sense of the game, but not much knowledge or sense of what’s really going on
  • The Church intentionally compartmentalizes itself to hide the truth and to protect itself
  • The Church needs an ability to apologize – to say we are sorry – to empathize
  • The Church is experiencing the consequences of the abuse. We are now facing the effects of 20 years ago when the bishops made themselves exempt from the Charter. Today we are seeing the effects of that abuse of power. Unless we change things, we will keep reliving consequences 20 years from now
  • Child victims and their parents carry their pain to the grave – until the day they die. (The gentleman who spoke these words did so in a deeply empathetic voice. As he spoke, loud thunder booms could be heard for the first time amidst the rain that had been falling for some time. We could see lightning in the distance. It was quite a dramatic moment.)
  • What penance is being done by the institutional Church to demonstrate to the world at large the pain we share? How do we demonstrate this penance after our credibility has been so badly damaged? What are we doing as a Church that shows we understand and we are sorry? We need to show our repentance to the world. My brother and I are lifelong Catholics – our family was “the Catholic family in town” – but we would consider leaving the Church if something is not done to show repentance. My brother suggested that something be done in the biblical tradition of sackcloth and ashes to show remorse. The elegance of the Church does not reflect contrition. Proposal is that for 1 year, all the altars in all the churches around the world be stripped as they are in Lent. This would send a message to the Catholic faithful and to the world. It would be a sign of humility, remorse and contrition.
  • People are leaving the Church – we have concerns about the future and growth of it
  • There is a shortage of clergy – some priests are doing triple and quadruple duty

At this point, the lady named Sue raised her hand. People would raise their hands when their table was ready to “report out.” So when Sue raised her hand, Stephanie directed Kathy to bring the mic over to her: “Sue’s going to talk.” I noted that Stephanie knew Sue’s name as though she were already familiar with her.

Sue took the microphone and walked over to the middle of the room at the back – opposite Stephanie and the head table. This is what she said:

“I am the mother of a victim. I became Catholic when I got married. My young son was molested at a Catholic church – St. Mary of the Angels. He was an altar boy there. When my older son was 10 or 11, he changed. He was disruptive and had no interest in school. He also didn’t want to go to Church, but we pushed him to go. He eventually became a drug addict and an alcoholic. When he was 19, he told his Dad what had happened to him. He didn’t tell me because he was ashamed. He never had a relationship with a woman or got married. He was always an addict. 4 years ago, he took his own life. My younger son recently turned 42 and he told me, ‘My brother never got to be 42.’ My older son never told his brother or anyone. This is the first time I am publicly talking about this. I am no longer Catholic and have found another church that I attend. The minister there has helped me to see that this did not happen because of God or because of anything we did. Please protect the children so that no one else has to go through what our family has suffered.”

There was immediate and hearty applause. There were many tears being wiped away. This writer was holding back sobs – no matter how many times you hear victim’s stories, it is never becomes easy or less emotional. Each story is its own tragedy and holds enormous pain. In this case, the pain was dramatically increased by knowing that this man suffered so greatly in life and ended up losing it.

But through my tears, I knew something very powerful had just happened: every single person in that room would never be the same after hearing Sue’s story. Her son’s life, while immensely tragic, was going to have a far-reaching impact. Because of his mother’s courage and strength, his story would inform and inspire a room full of strangers.

After Sue took her seat, the report outs continued:

  • The victims are the quiet ones. They don’t want money. We can’t treat them as outcasts
  • Outward sign of remorse is so much needed – get rid of the glitz and glory. We like the idea of making the altar simple
  • We need to get the women of the Church involved – this would help with remorse and healing
  • Thank God the laws have changed – when I was young, I was molested by my uncle and there was nothing I could do about it. (There was applause for this victim-survivor as well)
  • It’s hard to imagine that there could be so much pain and joy living side by side. I am a lifelong Catholic and had the greatest Catholic education and parish life, but that was right next to victims who were enduring the greatest tragedy. The pain is so great.

Bishop Malone’s Remarks:

  • These sessions are intentionally arranged by the planners – not by me.
  • I have not been through the pain your families have experienced. I am almost breathless thinking of all of this. This is the most powerful session of the four we’ve had so far because of the testimony we have heard today.
  • Legitimate demands are being made of me and of the Diocese. There is a need for things to be very, very different.
  • People have been tragically hurt on many levels. I see and hear the pain and anger
  • This comes back always to Jesus – He is the reason we are here. We expect more of our clergy because of Jesus – they represent Him.
  • We will fix things to the extent we can. I remain hopeful despite the pain. There has been a crucifixion of victims and their families. And there have been false accusations, which are horrible things too.
  • I’m glad I’m here today. To be honest with you, coming to these as your bishop in this climate makes me very vulnerable. But I offer that vulnerability to you, the victims and their families.
  • I am sorry that all of this happened and that I in some instances could have done better and did not
  • It is not the expectation that I can handle every point that was raised today
  • I want to thank Sue for her courage and honesty in sharing that horrible, horrible part of your family life. At this, Sue spoke to the Bishop: “Hold yourself responsible to protect kids now.” He answered that he will and he does.
  • VIRTUS is a bright hope amidst this darkness. I believe that the safest environment for children and youth is our Catholic environments. Every year all dioceses in the US have an external audit to analyze our response to the Charter and we are always scored as being 100% compliant.
  • Seminary: The admission of candidates is something I keep a close eye on. Young men applying to the Seminary go through a rigorous and vigorous application process that includes a battery of evaluations and interviews. They also write up an autobiography. All together, it is a long process that takes months. I read all of their dossiers and interview them last. I make the final decision. Only once did I turn an applicant down and it had nothing to do with abuse concerns. All through the course of a Seminarian’s experience at Christ the King, they undergo evaluations and participate in regular meetings to gauge their progress. Also, lay men and women being formed for Church ministry study side-by-side with our Seminarians. This is a unique feature of Christ the King.
  • Collaboration and co-responsibility between clergy and the laity is very important and one that the MRT particularly emphasizes. This is crucial for the direction of the Church.
  • I agree with the need for ongoing mentoring and supervision for priests. We have some, but agree there needs to be more
  • I know many have feelings of anger and rage – I have to take it. I could flee – and I know some of you wish I would – but I feel I need to stay here.
  • I agree with the comment about virtue building – couldn’t agree more
  • Bishops policing bishops: all of us bishops were horrified by the McCarrick situation. People had to have known of his abuse of minor and seminarians and yet he was elevated to the level of cardinal. We are still demanding an explanation from the Holy See. This exasperates me as much as it does you.
  • General description of the metropolitan reporting process described in the Listening Session #3 report
  • Mention of Steve Halter, Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility, who is a 28-year veteran of the FBI. We also have investigations done by two former district attorneys.
  • There is serious involvement of the laity at the Diocese and women in leadership roles within the Catholic Center
  • Lack of Southern Tier involvement – we will fix that. At this, Stephanie interjected that someone’s earlier claim that the MRT is entirely made up of Erie County residents was a fair statement. A woman stood up and said she was on one of the lay councils – I believe she said the Diocesan Pastoral Council, but there were several people speaking at once so I can’t be sure. The Bishop started counting as people named lay leaders from the Southern Tier. He said, “Okay, that’s 5 people. I’m not being defensive.” Then someone in the crowd noted that “there are 8 counties within the Diocese of Buffalo, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the WNY Catholic. The input, feelings and contributions of Southern Tier Catholics are not being considered or heard.” To this, Bishop Malone responded, “I hear you and I will respond. I apologize if we haven’t been inclusive.”
  • I have committed myself to significant demands on myself.

At this point, Nancy Nielsen was given the mic to talk about the MRT. She encouraged people to join them and noted that it is not a closed group. Because they met at Canisius, most of the members were from Erie County. In July, the entire MRT report will be released. It has been prepared by lay people. Please keep a look out for the report and read it. EthicsPoint was an MRT suggestion – that there be a central reporting format whereby any misconduct can be reported. It needed to be accessible and easy to find. Previously EthicsPoint was only for financial report, but now it is for any misconduct. This was the most powerful session. Be open to listening to people who have been wounded. Not to stay mired in the past, but to accompany them. It will change you – it changed you when you heard Sue today.

Then Steve Halter took the mic and said, “The bottom line is – call the police. But I still need to hear about it so that we can take action from the Diocese’s standpoint. Also, on the Adult Misconduct Task Force, there is one person from Jamestown.”

Now Stephanie was back at the mic and preparing the group to say the “Our Father.” At this point, Sue got up from her chair and made her exit. I had been hoping to talk to her again, but wanted her to be able to leave in peace. So grateful to her for coming and speaking as she did!

A few thoughts:

  • When the Bishop noted that “this is the most powerful session of the four we’ve had so far because of the testimony we have heard today,” I wanted to stand up and shout: “OF COURSE IT WAS!! It was powerful because finally someone at the epicenter of this tragedy was permitted to speak and share their story. THESE are the people you and we should be listening to most of all.”
  • I couldn’t help but wonder if Sarah’s courageous presence on Thursday night and her excellent interview on Friday paved the way for Sue’s testimony in Olean. Stephanie seemed to be aware that Sue would be speaking and there was a casual formality to those proceedings that suggested some advance knowledge. However, it came about, it was wonderful that Sue could speak to the group at large. I hope that she will not be the last of the survivors or survivors’ loved ones to speak to the Bishop and the listening sessions attendees.

Thoughts on the Moderator and Mic Passer:

Stephanie, Moderator from the MRT: It is obvious that she is truly devoted to this endeavor.  Stephanie isn’t driving around to Olean, Dunkirk and Batavia and several spots in between for the fun of it this summer… she seems genuinely committed to these events and her work at them. I appreciated both of her humorous, candid mentions of the “stoplight timer,” which by her own admission was a major fail. I may not agree with the method they’ve adopted for these sessions, but I can’t find fault with how she’s conducting herself – she is clearly experienced and very professional.

Kathy Spangler, Mic Passer and Diocesan Communications Director: Kathy greeted me at the end of the St. Mark’s event when she came outside to retrieve the “Media” signage and I was on the sidewalk speaking with someone. Since Kathy had introduced herself to me at the St. Greg’s session, I didn’t expect her to come over to me again, but she did. I saw compassion in her eyes and heard sincerity in her voice both times, which I want to acknowledge publicly. I may disagree almost totally with the Communications/PR approach and actions of the Diocese, but I believe Kathy is a sincere person. If she’s not genuine and was faking the compassion I sensed, then we need to get her on a plane to LA stat because Hollywood is missing out on a skilled actress. Again, this is not to say that I haven’t been royally frustrated with Diocesan statements and decisions. But I have to remind myself that as the spokeswoman, Kathy is the conduit from Bishop Malone to the public. The statements she releases are ones that Bishop Malone and Bishop Connors have worked on for hours… or at least that’s how it was last summer. How often did I witness them taking hours to “carefully craft” a brief statement that was the height of absurdity? It’s amazing how lengthy a process legalistic self-protection is. In any event, Kathy seems sincere and genuine and for that I thank her. I also encourage her to practice self-care as best she can. The Bishop will be away for 3 weeks next month and I hope she can take some much-needed downtime to relax and decompress.

And lastly… a big thank you to the hospitality teams at all of these listening sessions! Thank you for setting up, taking down, preparing the refreshments, manning the tables, and helping to welcome everyone to your parish or school. Your generosity of spirit was noticed and appreciated!

Bishop Malone is driving to Cape Cod today. He’ll be on retreat this coming week and then on vacation until the 22nd. Safe travels, Bishop.

cape escape.jpeg

Listening Session Recap: Part 1 of 7

It’s been over twelve hours since the Bishop’s first listening session concluded and I’m still processing it. Despite the fact that this was a gorgeously sunny Saturday in Buffalo, I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically melancholy all day. The listening session was a very unsettling experience for me. Here is the best recap I can muster:

  • The event was MC’ed and led by Stephanie Argentine, the lead facilitator for the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT). As she expressed it, “we thought I’d just continue the facilitating I’ve been doing.” She explained the general purpose of the MRT and noted that they have 150 active members while 400 people have attended the sessions they’ve held with over 1,000 following their work.
  • From the start, Stephanie made it clear that this was “not an open mic or town hall type meeting.” Instead, the format was as follows:
    • Each table was asked to discuss among themselves their concerns, their suggestions for Bishop Malone and diocesan leadership (“how can Bishop Malone in particular best help or assist us collectively with this crisis?”), and their hopes for the future. After a roughly 25-minute period of “table dialogue and discussion,” each table was to select a representative to “report out” to the entire group. The table reps were given 2 minutes to present their table’s thoughts. There was a “red, yellow and green” time tracker that Stephanie used at the podium.
time tracker.jpg
Amazon advertises this as a tool to “keep kids on task”
    • After the table presentations, the mic was passed by Kathy Spangler to roughly 10 people who raised their hands when the opportunity to speak individually was provided. This was not a scheduled part of the event. After the first round of tables “reporting out,” we were supposed to do a second or even third such round. We just got through the first round at 11:05 with the event set to conclude at 11:30. I believe the random, unscheduled “individual comments” segment was thrown in to give the Bishop time to prepare his remarks and so that he would not have to speak for longer than the 10 minutes allotted for him “to share what he’s heard.*”
    • Then Bishop Malone spoke for exactly 10 minutes. He took no questions and answered none that had been raised. He blessed the assembled and then Fr. Leon Biernat, pastor of St. Greg’s, offered a closing prayer.


  • The St. Greg’s Ministry Center was set up with 24 tables of 8 chairs with roughly 20 of them close to if not full. At least 75% of the group was middle-aged or certifiably vintage.
  • Bishop Malone sat at a table at the front of the room behind the microphone and podium. He was joined by a “panel” comprised of John Hurley (Canisius College President and MRT founder), Dennis Mahaney (Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Parish Life), Tom Beecher (MRT founder and personal friend of Bishop Malone), and an older gentleman whose name I am not 100% certain of so I won’t use a name. The panel contributed nothing during the entire event other than to provide the Bishop with moral support and older white men with whom to sit**.
  • Father Ryszard and Father Peter Karalus were present at the event, but did not participate formally (I noticed that Fr. Ryszard sat at a table and participated in their discussion – I assume Fr. Peter did the same, but did not see him doing so). I did not see Bishop Grosz at all and thus assume he was not present because he is not in the habit of attendance without attention.
  • There were more than a few Catholic Center staff there including Steve Halter (The FBI Guy), Kris Connell (Communications), and Rick Suchan (Foundation) among others. Rick spoke for his table, which I was a little perturbed by but had to acknowledge that as a St. Greg’s parishioner, he should be able to speak as such. I did wonder, however, whether he could effectively separate his diocesan employment from his parish membership. Another diocesan employee said nothing, but called out loudly in defense of the Bishop when someone was speaking critically of him.


  • The most notable element of the morning was the tremendous polarization of the assembled group:
  • Some people were pandering to the Bishop as evidenced by these verbatim quotes:
    • “Thank you for being here with us, Bishop”
    • “Thank you for what you have done for us, Bishop Malone”
    • “Pope Francis has asked bishops to smell like their sheep and that’s what you’re doing today, Bishop”
    • “We love our Bishop!”
    • “Thank you, Bishop Malone, for staying in your position and not running away, but instead staying and taking care of us.”
      • My gag reflex got a good workout during remarks such as these.
  • Other participants were respectfully yet forcefully demanding action, accountability and/or resignation from the Bishop. At one point, a speaker made a distinction between “loving comments” as opposed to “angry ones.” I’ll take righteous anger over unctuous love any day.
  • Here are some of the comments that were expressed during the “report out” segment*** – bolded comments were notable ones in case you don’t want/have time to read them all:
    • We don’t need to restore trust – that’s what got us in this mess in the first place. The problem is that we trusted too much. We need to restore accountability!
    • Abuse must be reported as crimes
    • Bishop Malone should meet in a room with survivors to listen and talk to them
    • The sexual abuse scandal was not addressed at parishes – it was too little too late or not at all
    • The Bishop has not been upfront about a lot of things
    • The cover up is the worst part – why lie when the truth will do?
    • Hard to restore trust when truth is not there
    • We feel betrayed, confused, lost, and sad
    • Power and arrogance are a bad combination in the hierarchy
    • Who determines what type of abuse “rises to the level” whereby a priest should be removed from ministry? (Referring to this recent news)
    • We wish there had been a truly open forum today – a different type of format would have showed that the Bishop really wanted us to speak out. The format of this session directs our comments in a certain way and controls how people can speak. 
    • Importance of the role of women within the Church – separating power from ordination
    • All priests should make a public pledge not to hurt people 
    • Training and formation within the Seminary needs to be examined – how are priests being formed?
    • We need to know more about the law enforcement side of things
    • The media is too negative – especially the Buffalo News and the Washington Post 
    • Catholics are embarrassed to be Catholics
    • There should be an outline of what constitutes abuse
    • The Diocese has let the news control us rather than us controlling the news
    • Where are the people under 40 today?!
    • Full disclosure has not been achieved
    • The Diocese is acting like a political party
    • There have been corporate sins of omission and a lack of transparency regarding financial information
    • Seminary education and formation needs to be renovated and the process of admission needs to be overhauled
    • We need fearlessness from the Bishop
    • Support needs to expressed for priests especially those in rural parishes with no emotional support
    • We are the Church – those are our archives!
    • Priests needs more love from Catholics in general and their parishioners specifically
    • The laity needs to be more involved in decision making for the diocese
    • Every priest is guilty until proven innocent. There have been a number of priests accused over the last year – it’s terrible that they have to go through that
    • Negativeness of the media over the last year – Diocese wasn’t prepared to defend itself and didn’t handle media attacks well
    • Think of this like a game of chess – Bishop Malone, you’ve been acting like a pawn moving one square at a time. You are the bishop – you can diagonally cross the board in one move. Is it time to listen or time for action? 
    • We confess the bad things we’ve done to priests – we need to show the same respect to them and accumulate a mountain of forgiveness
    • Do good people do bad/stupid things? Yes. The clergy deserve our forgiveness in return
    • The Church is being run like a corporation – not as the people of God
    • We are losing the youth of our Church because they don’t trust the hierarchy
    • We have not lost our love for God and the Eucharist
    • Our group was saddened when we found each table only has two minutes to speak
    • Absolute power corrupts
    • Many priests lead solitary and lonely lives – has that contributed to the abuse situation?
    • The media makes stories – we shouldn’t trust that the media is representing the truth. We need to be wary of them.
    • I’m angry and disgusted by the hierarchy. Bishop Malone – you’re the boss- do something!
    • I thank the media for exposing what’s been going on because otherwise it would still be going on
    • The Church shouldn’t be investigating itself
    • Nobody is our savior but Christ
    • I would encourage a different format for these listening sessions. Our table had people with very different opinions and it was hard to get synchronized for a two-minute table report.

Bishop Malone began his remarks by thanking Stephanie for “her gifts at effectively and graciously facilitating this type of gathering.” He thanked those gathered for their “comments, candor and courage.” He stated that in his assessment, the two general themes of the comments were 1) concern for victims and 2) tremendous love for the Church.

He noted his desire for collaboration with the laity while saying he “hears the sense of betrayal and lack of trust.” He went on to say that “the Church’s credibility has been shaken due to 50-60 years worth of this.” Bishop Malone quoted from 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” He encouraged the assembled to focus on and gain strength from their reasons for hope.

Bishop Malone also recognized the calls for transparency and highlighted his work with the MRT, which is “working independently” on these issues. The Bishop stated that he has met with 4 victims over the last 1.5 weeks and noted that this is a regular part of his ministry****. He also admitted that the Diocese needs to “do a lot better at communication.”

The Bishop acknowledged that it was “anxiety-provoking to be here,” but nonetheless he is “looking forward to listening at these gatherings.” He went on to say that “towards the end of summer, I will prepare my remarks in response to what I’ve heard at these sessions. Those remarks will be shared with my consultative bodies (Diocesan Pastoral Council, Presbyteral Council, etc.) and then we will publish and share with the media the concerns raised and my proposed response to them.”

The Bishop made a point to mention the past week’s Priests Convocation, which was “an intense but hopeful and productive” event that “focused on this reality that overwhelms us on the local, national and global level.” “Our friends from the MRT played a huge role in the whole thing” at the convocation.

His closing remarks: “I will get back to you on some of the specifics raised. Dennis has been taking detailed notes for me as I entered into truly listening. I feel your frustration and my own responsibility. I beg your prayers for me as I pray for you. Forgive me my own failures. And now I will offer a blessing…”

Then Stephanie spoke briefly and assured the assembled that the MRT would be taking “these recommendations from today into consideration” and asked anyone with additional comments to write them on the available 3×5 cards so they could be sure to “capture everyone’s input.” She also noted that the Joint Implementation Team (JIT) would be involved in responding to the listening sessions*****.

My perspective:

  • I strenuously disagree with the Bishop’s assessment of the themes of the comments presented. While concern for survivors and love for the Church was wonderfully evident, the primary themes were more along the lines of: 1) criticism of the Bishop and the Diocese and 2) criticism of anything critical of the Bishop and the Diocese.
  • More than a few times, the entire group felt like Congress during a State of the Union address – half of us would clap after one particular remark and then the other half would clap a little while later while the first group remained motionless. The polarization was palpable and deeply unsettling. I often felt physically ill upon witnessing this tangible division.
  • Likewise, the event felt very political. There were those of us who seemed fed up with the system while other folks were defending the system or at least its operators. When a few people were speaking, I wondered what their vested interest in the diocese is. Political, financial, legal, personal?
  • This was the first time I’ve heard the Bishop say something as direct as “Forgive me my own failures.” That line was so startling it made me sit up straight in my chair. This kind of humility has been sadly rare from him. May it not be the last such expression.
  • The format of this event + the media not being allowed = control. Control of what’s said and who hears it. Control is almost always the result of fear. 
    • By its very nature, the format meant that comments were being expressed rather than questions asked. Questions are scary; comments are manageable. You can “capture” comments; you have to answer questions.
    • They said the media blackout was to protect US, but it was clearly to protect THEM. Who’s afraid of the big bad media?
  • It distressed me greatly to witness the polarization of this group of engaged lay people. The members of the laity are currently engaged in a battle to save the soul of our Church. We cannot accomplish this monumental mission if we are divided as was in evidence at this listening session.
  • This was essentially a MRT planned and run event, which is really sad and disconcerting to me. I trust John Hurley as far as I can hurl him.
    • The Diocese’s Communication Director was relegated to Mic Holder while the MRT’s facilitator strode around the room when she wasn’t keeping the kids on task with her stoplight timer. It was so obvious that the MRT was in charge and the Diocese was just following their lead.
  • People still don’t want to accept the truth. They would rather believe a carefully crafted narrative and trust a silver-tongued prelate than reckon with documented truth. My soul aches.


Bishop Malone isn’t going anywhere.

Neither am I.


Dear Lord, be near to us and hear our prayers. Save us from ourselves. 




* The Bishop is notorious among the priests for padding meeting agendas so that Q&A sections are as brief as possible. He will desperately seek guest speakers so that there’s only a few minutes left at the end for priests to ask questions or express their concerns. I’ve witnessed him do this multiple times for Presbyteral Council meetings and Priest Forums among others.

**Dennis Mahaney took notes so he wasn’t useless. The others literally just sat there. I thought “panels” were supposed to do something. Otherwise why are you getting preferred seating? Cause you’re wealthy and white?

***Comments stated were supposed to represent the collective opinion of each table. They cannot be attributed to any one individual. I took extensive, exact notes so these quotations are verbatim. A quote using the first person pronoun indicates it was stated during the “individual comment” section.

**** It certainly wasn’t part of the Bishop’s “regular ministry” during my three years working for him. To the best of my recollection, he met with no more than 5 or 6 victims during those three years. Two of them were related and met with him at the same time.

***** Phew, the JIT’s on the case. Problem solved. NOT.

Note: I seem to have an acute case of asteriskal snark.