Over the past few months, I’ve done quite a lot of reflecting on what took place a year ago. Each day brings back memories of what was happening on that same date last year. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on my gradual progression from morally compromised employee to diocesan whistleblower, which took place during June and July of 2018. I’ve determined that there were essentially four phases of this process the first three of which are as follows:
- Moral: Was I morally compelled to take decisive action? How would I answer to God if I did nothing?
- Emotional: Exposing the truth would mean betraying Bishop Malone – could I do that?
- Practical: Could I obtain the necessary documents without arousing suspicion? Have I confirmed to whom I will leak the documents and how they will be used? Am I willing to accept the consequences of my actions?
That second question was such a difficult one, but I eventually could answer “yes” to it.
This post tells the story of how that yes came about.
(Stay tuned in August for the fourth phase – theological – a challenging but crucial stage)
It was June 14th. A Thursday last year. Amidst the still-swirling sexual abuse scandal within our Diocese, the Catholic Center’s fiscal year was drawing to a close. It would end on August 31st and associated financial discussions were taking place. A memo earlier in the year had warned staff that budget cuts and layoffs were likely to occur. But none of us could ever have anticipated what would come to pass.
That afternoon, Bishop Malone received an email outlining the “carefully wrought plan” (his exact words) regarding the elimination of Daybreak TV Productions. It had been decided that Daybreak staff would be informed of this on Friday, June 22nd with Claire Rung, the Director of the department, being notified the day before.
However, Claire was too perceptive for their plan no matter how carefully wrought it may have been. She had begun to realize that “changes were on the horizon” for her department. Ever the professional, she did not want to bid on work that her team could not fulfill. When Claire inquired with the appropriate administrators, she was told that indeed, she might not want to bid on things at this time. Seeking more information, Claire met with key members of Bishop Malone’s administrative staff. Those staff members told Claire that “the process is still unfolding; nothing is off the table; please be patient and understanding until the end of next week.”
However, the process was not still unfolding and there was nothing on the table – it was a done deal: Daybreak TV would be completely eliminated at the end of next week. They did not invite Claire to the table while the process was unfolding. They did not seek her input, advice or suggestions before they laid down the hatchet on the department she had devoted her career to building and strengthening. They did not honor and respect her as the director of an award-winning department, a brilliant businesswoman and a devoted employee for over three decades. They just wanted her patience, her understanding and her cooperation.
Claire wisely asked to be informed “sooner than later what is happening” and promised that she would maintain confidentiality. Thus they decided that she would be informed on Monday, June 19th and her team would be informed that Friday as planned.
During the evening of June 14th, Bishop Malone informed Father Mark Noonan (Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia at the time) of the following:
I am scheduled to do a “Consider This” shoot next Tuesday morning, which I may now cancel or postpone if Claire will know the fate of Daybreak by then. It will just be too awkward for everyone involved. Staff will definitely pick up on Claire’s mood, even if she says nothing… and maybe on mine, too.
For whatever reason, the Bishop did not cancel or postpone the Daybreak shoot for Tuesday the 19th. (In my opinion, he couldn’t come up with a believable excuse.) Early that morning, the following email exchange occurred:
As you can see, the Bishop responded quickly to Claire and immediately squashed the idea of meeting with her that morning – even for 15 minutes. He “knew what this was about” and didn’t want to deal with it directly. I was cc’ed on Claire’s email and responded privately to Bishop Malone. My words completely contradict the Bishop’s statement to Claire that it was “impossible” for them to meet that day.
I was the keeper of the Bishop’s calendar. I used to fit people in all the time when he asked me to. Because of all the calendar requests that came my way, I had become an expert at making the pieces fit in the jigsaw puzzle that was his Outlook calendar. Trust me: he could have met with Claire that day. For at least 15 minutes.
Despite having been informed of her department’s termination the day before and having her meeting request squelched by the Bishop, Claire’s mood did not give evidence of the pain she must have been in. However, the Bishop himself was definitely in a mood that morning. He was noticeably nervous and fidgety before what would be his final “shoot” (recording) with Daybreak that morning.
As for me, my mood was one of incredulous despair. I could not believe that Daybreak was going to be entirely eliminated. Theirs was easily the most beloved department in the entire Catholic Center. All 8 of the Daybreak employees were universally loved and respected. They were also incredibly skilled, talented and experienced. Cumulatively, they had spent close to 120 years working for the Diocese of Buffalo. They had won countless awards for their sharp, innovative and faithful broadcasting. They were not just a team – they were a family. I could not believe this was going to happen!
But it did. The Daybreak staff was assembled on the morning of Friday, June 22nd and informed that their last day of employment with the Diocese would be Friday, July 6th. They left their offices soon thereafter to process this enormous blow as best they could. Word of their termination spread quickly through the building and created a wake-like environment. People were meeting in the hallways and literally crying on each other’s shoulders. Employees who had worked with Daybreak staff for over three decades were disconsolate. If you had walked the halls of the Catholic Center that afternoon, you would have felt it – the tangible sense that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
It is important to note that Fr. Mark Noonan was the one who had to fire the Daybreak employees. The oversight and general management of the Catholic Center is the responsibility of the Moderator of the Curia/Vicar General so this doleful duty fell to him. What an enormously awful task! He had started his position just a few weeks earlier on June 1st and was now responsible for informing 8 employees at once that their positions were no longer in existence. This was an unprecedented event and he was at the helm despite being so new to his position. Since it was a Friday, the Bishop was off and received confirmation of the termination meeting via email.
It was to Father Mark that I sent this email on the evening of Sunday, June 24th with Bishop Malone cc’ed:
Colleen (HR Director) and Steve (CFO) are noted as being off that week. I remember thinking that they’d taken a page out of the Bishop’s playbook by being on vacation right after a difficult decision was rendered in which they had been intimately involved. It was particularly absurd to have the HR Director out of the country when you’ve just let 8 employees go all at once. Yet that kind of dysfunction is par for the Catholic Center course.
I’m sure Bishop Malone would have left for the Cape early if he could have! He was scheduled to leave for Massachusetts on Friday, June 29th, but he moved up the Diocesan Review Board meeting from Thursday, June 28th to Wednesday, June 27th so that he could leave for the Cape on Thursday instead of Friday. He was eager to leave town as soon as he could. I remember thinking that the Bishop was lucky the DRB members and lawyers were able to rearrange their schedules last minute like that. This was the infamous “five-page agenda” DRB meeting with so many priests’ names listed. In addition to changing the meeting date, they had to schedule the meeting for 4 hours instead of 2 and they still couldn’t cover everything. How could they? There are over 100 priests’ names listed on that agenda!
And now I come to the most painful and yet most significant part of this post: Bishop Malone’s personal response to the Daybreak team’s plight.
When I sent that list of complaints/concerns to Father Mark, I included one of my own – #15: “This must feel like such a slap in the face for the Daybreak employees especially since Bishop Malone worked very closely and regularly with them. They helped him to look and sound his best and he actually knew their names. They must feel betrayed.” (What a loaded comment that was, Siobhan of Last June!)
Indeed, the Daybreak employees were the ones Bishop Malone knew best other than us poor, unfortunate souls in the Chancery. He “actually knew their names” and worked with them at least once a month if not more frequently. His interaction with them was a friendly and comfortable one. He would have me email the Daybreak team with last-minute requests for the teleprompter while he ran down to their first floor recording studio to have his make-up done while he reviewed the scripts with Claire.
I knew how much the Bishop enjoyed working with the Daybreak team because I saw him in action with them. I can vividly recall his strong rapport with each member of their team. They had done a lot of recording together over the years both in their Daybreak studio and at various events throughout the Diocese. The Bishop had truly gotten to know them as individuals and to value them immensely as a team. As I’ve mentioned before, Bishop Malone is an extremely gifted speaker. I remember watching him record 3 or 4 “Consider This” clips in rapid succession once and was amazed at his stamina and skill. I think his record was 6 in one session! He truly does resemble Archbishop Fulton Sheen in that respect – he is extremely effective in front of a microphone or television camera. The Daybreak staff recognized his skill and rejoiced in it. Theirs was a wonderful collaboration with the Bishop.
Which is why I was stunned to my core to witness Bishop Malone’s treatment of them the week of June 25, 2018. He was in the office Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week. The Daybreak team made multiple requests to meet with Bishop Malone. He did eventually meet with Claire, who came prepared with ideas, strategies and stats. But it was to no avail – life support had been pulled before she had a chance to start CPR. As for the rest of the team, the Bishop flat out refused to meet with them. There was no explanation given – he just would. not. meet. with. them. And it was worse than that – he avoided even looking at or acknowledging them. Let me explain…
The Bishop’s parking spot at the Catholic Center is in the garage behind the building. Thus he rarely enters the building from the front entrance – he uses the back hallway and goes the long way around to the lobby to get in the elevator. That rear hallway butts up against the back of Daybreak’s department. The Daybreak team often stored large recording equipment in that area. The back door to their department opened up into that hallway so they would often be going in and out of that door to retrieve or store various supplies.
During the three days he was there that week, Bishop Malone saw more than a few members of the Daybreak staff in that hallway as he headed to or from the garage. Eyewitnesses told me that the Bishop did not look up, acknowledge or greet the Daybreak team members. He tried to act as if they weren’t there or he hadn’t seen or heard them. Father Ryszard could be seen behind the Bishop – waving and smiling as usual… trying valiantly to diffuse the awkwardness caused by his boss, who was pointedly ignoring the familiar staff members so near at hand.
The Bishop left for the Cape on the morning of Thursday the 28th. I was in shock that he’d let 4 days go by without speaking to the Daybreak crew. He never had the group conversation with the team that they naturally expected given their close relationship with him.
That same morning, I was working at my cubicle trying to catch up a bit with the Bishop out of the office. All of a sudden, I was overcome with a wave of strong emotion that brought on an uncontrollable crying fit. I was accustomed to these at home – while folding laundry or doing dishes or eating cereal in the morning before heading into work – but this was entirely unexpected and unprompted. I ended up having to leave the Chancery abruptly in order to recover. Soon thereafter, I received this kind text from a colleague, who had witnessed my tearful departure:
How vividly do I recall the emotions and struggles I mentioned in this text! The moral compromise, the immense disappointment, the emotional and mental exhaustion, and that terrifying fear that I might lose my faith. “Please, Lord!” I would cry out to Him: “Let me lose my life before I lose my faith.” This may sound overly dramatic, but it was truly my prayer. I would rather lose my life than live it without faith. My faith in God informs and inspires every aspect of my life and makes it worth living. I did not want to live without faith.
This was an extremely serious situation and I knew I must take decisive action to save my sanity and my soul. First step: obtain a new job. I remember searching on Indeed.com and saying to myself, “You’re going to be the next employee to leave after the Daybreakers. You’re going to walk out the Catholic Center’s brass front doors as soon after them as you can.” I found an unexpectedly good job listed and applied for it with determination. The next day I heard from the company and was scheduled for a phone interview on July 5th. Until then, all I could do was embrace the Malonelessness of the Chancery and try to protect the fragile embers of my lifelong faith.
Unfortunately, the next day and the weekend to follow (June 30th and July 1st) had an extinguishing rather than enkindling effect on that faith.
On Friday, June 29th, I sent an email to Father Ryszard and Father Mark that resulted in this exchange:
That Saturday and Sunday, Father Mark Noonan was sent down to Dunkirk to reinstate Fr. Dennis Riter as Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. (You can read more about Fr. Dennis Riter at this link.) This was an unprecedented event: the public reinstatement of a priest accused of child sexual abuse. Fr. Riter was being reinstated just 3 months after he was pulled from ministry and placed on administrative leave. You would think that such a difficult task would fall to the bishop of a diocese or his auxiliary bishop. But no – they sent Father Mark down to Dunkirk during his first month as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia. To say that I was furious about the whole situation (the reinstatement and the reisintater) does not even begin to cover it.
I texted Father Mark on the morning of Sunday, July 1st to see how he was doing and to express my concern about his difficult task: “Today marks just ONE month since you officially started. I think it’s crazy that they sent you down there to handle such a significant task at a very volatile parish.” Father Mark responded that the situation was “extremely stressful” and he “just wants to do right by every single person in WNY.” Bless his heart, as they say down South – he was a man of integrity who had the best of intentions. He was made to do that which neither Bishop Malone nor Bishop Grosz was willing to do. Bishop Malone approved the reinstatement, but he did not face the people and the media in Dunkirk that hot Sunday morning. Bishop Malone made his young Vicar General literally do his dirty work while he enjoyed the peace and beauty of (Es)Cape Cod.
All in a week, I had watched Bishop Malone betray his Daybreak colleagues by not deigning to acknowledge them or speak with them after the devastating elimination of their entire department. Then I watched him betray, in a lesser but still poignant manner, his Vicar General by sending him to Dunkirk. So much for loyalty, I thought.
The next week was Daybreak’s final one at the Catholic Center. My heart was breaking all over again in anticipation of their last day on Friday, July 6th. I knew the only way I could get through that dreadful week was to do something for the Daybreakers. Thus I began planning a private luncheon with them on Thursday the 5th and a building-wide Appreciation Breakfast on morning of the 6th.
Late in the afternoon of Monday the 2nd, Bishop Malone received a Jeff Anderson press release that George Richert forwarded to him:
I may need to call off my vacation and return to Buffalo. Those twelve words jumped out at me and made me sick to my stomach. I hadn’t realize just how much I needed Bishop Malone to be on vacation for three weeks. “He can’t come home early,” I thought in despair, “He’s only just left!” That evening and all throughout Tuesday I kept telling myself that it couldn’t happen… he wouldn’t come home early, right? Please God, no.
Tuesday, July 3rd. Driving into the parking lot at Wegmans that evening, I was mentally reviewing my shopping list: ice cream and toppings for the ice cream sundae bar at the Daybreak luncheon, beverages and other items for the Daybreak table at the Appreciation Breakfast, and a few other miscellaneous items. But in the back of my mind, I was repeating the fearful questions that had plagued me for the past 24 hours… would Bishop Malone really curtail his vacation and come back to Buffalo? If so, when? Would he come back right after tomorrow’s holiday? How would I handle his unexpectedly early return? How could I return so quickly to “grin and bear it” and “fake it til you make it” mode?
As these questions overwhelmed my mind, my body soon became overwhelmed as well. I was suddenly incapacitated by some strange combination of fear, stress, anxiety and distress. Having survived two anaphylaxic reactions, I recognized this “feeling of doom,” but knew I had consumed no triggering fish or shellfish. What the heck is happening to me? I thought. My body had seized up in a strange way as if it was trying to find the fetal position and my car seat and steering wheel prevented it. Having never experienced anything like this before, I was completely unsure what was going on.
Realizing I needed help, I called my personal 9-1-1… my dear Mom. An RN by trade, she was soon there with her ever-consoling words and advice. After assessing my condition (and knowing right away that this was a panic attack), she made an immediate recommendation: I am taking you home. “No! No! I have to get the ice cream for Daybreak!” Mom assured me that I was in no shape for shopping and that she could get the ice cream and bring it to me later. “No, no, no I have to pick out the flaaaavors for them!” I cried out like a plaintive toddler. Knowing that it is unwise to argue with the emotionally distraught, my Mom found herself accompanying me to the freezer section of Wegmans where I selected the ice cream after intense deliberation. Somehow all that mattered to me at that moment was getting that ice cream for them. It was as if my mind had to focus on that one task in order to recover from the attack that had rendered me incapacitated.
Thursday’s luncheon and ice cream sundae bar was a wonderful celebration albeit a tearful one. I shared with the Daybreak team my distress over Bishop Malone’s refusal to meet with them. I also told them how immensely impressed I was by their graciousness, dignity and professionalism during the past two horrible weeks. We shared memories, stories and laughs along with the tears. My heart was so happy to have spent time with them even as it was so heavy to think of their impending departure.
The Appreciation Breakfast on Friday morning was as successful as a tearful farewell can be. We all needed this opportunity to gather with our Daybreak colleagues to celebrate their many achievements, acknowledge their amazing work, and wish them the very best. It was cathartic even while it was sorrowful. The eight Daybreakers were class acts from start to finish… I’ve never seen that level of professionalism-despite-pain before or since.
Around 5:30 that same evening, I emailed the Catholic Center with a digital copy of the “Tribute to Daybreak” booklet that was given to the Daybreak staff at the breakfast. (The booklet can be found in its entirety below the text of this post.) As I explicitly stated in the email, all of the quotations in the booklet were taken from the many emails that were sent in support of Daybreak. When I received this email response from Bishop Malone regarding the booklet, I was literally speechless.
A “significant omission??!!” Yes, Bishop Malone, there had been a significant omission regarding Daybreak: your meeting with them, acknowledging them, consoling them, and encouraging them. Yet here he was – passively aggressively offering his “just a thought.” To the very best of my recollection, this is the only email message from Bishop Malone that I did not respond to even by acknowledging receipt. I simply had no words.
After the Daybreak departure and during the remained of Bishop Malone’s vacation, I had a lot of time to ponder my next steps. I had secured the job I applied for and was making plans for that transition. At the same time, I made the decision that I was not going to leave the Chancery empty-handed. My whistle blower plans were still in their nascent stage, but I no longer struggled with the general concept of it. The moral imperative was unavoidable and now I no longer felt any lingering emotional attachment to Bishop Malone. His coldness to the Daybreakers had cast a chill on my own relationship with him. A naturally loyal person, I had had a front row seat to Bishop Malone’s lack of loyalty to the Daybreak crew.
If he could do it, so could I.
Little did Bishop Malone know how complete my “radio silence” would be… the next time I would communicate with him would be the morning of Monday, July 23rd when I greeted him upon his return to the Chancery. Shortly thereafter, I would give him my three weeks’ notice. Three days later, I would meet Charlie Specht. Before the week was out, I would begin leaking documents to him.
Bishop Malone taught me two very important lessons last year:
- The power of the media to coerce him into much-needed, long overdue action
- How to betray those close to you
They were startling, disquieting, and painful lessons, but I learned them well.
I dedicate this post to my former colleagues in the Daybreak TV Productions department. It was a joyful privilege to work with you and it is a great gift to still call you friends. May you always know that you are loved by so many people and by Our Lord most of all!
Daybreak TV’s YouTube channel where you can view their “Consider This,” “In A Word” and “Question of the Day” series among other productions:
The “Tribute to Daybreak” booklet: