Canon Law: Degrees & Seals

At Saturday’s listening session, one of the table “report outs” included this comment:

“We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.”

In response, Bishop Malone said the following:

“I should note in response to a comment this morning that Msgr. Slubecky did not have a doctorate in canon law – he had another sort of degree. Msgr. Sal Manganello does have a degree in canon law. And you’ll be interested to know that a young woman with a degree in canon law will be joining our tribunal team next month.”

As soon as I heard Bishop Malone’s response, I was bothered by it. He clearly avoided the primary point of the table’s comment: our current Vicar General has no canon law degree (regardless of the specific title of it) and this lack of experience may impact current cases within the Diocese.

Fr. Peter Karalus has no training, experience or expertise in canon law. If he did, such a thing would have been noted in the WNY Catholic article that marked his appointment as Vicar General. But it did not:

Karalus text from WNYC

In contrast, let’s look at Msgr. David Slubecky, who was Vicar General from 2005-2018. Here is what is obituary – published in the WNY Catholic and available to read here – indicated about his canon law education:

“In September of 1983, he returned to Rome to obtain a graduate degree in Canon Law. ”

So Monsignor Slubecky did not have a “doctorate” in canon law, but he did have a graduate degree – known as a J.C.L. Incidentally, this J.C.L. is the same degree that Msgr. Sal Manganello possesses. Fr. Bob Zilliox has one too.

J. C. L. stands for juris canonici licentiata, which means “licentiate of canon law.” It is an advanced graduate degree within canon law. You obtain such a degree through study at a pontifical university. In Msgr. Slubecky’s case, he received his degree from the Gregorian University in Rome.

There is a doctorate in canon law and if you reach that level of study, you can put J.C.D. after your name. That suffix stands for juris canonici doctor or “doctor of canon law.” To my knowledge, the only priest of our diocese who possesses this doctorate is Msgr. Jerry Sullivan, a retired priest who serves on the Diocesan Review Board and is a Promoter of Justice in the Tribunal.

In Msgr. Slubecky’s case, his full title was as follows: Rev. Msgr. David S. Slubecky, S.T.L., J.C.L. That S.T.L. suffix refers to a licentiate in Sacred Theology, which is an ecclesiastical degree in advanced theological study. Msgr. Slubecky received that degree from the Angelicum University in Rome.

Now let’s look at what qualifies a priest to be the vicar general of a diocese:

Canon 478 §1: The Vicar general is to be a priest of not less than thirty years of age, with a doctorate or licentiate in canon law or theology, or at least well versed in these disciplines. He is to be known for his sound doctrine, integrity, prudence and practical experience.

As we can see, Msgr. Slubecky was qualified by virtue of his licentiates in canon law and theology. No, he did not have a doctorate, but he did have two licentiates in the proper fields of study.

Being the Vicar General of a diocese is a very significant role as canon law makes clear:

Can. 479 §1: In virtue of his office, the Vicar general has the same executive power throughout the whole diocese as that which belongs by law to the diocesan Bishop: that is, he can perform all administrative acts, with the exception however of those which the Bishop has reserved to himself, or which by law require a special mandate of the Bishop.

The Vicar General is the highest-ranking official in a diocese after the bishop. It is a huge responsibility and a very demanding job.

I hope you can see why the point raised by that listening session table was a very valid one: “We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.”

But instead of speaking to their concern about a lack of canon law experience in our current Vicar General and how that absence impacts current cases, Bishop Malone chose to instead point out that Msgr. Slubecky didn’t have a doctorate. That wasn’t the point, Bishop Malone, and you know it! A lay person doesn’t need to know the distinctions between a doctorate and a licentiate in canon law. I believe the table that raised this point meant that Msgr. Slubecky had a degree in canon law – discussing the fine points of that degree is a tactic to avoid the greater question. This is typical Malonese… pointing out someone’s error (he loves doing that) while avoiding a challenging question.

Based on their reference to “the Nowak case,” the question raised by that table seems to have been prompted by this recent Charlie report. In this report, a Seminarian for the Diocese of Buffalo alleges that Fr. Jeff Nowak “broke the seal of confession and has used information obtained from within the confessional to my detriment.”

Canon law is VERY clear about the inviolability of the seal of confession. Canon 983 states: It is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion. Canon 984 goes on to say: The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent.

The penalty for violating the seal of confession is appropriately severe:

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

Back to Latin… latae sententiae means “the sentence has already passed” so we can call this automatic excommunication. This is contrasted with a ferendae sententiae excommunication, which occurs after a canonical trial has taken place. A latae sententiae excommunication does not require such a trial because the individual essentially brings this excommunication upon himself due to the severity of the offense he has committed.

(Please note that excommunications can be lifted if an individual admits to what he/she has done and atones for their offense.)

I don’t want the point of this post to be lost in Latin and suffixes and details such as those. The point is that Bishop Malone referred to an important question but instead of actually addressing it, he nitpicked about the type of degree in question. 

Bishop Malone: your Vicar General does not have any experience in canon law other than a few courses at the Seminary, which every priest of our diocese has to take. Who is advising you on matters of canon law? Is canon law being considered and consulted when it comes to the Nowak case? For the sake of everyone involved, the serious allegations raised by the Seminarian need to be carefully examined and investigated according to canon law. Civil law needs to be considered as well due to the harassment and stalking allegations, but canon law cannot be forgotten or neglected.



Listening Session #6

Yesterday’s listening session, which was held at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park, was one of the more contentious sessions of the five I’ve attended so far. In terms of contentiousness, I would rate them as follows (noting that I missed the 2nd one in Niagara Falls due to illness):

  1. St. Mark’s, Buffalo
  2. Nativity, Orchard Park
  3. St. Greg’s, Williamsville
  4. Archbishop Walsh, Olean
  5. Ascension, Batavia

Maybe it was because of the recent revelations brought to light by Charlie’s investigations, which you can read about here and here. Maybe it was the continued fallout from ABC’s recent Nightline report. Maybe people are just getting tired of this charade

This sixth listening session was attended by approximately 85 people in the parish hall at Nativity. The group was middle to upper aged, as usual, but there were at least 10 of us who did not appear to be 40 yet. That was quite a pleasant surprise!*

Stephanie gave her usual introduction, which included the standard reminder to be “open, kind and gentle with our words.” She also introduced Bishop Malone, Dennis Mahaney and Dr. Nancy Nielsen, MRT member and member of Nativity parish.

When the table report outs began, here is what people had to say:

  • Lack of trust in Church leadership  – diocesan, national and global
  • Training and supporting priests – preventative measures
  • How does Bishop Malone regain his credibility?
  • Lack of action from Bishop Malone – “no comment” is an answer
  • Lack of judgment from Bishop Malone – Fr. Joe Gatto, etc.
  • Culture at the Seminary has been known for years – how did Bishop Malone not know about it?
  • Culture of blackmail within the diocese and among the priests
  • Concerns about bankruptcy – what would happen to our donations if the Diocese goes bankrupt?
  • Restoration of the faith is needed
  • Lack of trust in the system
  • How is the Bishop accountable to the Diocese? Things have been hidden under the rug for years!
  • Structure of the Seminary – no lay people involved in formation of new priests
  • People are leaving the Church due to the issues in the Church
  • We are embarrassed and angry – not sure how the Church can survive
  • We are hurting for the victims and for the good priests, but we are also tired of the hiding
  • We are concerned about the time frame for action and the lack of procedure
  • We have a problem and the Church needs to acknowledge this. We need to ask for forgiveness while acknowledging the problem.
  • The listening being done is forced and is not accurate to what we want to say
  • We need to acknowledge the part played by the media in sensationalizing the matter
  • There has been inconsistency from the Diocese – it often seems that they are reacting to the media reports. There is a lack of procedure being followed. For instance, the difference in the way the Hamburg priests were treated versus the Nowak case, which was publicized this week. Those two cases were handled very differently.
  • There is a lack of family prayer
  • Can’t fix the abuse problem if you don’t know about it
  • We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.
  • The Diocese is weaponizing psychological evaluations and using them as a disciplinary measure.
  • There needs to be sincere apologies for the abuse that occurred. The Bishop should visit parishes, apologize for the abuse and get to know the people and the parishes.
  • The accused priests should give an apology too
  • We are disappointed and distressed – our children are walking away from the Church and not wanting to be affiliated with it
  • The Church’s actions are not acceptable
  • We need to support victims
  • The organization of the Church is focused on the bishop and the clergy – the laity are on a sub level, but we need to be involved to check their power and assure transparency
  • We’d like to know more about the 2 federal probes of the Diocese – especially regarding the ages and genders of the victims
  • The WNY Catholic doesn’t have relevant features on this topic (abuse scandal)
  • We are experiencing disillusionment and frustration
  • We are very concerned for the future of our Church
  • Why is there continued recycling of priests who committed criminal or other bad acts with young people? This has not been remedied at all!
  • We need to be holding the priesthood to a higher standard
  • Hope springs eternal, but I have my doubts about the future of the Church
  • It appears that the Church is doing damage control on the situation and doing the minimal amount to get by. There hasn’t been any tangible action or a moral course of action. What would Jesus do to solve these problems and address the wrongdoing of the past?
  • Better screening of priests/applicants is needed
  • Diocese is fobbing off responsibility for religious order priests, but we believe the Diocese has a responsibility over the religious priests operating in the Diocese
  • The Church needs to not provide window dressing, but actually address the problem – not just do damage control.
  • The Church is in crisis – we need to focus on Jesus
  • The people are never asked if a Church is to be sold or closed – the people involved have no say – mergers and closures should be discussed with the people
  • The presence of the Bishop here is a good start
  • Priests are human so there are good ones and bad ones. Those who are wrongfully accused are found guilty by the public. As soon as their name is published, they are guilty and they are gone.
  • There should be frequent parish sessions that get people involved so that would hopefully bring our children back
  • In God we trust
  • Overwhelming negative opinion that has been formed by the secular media. We must have balance in what we listen to. The Church has been targeted. The mission of the Church is to spread the truth of Christ. There is a lack of adequate presentation of how the abuse came about – it is a matter of Church control and silence. Who is to speak the truth? The lay people. We need a balanced approach to the problem. I recommend that you go to the Catholic League – they have a lot of information on the limits and the status of the problem. The facts are not reflected in what you all have said here. Boys and young men are very effeminate in our culture.
    • At this point, Stephanie cut this older gentleman off as she expressed concern that he was expressing his own opinion rather than reporting for his table
  • At. St. Mark’s, you said that you know there are homosexual priests in Buffalo – you know they are here, but they are not acting out homosexually. How do you know this? Do you follow them around? Do they tell you in the confessional? This is an injustice against children – little boys and girls. How do you know they’re not acting out as homosexuals? Homosexuality makes people distrustful about their integrity. Priests have private homes in the country and cabins on the lake. Men should be mature sexually, psychiatrically and emotionally before they become priests. The good ol’ boys club needs to be destroyed. Good priests are demoralized. Satan destroys from inside the Church. Why haven’t you resigned, Bishop Malone, because of the cover-up?
    • At this point, Stephanie moved on to another table and Steve Halter went over to talk to the woman who had been speaking
  • Signs of hope are the recent graduates from the Seminary
  • The Restore Hope (sic) lay movement is a positive sign
  • More aspects of this need to be made public so we’re not finding out about things on TV
  • We are in the dark about the investigating that goes on – who is doing it and what it entails. The Diocese’s investigating was challenged on national TV – this puts doubt about our Diocesan investigations
  • Tell the truth! The Diocese needs to be more truthful – not glossing over things
  • Confusion as to what happens to priests – do they go to rehab? What is the whole process of that?
  • Movement to Restore Trust? How can you trust if things are still being hidden?
  • Thank God the media brings up the truth – it took the media for you to finally ACT!
  • Bishop Malone is kind of like a politician – the Church has become a political institution – it is huge and rich.
  • The people of the Church are fractured just like the politics in our nation. Listen to us arguing here this morning!
  • We must move forward and that means getting it all out in the open
  • Stop hiding and doing damage control – get it out there
  • Bishop Malone has a playbook – you are told what to do. Rome knows all about it – they cover it up and preserve their power
  • If we’re going to “restore the face of the earth” as we prayed earlier, someone needs to step up and call the Bishop out and clean this up!
  • At our table, we expressed extreme disappointment about all that is going on and the way things are being handled
  • The culture doesn’t support religion so it’s tough to be a Catholic anyway, but how much more difficult it is for us now!
  • But history shows us that it has been hard before like with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Our Lord said to St. Francis “Rebuild my Church” – but he wasn’t talking about the buildings, but about the people.
  • This a low moment for our Church. It is a perfect institution run by imperfect people.
  • We need catechesis so that people know the Church and its teachings then they won’t leave because they know the truth
  • The Bishop is doing the best job he can – we need to be supportive and let him lead the way
  • The media is trying to bring us Catholics down and the Bishop down too. When he stays quiet, it is probably because everything he says gets twisted by the media.
  • Lots of things there were revealed shouldn’t have been. This was probably hard for the victims too. People suffered on all sorts of ends because things were revealed. Let the Bishop run the Diocese – let’s be behind his leadership!
  • After 70 years, I am embarrassed to be Catholic
  • Do the priests have a chance to defend themselves against the accusations they face?
  • How does the investigation run?
  • How the Church handled cases was disgraceful
  • Fr. Bialkowski was the poster child for the Diocese. I know him personally and I don’t see the things that he is said to have done. They are false accusations. He was a conservative priest – did this bad thing happen to him because of that?
  • We never hear the results of the investigations. Priests don’t get to defend themselves – they just get dumped. What happens to their souls?
  • How are priests being formed?
  • Thank you, Bishop Malone, for hosting these listening sessions and letting us air our concerns
  • We are hurt and disillusioned, yet hopeful
  • The entire Church hierarchy is corrupted. There was criminal behavior by the priests and the hierarchy were criminal accessories due to the cover-up.
  • We believe in mercy, but justice also
  • There needs to be zero tolerance towards abuse. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. There must be accountability and punishment. Yes, investigate to protect the innocent – it should be fair and thorough through law enforcement.
  • Where are the homilies about abortion, contraception or the dangers of modernism? 1 out of 5 Catholics doesn’t believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Stop worrying about offending people. Stop bowing to political and societal pressures. Stop worrying about Church wealth and power and position. We should focus on traditional Catholic teaching, which has stood the test of time.
  • Laicize offending clergy or send them to a monastery. You can’t cure sexual predation. These predators are wolves among the flock.
  • There needs to be an immediate change in how cases are handled.
  • There should be an apology on the part of former bishops for their lack of accountability and transparency
  • The culture of times past contributed to the problem as did the fact that for us older folks, we thought priests could do no wrong.
  • Lots of prayer is needed
    • Stephanie: Every room has a different feel to it – this one has a definite feel. The challenge of listening to others. We have 5-10 minutes for additional sharing. Please share your comments, but do not get loud. It is harder to hear and take in what someone is saying when they’re speaking so loudly.
  • Older gentleman who had spoken before and was cut off by Stephanie: I am very angry about cover-up – not within the Church, but within each of our own hearts. My father was a Baker Boy and my Mother was Father Baker’s secretary. I was at his funeral 83 years ago because my Mom was pregnant with me. When Humane Vitae came out, there was an $8,000 ad put out rejecting the teachings of HV. My heart was torn apart then. Ecumenism has been distorted. The Church doesn’t teach morals. The faith includes morals. We need kerygma (the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ). In the ’80’s, I enrolled in the Seminary and was in a pastoral care class. The teaching was objectively wrong – I addressed it. There are internal problems in the Church, but I am impressed with the Bishop in the past who were doing the best they could with the technology available to them. Bishop Malone – we are very proud of you – keep up the faith and answering questions you face.
  • The structure of the Church allowed the abuse to happen from the Diocese of Buffalo all the way up to Rome. There are also major financial issues in the Vatican.
  • The Church survives at the parish level – the laity ends up doing all of the heavy lifting
  • We have a duty to be responsible, active Catholics
  • If the structure doesn’t change, our kids and grandkids are going to be sitting in auditoriums in the future discussing how to solve the latest problem facing the Church
  • A checks and balances systems is needed in the Church. The clergy are best suited for matters of the faith and morals; the laity are better suited for the administrative work of the Church. We need to change the structure so that we are all doing what we are best at.
  • You speak of trust and transparency, Bishop Malone, but this week we learned that you handled the Nowak case exactly the same as you handled the Yetter case a year ago! I would like to know why you did that. I am a member of Yetter’s former parish and I ran into him recently. I asked him directly about the allegations against him and he replied, “I only did it twice!” Then I asked him if he has these feelings, why was he in the priesthood? He had no answer to that question. I left that conversation with tears streaming down my face. Bishop Malone – you are not helping me to cope with this and I am not so sure you are helping other people either. How do we cope with this? I don’t know how. When is it going to stop and when will we have true transparency?
    • At this point (and a few other times), the lady who had spoken at St. Mark’s and another older lady began arguing with each other as they were seated at adjacent tables. The older lady could be heard referring to our need to be “loving and forgiving” and that those without sin “should throw the first stones.” Stephanie addressed both of them and noted that it is difficult to mediate between two “sweet older ladies who could be her grandmother.”
  • I’ve been involved with the Boy Scouts for many years so I can explain their investigative procedure (couldn’t write it all down because my left hand was about to go on strike). Bottom line is that the Boy Scouts are not doing their own investigations.
  • The family is broken – that is party of the problem in our society today
  • I am not angry or embarrassed so I suppose that makes me strange. I love going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist – I lift it all to Him. No one is perfect at the helm of any institution. We need to get our boots out of the mud and move forward!


At this time, Stephanie ended the table comments and noted that someone had pointed out to her that she had not given a full introduction to Nancy Nielsen. Stephanie invited Nancy to come forward to offer some comments on the MRT before the Bishop spoke. Nancy began by reminding everyone of this saying: We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind. She explained that the MRT was started by people who were “devastated just like you and looking for a way forward.” She explained the general mission and organization of the MRT and also talked about the JIT (Joint Implementation Team between the MRT and the DOB) and asked everyone to “think of those words – Joint Implementation Team – it’s not a taskforce or another committee – it’s a team.” She then had the room applaud Stephanie for being “an amazing moderator.” Nancy also noted, importantly, that “We have asked the Bishop not to do a tit for tat and answer everything that has been raised this morning.” At this, the Bishop took the microphone.

  • My sincere thanks to you all for coming here today. You have made your emotions perfectly clear – anger, dismay, embarrassment, disillusionment – and believe me, I feel the same way.
  • I know that I’m part of the cause but not the whole cause.
  • About a month ago, a lady stopped me on the way out of church and said, “You have admitted your errors in judgment, but you should not make yourself the lighting rod for things that happened 50 years ago.”
  • 7 years ago this morning, I was being installed as the Bishop of Buffalo. Little did I know what the future would hold and how I would be dealing with all of these cases from the past.
  • In 2001, a motu proprio was issued by Pope John Paul II that outlined the procedural norms that were to be followed in cases of abuse. Priests are not defrocked – that is no such term in our Catholic language – but they can be dismissed from the clerical state – that is the proper term to use. Or if a priest is quite old, they might be sent to a monastery to live a life of prayer and penance.
  • For whatever reason, these norms were not followed here in Buffalo as they were all around the country.
  • But we have been working on these cases and now 9-10 of them have gone to Rome. They are in the midst of the adjudication process and the results of that process will be shared publicly.
  • But until now, that process with sending cases to the Vatican never happened.
  • Bad priests weren’t recycled – they were pulled, but the process of reporting to the Vatican never happened.
  • Also, I should note in response to a comment this morning that Msgr. Slubecky did not have a doctorate in canon law – he had another sort of degree. Msgr. Sal Manganello does have a degree in canon law. And you’ll be interested to know that a young woman with a degree in canon law will be joining our tribunal team next month.
  • It would be easy for me to say to Pope Francis, “I can’t take it anymore.” But I feel an obligation to stay here in Buffalo.
  • I apologize for my mistakes and the terrible actions of some of my brother priests from 50-60 years in the past. It is a good thing that this is all coming to light. It is painful yet good so that it does not fester.
  • I can tell you that no priest ordained in the Diocese of Buffalo in the last 30 years has been found guilty of abusing a minor. He may have done other things, but no abuse of a child.
  • This shows that the Charter, which was put into place in 2002, is working! Our VIRTUS program is working! We have a 100% clean audit every year.
  • There are lots of problems we still face, but most of them are historical and in the past.
  • There was a delayed reaction here in Buffalo due to the Vatican process not being followed as it should have been.
  • But I should note a good development in our Diocese – the hiring of Steve Halter, a 28-year veteran of the FBI with lots of experiencing investigating things. He heads up the Office of Professional Responsibility, which I established last fall. We also are going to have one or two more female investigators working with us.
  • Everyone agrees and the accused priests especially say that the process takes too long.
  • The process here in the Diocese begins when a survivor calls Jackie Joy, our Victim Assistance Coordinator, who immediately offers counseling and other support. The survivor is also told to contact law enforcement.
  • When cases come in, there is an initial inquiry where it is asked, “Does it look like this has a semblance of truth? Could this possibly have happened?” If the case is not false or frivolous, it moves to a fuller investigation. This takes time as it is done meticulously.
  • Sometimes key witnesses refuse to be interviewed or their lawyer won’t let them interview. When we can’t get the full story, this holds up the process. Remember that all of the investigators are members of the laity – not clergy.
  • Then the Diocesan Review Board – which is comprised of all lay men and women including a doctor trained in dealing with sexual trauma – receives the report and discusses it thoroughly. Sometimes they say to the investigator, “We need to hear more from this person” or “You need to track these people down.” It is a very thorough process.
  • The Diocesan Review Board has one priest on it – Msgr. Jerry Sullivan – but otherwise it is all lay men and women.
  • After lengthy discussion and debates, which I listen to as I am not a member of the Board, they take a vote and make a recommendation to me as to whether the case is substantiated or not. If it is substantiated, the case goes to the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in the Vatican and all of the documentation is sent there.
  • There is a lot of impatience and frustration with how long the Vatican takes to adjudicate these cases. Ask any bishop in the country and they’ll tell you the same thing! The cases are done meticulously – the Vatican process is very, very, very slow.
  • Lives are hanging in the balance – both the accuser and the accused.
  • Bishops cannot laicize priests – only the Pope can. I have the authority to remove a priest from ministry, but not to laicize him.
  • No priest in the Diocese of Buffalo with a substantiated accusation against him is in ministry in our diocese.
  • The Diocese of Buffalo also has a very good relationship with law enforcement and an agreement with all of the DA’s here.
  • I hear and feel in my gut the angry and dismay you expressed today. Some of that anger is directed at me and some are angry at the situation we have all inherited.
  • I want to work with you. Are we wounded? Yes. Am I wounded? Yes. But it is my responsibility to walk with you. The involvement of the laity with the MRT is a movement of the Holy Spirit and I am glad to partner with them. Mine is a post Vatican II priesthood – I used to teach Vatican II. There is a great hope I have with the MRT.
  • I apologize for the ways I have caused errors and your dismay and concerns. But we cannot neglect the larger mission of the Church – faith formation, youth ministry, evangelization, etc.
  • Do I go home bruised from some of these things? Yes. But I can handle that. You can imagine how vulnerable I feel coming into these things. But we will do another round of these listening sessions – probably next year – because they are good things.
  • I did want to answer one question from those raised today – accused priests do not come before the Review Board, but they due speak to the investigator extensively. Whenever an accusation is brought against a priest, he is immediately advised to retain both legal and canonical counsel. We can recommend that counsel to them or they choose it themselves.

It 11:30 when the Bishop finished his remarks, so Stephanie closed up quickly and we sang the “Our Father” as a formal end to the event.

Afterwards, I spoke with the woman who had presented her tables comments on the absence of canon law counsel regarding the seal of confession, which had really struck me when she was speaking. Here are some of her additional comments:

  • No one in the Chancery has any expertise in canon law. The Diocese can’t punish priests with therapy – counseling can’t be punitive. You can’t say that a priest was sent for evaluation – you have to wait for the evaluation to be returned. Kathy Spangler is constantly putting out statements that are in violation of canon law. For instance, the misuse of “suspended” – you have to use canonical terminology and follow canonical process. There is a gross inconsistency in how things have been handled – the Hamburg priest situation for example.

As I was walking to my car, I said hello to a man and woman who greeted me. The man asked, “Was that just a waste of my time?” The woman said, “I wanted it to be ‘tit for tat’ – we need and deserve to have our questions answered!” I expressed my wholehearted agreement with their sentiments. It is always encouraging to talk to people who “get it!”

The 7th and final (scheduled**) listening session will be next Saturday in Dunkirk. Given the recent attention placed on Fr. Riter, who is a pastor in Dunkirk, I expect that final session to be the most contentious of them all. Stay tuned!

*Hopefully it goes without saying that I love vintage humans as much as (or more than) my peers. In this case, it was encouraging to see some younger folks in attendance because there has been little to nonesuch presence at previous sessions.

**Stephanie and the Bishop have noted that there will be a listening session for college students sometime this fall when they have returned to their campuses

August the Tenth

August 10th – one of the most significant days of the calendar year for me.

Today marks…

  • the 10th anniversary of my entrance into the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation (aka the Nashville Dominicans)…
  • the 7th anniversary of Bishop Malone’s installation as Bishop of Buffalo…
  • and the first anniversary of my last day working for Bishop Malone.

I remember when I did the calendar math last July and realized that my last official day at the Catholic Center would be the Bishop’s anniversary. “Yikes,” I thought, “What a day to go out!” Then I realized that since August 10th was a Friday, the Bishop wouldn’t be in the office for my final day. That helped to make it less awkward that I was raining on his anniversary parade, but it was still weird to be making my exit on that date. I couldn’t help but remember the surprise party I’d thrown for him the year prior when he celebrated his 5th anniversary of installment.


RJM anniversary

rjm cake
The confectionery wizards at Muscoreil’s made this cake magic happen
cake 2
I’m not much of a photographer for events because I’m usually otherwise occupied, but I remember being impressed by this piping and wanting to get a photo of it!

It was fun to surprise the Bishop that August afternoon when he entered the break room expecting the usual monthly birthday routine only to discover the cake had his name on it! I’m a great lover of a good surprise and it made my heart happy to know that we’d been able to celebrate the Bishop as he marked his 5th anniversary.

In addition to those 2017 memories, I also remembered back to 2012 when I arranged to be off work to watch the “new Bishop’s” installation Mass and homily. I didn’t much care about the pomp and circumstance of the event or the civil and religious dignitaries in attendance, but that’s not to say an episcopal installation isn’t an impressive event. The photos* above capture (I just realized I hate that verb now because of the MRT’s incessant use of it at listening sessions) some key moments from that event very well.

My desire to watch the installation Mass was primarily centered on hearing Bishop Malone speak to his new flock during his homily. At the conclusion of his remarks, I gave him very high marks. I appreciated his diction and his demeanor while I admired his sense of humor and his intelligence. My Mom and I were watching it together and I turned and said to her, “This is great – it seems like we’ve been given a good bishop!” Oh Siobhan of 2012 – I’m glad you didn’t know what was coming as you sat in your favorite chair in Mom and Dad’s family room and thought such positive thoughts about your diocese’s new bishop.

It makes me tear up to remember that afternoon… coming home early from work to be sure I didn’t miss the first public appearance and address of our new shepherd. I wanted to admire and respect Bishop Malone and, at first, I very much did. 3 years later, I would join his Chancery team with a joyful, grateful heart. One of the first things Bishop Malone gave me at that time was a prayer card/bookmark that had been distributed as a favor of sorts to those attending his installation Mass. It contained his coat of arms and the following prayer:

Prayer of Abandonment
This is not what the prayer card looked like – I thought I took the bookmark with me when I left, but I couldn’t find it in the box of dox just now. Perhaps it didn’t want to be in there anymore and made an escape. 

This is an equally beautiful and powerful prayer. I remember the Bishop cautioning me to “pray it at your own risk” because of the depth of abandonment expressed therein. I recall how impressed I was by the prayer and the Bishop’s use of it. I’d heard and seen this prayer before, but it wasn’t until the Bishop’s Office that I began to pray it regularly. In fact, I hung it on one of my cubicle walls so that I could see it and pray it with frequency. 

Bishop Malone and I obviously have very different ideas about how we’re letting God’s will be done in us.

On this date that marks Bishop Malone’s 7th anniversary of installation, I earnestly pray that he will soon resign.

On this date that marks my 10th anniversary of convent entrance, I’m sure Bishop Malone dearly wishes that I had stayed in Nashville and never left.

But a year after my last official day at the Chancery, I have no regrets or doubts about what I did last August. As much as I could be, I was “ready for all” and “accepted all” through God’s grace and guidance. I still ask Our Lord to do with me as He wills and I offer all of this to Him with “all the love of my heart.”

My heart is fatigued, my mind is frustrated, and my faith is fragile, but my soul is in my Father’s hands.

I love you, Lord… on August 10th and every day of the year.


*Photo credits (left, top right and bottom right) are as follows:  WBFO photo by Eileen Buckley; Sharon Cantillon of the Buffalo News


Back on the Listening Circuit

It’s Sunday evening. A year ago I was still working for Bishop Malone – albeit less than two weeks from my last day – and would have been going through my normal Sunday night routine: reviewing the week to come and what Bishop Malone would need each day. He’d often be doing the same thing at the same time and would send me a flurry of emails so that I knew what his priorities and projects were for the week. Mondays were always wildly busy at the Chancery so although these Sunday night prep sessions gave me the blues sometimes, I knew they’d help Monday to run more smoothly.

Now I’m sitting here typing up my notes from Bishop Malone’s latest listening session and experiencing a wholly different version of the Sunday night blues. The blues of knowing that although much has changed since last August, so much has remained the same. Same bishop. Same strategies. Same posturing and prevaricating. Same old same old. Ugh.

On Saturday in Batavia, it was the same old listening session structure we’ve come to know and loathe. Stephanie led us through the standard introductions which included the usual suspects of Malone and Mahaney plus special guest John Hurley, President of Canisius College and member of the organizing committee for the MRT. His wife, Maureen, sat at one of the 20 tables set up around the room. Each table had 8 seats and at least 7 of the tables were completely empty. I’d estimate there were roughly 60 people present in total. It was a distinctly middle to elder aged crowd… if there were 3 of us 30-somethings, that’s a generous estimate.

My table mates were very sweet people who swiftly proceeded to sour my mood enormously. The first thing stated by one of my table mates was: “I don’t watch Channel 7- they’re against the Church.” And thus began 25 minutes of near blood-producing tongue biting on my part. My table mates talked about how the press is “inaccurate” and “not to be trusted.” They also questioned why “these people” are “coming up” with abuse stories “so many years later” and “why are we giving them money instead of giving them counseling?” I was slack-jawed at their innocent ignorance. These were clearly good, faithful people – two of the couples at the table will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries soon. What magnificent milestones and such testimonies to devoted, courageous love! But they were clearly blind to the reality of this situation.

However, they did listen respectfully when I spoke up in defense of “these people,” who are my friends and heroes – the survivors. My table mates were legitimately surprised when I told them about how much counseling costs over the course of decades and how survivors are not looking to make it rain, but to make it. To get through it. To find peace and healing – not make millions. Survivors know better than anyone that money can’t make it all better, but it can help to make a better life for them. And they deserve every bit of a better life that they can obtain after all they’ve endured throughout their lives.

In the end, our table was able to compile a somewhat balanced list of items for the “table report out” segment of the morning. I had been given the role of “scribe” for the table since they’d noticed I was already in copious note-taking mode. Here is what we came up with:

  1. The Church is being adversely judged by the public and the media
  2. The press is way too focused on the Church scandal – they’ve got a target on Catholics
  3. Abuse has occurred in other areas – Boy Scouts, schools, other churches but they only focus on our Church
  4. The media is very much at fault
  5. Why is it not explained that settlement money for survivors is used for counseling?
  6. There is a lack of accountability/punishment for abusive priests
  7. We are losing young people from the Church
  8. Catholic priests should be allowed to marry – this would reduce the problems
  9. If someone is accused of anything, it should go through the proper system of law
  10. Why were priests reassigned with a chance to continue to abuse?

Thankfully, someone else volunteered to read these comments as I could not have read the first 5 statements without choking on the words. Our table was the first to “report out” and the woman who spoke for us did a great job. It is hard to disagree with people so strenuously while at the same time admiring them immensely.

Here’s what the other tables had to say:

  • Parishioners are discouraged by the situation in the Diocese and it is affecting their their financial obligation to their parish as well as Upon This Rock and Catholic Charities. Volunteerism at parishes is decreasing as well.
  • Where does the money come from to settle these court cases that will be filed in the middle of this month?
  • Whatever is said by the Diocese is questioned by people as to the reliability of what’s said
  • Priest accountability – why were so many reassigned?
  • Obligation to our schools – this abuse situation is a financial drain on the Diocese and we are worried about necessary resources for our schools
  • We need to refocus ourselves, but there are serious trust issues and we worry for the future.
  • We need resources for the youth and young people especially in the city and rural parishes. We have to keep parishes that are hanging by a thread afloat
  • Court cases have everyone’s attention – we need to focus on other things
  • Priests in the past were treated differently than ordinary citizens and we hope that this has been corrected
  • What is the role of the Pope in assessing these diocesan situations?
  • Many people have financial concerns especially about Upon This Rock and are afraid those funds will be used to satisfy legal claims
  • It is important for the Bishop to provide transparency of where he is coming from for decisions and court case settlements
  • It is wonderful that the MRT was established to have the laity involved
  • Good to have parishes have active parish and financial councils
  • Important for Bishop Malone to continue to reach out to other areas beyond Buffalo and be present in those areas because there is a fear that outlying areas will take the hit more than the Buffalo area will
  • Offer of money is drawing additional claims to be made – emphasis should be off the financial element
  • We are concerned about the Lord’s Prayer and hope that the recent language changes in France and Italy will not come to the US
  • Young people are leaving in droves
  • We need spiritual strengthening
  • We have to put things in the past
  • The abuse has changed everything
  • It is hard to go to confession if you’re worried or wondering if the priest was just looking at porn before he entered the confessional to hear your confession
  • Our Batavia church is made up of 2 parishes that function very differently. 13 years ago, the parishes conducted a study and discussed various issues, but no one listened. St. Mary’s School closed and now St. Joseph’s School is regional and not under the Diocese.
  • We lack spiritual development here in Batavia
  • The Diocese should build us up – combine the 2 parishes because the census suggestions there are people in both parishes but they’re not coming to Mass at either parish. The Church in Batavia is very much aging.
  • The Bishop is doing the exact right thing by being here in an outlying area listening to us
  • People have great faith to be here this morning – wish there were more people though
  • Media is exploiting this and blowing it up far beyond what it is. They have an agenda and these stories are helping their agendas along. Other groups have abuse problems and they haven’t had their abusers pictures in the paper
  • We want to hear the truth – good or bad – fully discussed
  • What is the Diocese’s commitment to Catholic education? Schools are the future of the Church.
  • The shortage of priests is a distinct problem – priests we do have are spread far too thin
  • Need for flexibility of Mass times for sake of the priests
  • Financial and parish councils are also important for priests – help to take some of the burden of the day-to-day work off of them
  • Older people are all the churches – not getting any youth to come and stay. There needs to be better youth engagement – having a youth member on the parish council and a youth Mass once a week.
  • There needs to be more trust between the Bishop, priests and parishioners
  • There must be a deep structural change in the Church – there is a disconnect between what we are all feeling and what comes from up high in the diocese and the Church
  • Regarding the media, when we bring a problem upon ourselves, it is difficult when people emphasize it or blow it out of proportion. But the only way to truly fix it is to grab the problem by the throat.
  • Letters to the Bishop about priests’ conduct are never responded to
  • There is no simply solution to this problem
  • We have to accept the fact that there’s a target on our back from the media and the people on the street
  • We need to have a structure for the future especially regarding the youth
  • Somehow the Diocese of Buffalo and the Church have to train priests for evangelization and not bureaucracy.
  • This scandal has been going on over 50 years – it is financial, sexual, etc.
  • We have to address the administration of the Church and we cannot “PR it”
  • The clergy has been silent on how they reflect on issues in our society particularly regarding same-sex marriage nationally and in NYS, and the NYS abortion law. There was no response from the Church. The clergy are so silent on these issues.
  • There is a problem with the clergy and their sexual practices so they won’t speak out about it. It’s a popularity contest.
  • Thank God the media has come forward – sunlight is the best disinfectant
  • The corporal works of mercy are talked about and practiced all the time, but the clergy is not speaking about or demonstrating the spiritual acts of mercy
  • The clergy is complacent and are not providing good moral teaching
  • Getting youth and young families back to the Church must be a priority so they’ll bring themselves and their kids to Church
  • I am not blaming Bishop Malone for the issues going on
  • There is anxiety among priests about engaging with youth because of abuse issues. They are afraid to be around them.
  • We are worried that parish money going to the Diocese of Buffalo will be given to the abuse survivors. Victims should seek counseling and support.
    • Stephanie interjected here to note that at least one US diocese has established a fund for settlements for survivors so that members of the diocese could contribute directly to that fund if they wished.
  • This is a terrible struggle we’ve gone through this long while
  • There is a feeling of betrayal and a struggle to forgive
  • We must be a hopeful Church – we can and will be stronger after going through personal struggle of forgiving
  • Practical application – better screening of applicants involved in Church ministry
  • Next generation – there must be greater involvement of youth because they are the future
  • Faith formation needs to be family oriented
  • Catechesis programs need to involve and integrate families and youth
  • Young people are involved in technology so we need to use different instruments to share the faith
  • When faith formation is family-centric, we see the positivity from those kinds of programs
  • Revisiting the Batavia study that was done 13 years ago – all churches should be unified at one site. Unity is crucial for passing on the faith to the next generation. Hard choices may have to be made.
  • It is up to the Diocese to clean up these issues and get back to the basics of Catholicism such as the rosary and catechesis
  • Prayer groups are important too along with Bible studies and parish groups
  • We should find out if priests need support – often volunteers are needed
  • Parish groups focus on negative things – they should be building up the parish and focusing on parish issues. The Diocese should handle the negative elements.
  • Many young people are not well trained in the Catechism and have no appreciation of the history, tradition and liturgy of the Church. We parents have not been passing it on so it’s not just on the priests and teachers.
  • Abuse issue has distracted one member (of the table) from their goal of heaven. It has taken their concentration off of her primary goal to reach heaven.
  • Upon This Rock – some people believe that monies were shifted from one place to another such as from the schools and now that money is being used for the abuse pay outs
  • Parishioners are voting with their feet and wallets
  • Parishes are cutting ministries because of the limits and assessments the Diocese has imposed on them
  • We need to re-educate ourselves in the importance of the liturgy and morality
  • The MRT literature is very well done and expresses a lot of what has been said this morning
  • Parish transparency – parish and financial council should provide annual reports to parishioners
  • Faith formation for the entire family – kid and adults gathering on Sunday afternoons
  • I am disgusted by the Catholic Church and the abuse of the clergy’s power. I wanted to offer a prayer during the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass and the priest said I couldn’t. The abuse is being swept under the rug all the time. This is disgusting. No Pope or bishops talked about the abortion law in Albany this year. Then there was the USCCB wait from November to February. Then nothing got done. They’re a disgusting bunch of bureaucrats. The youth know what the Church is and they don’t want it. (This was all from one individual who spoke out but did not appear to represent a table – only himself.)
  • It is tough to see the Bishop selling his home to settle claims
  • The structure of the Diocese needs to change in terms of how things are done
  • We get our priests from Christ the King Seminary – maybe they need to have tougher classes for priests to go through on these topics
  • In baseball, if you violate the rules, you’re out – there’s no reforming the violators here
  • I know John Hurley is here, so Go Bonas! (A light-hearted close to the table “report outs!”)

Stephanie then invited John Hurley to the podium to talk about the MRT:

  • We knew the MRT needed to be in every corner of the Diocese of Buffalo
  • The issues discussed have to make their way into parish and diocesan life
  • Last week, we released our major, 68-page report which is the combined work of our 6 working groups comprised of 150 lay people
  • Many of the same issues that are in this report surfaced here this morning
  • The Joint Implementation Team (JIT) was implemented by Bishop Malone to increase the collaboration between the MRT and the DOB. The JIT meetings have been very productive.
  • It is important that we remain independent and be critical in the good sense
  • To his credit, Bishop Malone has embraced this process to rebuild the Church
  • There are severe consequences for victims of abuse – that was the initial inspiration for the MRT – the pain and suffering of people because of people in the Church
  • The IRCP claims and lawsuits are being filed now but there will be ongoing outreach to victims
  • There needs to be parish and diocesan involvement
  • It is so good to hear your comments today because it tells us that this MRT report reflects what you are concerned about
    • Maureen Hurley interrupted John here to ask him to review the 6 topics that the working groups focused on:
      1. Transparency around the nature and scale of the abuse in the diocese and financial and spiritual reparations for victims/survivors
      2.  Transparency about all diocesan operations
      3.  Accountability for bishops
      4.  Selecting and monitoring bishops
      5.  Greater involvement by women and laity in the Church
      6.  Improvements in the formation of priests & priestly life
  • There is additional work to be done – you can register on the MRT website to get involved and stay informed

At this time, Bishop Malone took the podium and made the following remarks:

  • Thank you for your helpful, significant and challenging comments, which reflect what has been said at other sessions and what has been on my mind and heart
  • I hear your passion for our Church and compassion for victims, who were the launching pad for this whole thing
  • When I got here, I discovered that abuse cases for 50-60 years had not been dealt with and sent to Rome. We now have 9 or 10 cases that are already at the Vatican, which makes the final decision as to whether a priest is laicized
  • We need to have justice, compassion and healing for victims
  • All of us have experienced betrayal – I too have felt that
  • Locally, nationally and globally, this abuse has been a profound cancer but that can be healed
  • The MRT is a movement of the Holy Spirit as I’ve said many times to John and others. Their call to accountability is a challenging one, but I am willing to accept it.
  • The trusting atmosphere of these sessions is very important. Whenever I meet with anyone, I always say that we must be respectful of each other and candid. If we aren’t candid, it won’t be productive.
  • Of course, the point now is not for me to respond to specific questions, but I have taken notes and so has Dennis Mahaney
  • Along with your concern for victims, I also heard your concerns regarding the financial element of all this
  • The credibility of the Diocese is wounded and so is mine
  • I must tell you that nothing from the Diocese of Buffalo or Upon This Rock is used for the settlements
  • The NYS Bishops supported the CVA once it finally included other institutions
  • Are we concerned about financial matters? Yes we are
  • $18 million from diocesan reserves was used for the IRCP settlements. Remember that the IRCP was independent from the Diocese – the claims went to the judges* and they decided the amount and we paid those amounts
  • So our reserves are going down, but we have more reserves to draw on. And there is also the sale of properties.
  • We are also in dialogue with our insurance carriers regarding coverage – some of it will cover tragic sexual abuse but not others. I’ve learned a new term – insurance archaeology – where people are researching what’s there and if it is covered by insurance, we want to use that
  • Please trust me that no money from Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities is being used for the settlements
  • It is tragic that Catholic Charities did not meet their goal this year due to the negativity of the whole story that’s out there, but of course the negativity is there because bad things happened.
  • I hear your discouragement and your dismay, but I also hear that you believe the Church is the Lord’s Church. I do too or I’d be a veterinarian.
  • Laity involvement – the MRT is a powerful manifestation of what Vatican II called us to be
  • I am committed to a new way of being Church together, but our credibility has been deeply bruised by this whole thing
  • I know my mistakes in how I dealt with two priests with misconduct with adults. We don’t have a zero tolerance policy yet with those things, but we are preparing a strong new protocol for the abuse of adults. That protocol is now being reviewed and discussed by my priest council. It was developed by the lay task force that was formed earlier this year.
  • A woman came up to me after Mass recently and said, “You know Bishop, you shouldn’t make yourself the lightning rod for all those things from 50-60 years ago.” That was consoling for me to hear.
  • Right now, the CLI group of youth is concluding their week at the Seminary. It is not all fun and games – it is about discipleship so that the youth come to know Christ.
  • We also have a whole new faith formation curriculum for the diocese that is totally family-focused.
    • At this, the Bishop asked how many in the room have heard of this new curriculum. 1/3 of the room (by his vocal estimation) raised their hands. He noted that this means they have work to do in further implementing the curriculum.
  • I want to accent that I heard your concerns about youth and family, which is a very important point that was raised today. I am fully in agreement with you on that.
  • The mistakes that were made 50-60 years ago represent a different era. There are changes now especially with the Charter and VIRTUS. There are graphs I could show you. There is a whole new mindset now. We are training both adults and kids. And every year, the Diocese is audited for safe environment to be sure we are backgrounding and training people properly and every single year, we get a 100% clean audit.
  • The theme of young people is an obsession of mine – engaging youth and young adults is vital.
  • There is no simple solution – this is very complex and there is no easy fix.
  • We are all concerned about the past and the terrible things done to victims and how things were handled.
  • At the same time, the larger mission of the Church has to go forward – parish life, support for the poor, refugees and migrants, etc.
  • One good thing is that the media has brought this cancer to light.
  • People ask me, “Bishop, how do you stay standing strong?” I tell them is it is due first to God’s grace, then to my own conscience – I know what I will accept responsibility for and what I won’t, and then to the good people around me – the MRT included. They challenge me more than any other group.
  • I want to read to you from today’s office of readings – from a letter from St. Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp:
    • Work together in harmony, struggle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, rise up together, as stewards, ministers and advisors of God. Let none of you prove a deserter.** Let your baptism be your armor, your faith your helmet, and your charity your sword.

Thus concluded the 5th Listening Session in the year of Our Lord 2019.

*The IRCP program was set up so that all claims came to the Catholic Center at 795 Main Street. That was the address on all ICRP correspondence and mailings. I know this because I saw it – stacks and stacks of claims arriving to the Chancery especially as the June 1, 2018 deadline approached. The claims were scanned onto a flash drive and then the flash drive and the hard copy claims were delivered to Randy White at the diocesan lawyers’ office. From there, they must have eventually been given to the IRCP judges, but I do not know if their format or content was altered by the lawyers. It was certainly not a survivor-to-judge kind of process – Chancery staff (particularly Bishop Grosz and Steve Timmel) and the diocesan legal staff (particularly Randy White and Lawlor Quinlan) were the established, constant intermediaries. Again, I know this because I saw it throughout all of March, April, May, June and early July of last year.

**Someone commented to me that perhaps this deserter quotation was intended by the Bishop for me. That may be the case, but it does not bother me. It is no longer hard for me to accept that he must think of me as a traitor and a deserter. To his mind, I am. But he does not know the freedom of conscience I now have or the deep, enduring, powerful peace I have in my soul. I could not betray my soul or desert my conscience.

SNAP 2019

This is a recording of my presentation at the SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) Conference last weekend. Speaking before an audience of survivors was both an incredible gift and an immense responsibility. I asked Jesus to help me put into words what is in my heart. My thanks to the SNAP leadership team for inviting me and offering me a chance to speak to a room full of my heroes. And thank you, Jesus, for giving me the words.

Special shout out to Stephanie McIntyre, whose abuser I mention by name during this presentation, and to Michael Whalen, who will forever be the person I think of when I say “Buffalo survivor.” My life changed forever when he came forward last March and I began to hear the voices of so many survivors soon thereafter. Those voices and the harrowing stories they told will never leave me. I will always be grateful for the survivors’ strength and the grace of God.

Photo credit to Trish Hill