Lessons Learned

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to each and every person who attended the DOB Laity Protest yesterday. It takes a great deal of conviction and zeal to commit several hours to protesting of this nature not to mention the time it took to make their signs. I am grateful to my fellow lay people for making those time commitments. Very special thanks to the survivors who joined us as their strength continues to inspire us.

With that being said, I want to publicly note that there were signs present at yesterday’s protest that troubled me greatly. Two signs particularly distressed me as they cast aspersions upon two sets of priests (one of them Bishop Malone) and suggested inappropriate relationships between them. Anyone who has followed me over the last year knows that I am not afraid to call out priests and/or prelates for actions that are morally wrong, corrupt or complicit. But I cannot support efforts to publicly attack or smear anyone based on assumptions or speculation. There are enough fact-based allegations against Bishop Malone to fill up quite a few signs for quite some time!

There were several other signs yesterday that I felt detracted from the overall message of our protest. At this challenging time, we must be as united as possible in fighting the corruption in our diocese. We must avoid anything that distracts or detracts from that central focus. Michael Whalen, my first survivor hero, gave us a perfect example of going straightforward and strong – not to mention big and bold – with his message:

Mike's awesome sign
Mike Whalen was the essence of cool on that warm summer afternoon

Thank you, Mike, for being there and for creating the most epic protest sign I’ve ever seen! And thank you for keeping your message clear and direct. In so many ways, we protesters need to emulate Mike and another survivor who was present with us – Deacon Paul Emerson. Both of them were peaceful and amiable while also being filled with zealous courage. Special thanks to Deacon Paul for protesting with us when he could have been picnic-ing with the Bishop and his fellow deacons and the priests!

first amendment

Of course, I am aware that everyone at the protest yesterday was utilizing their first amendment rights. They also may be coming from perspectives and places that have been very challenging and/or damaging. I respect every single person who was there yesterday even if I may disagree with their message or method. The very fact that I do respect them makes this all the harder.

Despite our differences, we were able to get through the afternoon without any internal incidents. I desperately wanted to avoid arguments among us as that would be the worst possible visual especially with so many priests and deacons passing us by and members of the media present. Thank you to the media for being there yesterday to document our protest and to help our voices to be heard beyond the front lawn of Christ the King Seminary.

Some of us stayed there until around 7:30 last night in the hopes that Bishop Malone might make an appearance. Knowing his prowess for sneaky escapes, I decided to get going in case he had tunneled his way out or Kathy Spangler had arranged for a Mercy Flight for him. After jumping in my car, I drove to the place I most wanted to be: one of our diocese’s Adoration Chapels. I poured out my heart to Jesus asking Him to help me navigate these turbulent times and challenging situations. That time of prayer and reflection was so restorative. It not only helped me to overcome any sadness about the day’s protest, but also inspired me to start planning the next one. Thank you, Lord, for Your guidance and grace!

As the poster below indicates, the next DOB Laity Protest will be distinctly different from the one held yesterday. For starters, I added “prayerful” before protest and have planned an hour of prayer to start us off. There will also be a moment of prayerful silence for those survivors who are no longer with us. The rosary will be offered for all survivors. Also notable is the fact that no personal signs will be permitted. I am working to have signs printed for this event – thank you to those who are assisting me in this endeavor. These signs will focus on the primary point that I believe we can all agree on and which we need to emphasize above all else: the corrupt leadership in our diocese must cease for the sake of survivors, lay people and the future of the Diocese of Buffalo.

DOB Laity Prayerful Protest 9.5.2019
The 5th of September is Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s feast day hence the prayers in her honor

I appeal to you, bethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10

If you are local and able to attend next week’s prayerful protest, I encourage you to do so. I believe it is essential that we, the lay people of the diocese, continue to publicly call for the leadership change that this long-suffering flock so desperately needs. It is my prayer that we will be able to accomplish this with as much unity, charity and dignity as possible.

For those who are not close by, thank you for being with us in spirit and for joining your prayers to ours. That prayer support is most important of all.

Thank you for reading this post. It was not an easy or enjoyable piece to write, but I felt it was a necessary one.

The Bishop in the Chapel with a Press Conference

A year ago today, Bishop Malone held a press conference in the chapel of the former convent that would later become his residence.

It was a Sunday last year. Charlie’s Smith and Yetter stories had broken just a few days prior and this press conference would be the Bishop’s response. Many people – including Deacon Paul Snyder and various government officials – were calling for Bishop Malone to resign. Strange as it is to say now, I did not immediately echo those calls. Wait, I thought to myself. I should let the Bishop respond and listen to what he says and how he reacts. 

Was I hopeful? Not exactly. Skeptical? Not entirely. I was concerned by the diocese’s immediate response to Charlie’s stories: the Fort Knoxing of the Chancery and a myopic obsession with “finding the leak.” Yet I felt that I owed it to my former boss to let him respond personally before I made any decisions about whether he should resign or not. This was an opportunity for him to finally right his course. I had witnessed him pass up multiple such opportunities throughout 2018, but I tried not to be cynical because of it.

Even before the Bishop said a word, I had a strong feeling that he wouldn’t be resigning that afternoon. The location of the press conference – his future residence – was a statement in itself. Why would he host this media event there if he planned to resign and leave the diocese? It was highly unlikely. And why would he hold the press conference in the chapel? It was an unseemly backdrop for such an event. Yet I still wanted to hear from him – how would he respond in word and action?

Bishop Malone watches Charlie as he wraps up his live remarks before the Bishop’s press conference

Watching Bishop Malone waiting in the doorway about to enter the chapel, I was overcome with emotion. The last time I’d seen the Bishop, he’d given me a hug and told me how much he already missed me. Now he was carrying a familiar USCCB folder into a press conference to address allegations that were brought against him because of my actions. Normally I would have typed up the remarks that would have gone into that folder. I frequently reviewed his remarks with him as he adapted and fine tuned them. I so often knew exactly what he was about to say.

His first words and actions left me shaking my head. He walked brusquely across the chapel as though it were a conference room while holding that USCCB folder and a beverage container. Holding up the container, he remarked:

This is my iced tea, I’m not sure the Felician nuns who lived here forever would be happy I brought it in the chapel, but here it is.

iced tea

If the iced tea remark was supposed to break the ice, it epically failed. I remember being shocked at his seeming indifference to his surroundings. The red tabernacle light was not lit, so I assumed Our Lord was not present sacramentally in that room. But even so, his demeanor was not what you’d expect from a bishop in a chapel.

Within his first few sentences, we knew he wasn’t going anywhere:

You are the first group to come into what is soon to be the official residence of the Bishop of Buffalo. There is a little bit more work to be done to make it ready for that, since most of this floor will be for events. So we’re happy to have you. And I thank you very much.

He went on to thank the “good people” of our diocese for staying “steadfastly focused on Jesus.” He reminded us of the good work of the diocese and the Church while acknowledging people’s concerns as to whether “we are adequately equipped to meet the heart-wrenching, persistent challenge of clergy sexual abuse.”

We. A disconcerting use of that plural pronoun. I thought to myself: We’re not worried about our collective response to this challenge, Bishop Malone, we are worried about yours. Singular. Very singular.  

Eventually, he got to the heart of it:

With the benefit of hindsight, other, more recent allegations, which at the time, may have seemed hazy or difficult to substantiate, warranted more firm, more swift action.

Let me be clear: My handling of recent claims from some of our parishioners concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard to which you hold us, and to which we hold ourselves. We can do better, we will do better.

We? We can do better? We will do better? Wait a second, I thought. You just acknowledged that you fell short of the standard and now you’re employing the royal we again?

As my blood pressure continued to rise, he started talking about one of his favorite things – the Charter for the Protection of Children and People. He talked about it being the “guiding mandate” for all bishops and his “personal charge.” He went on to note:

However, reflecting on my handing of recent allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, I fear that in seeking to uphold the charter to the letter — and remember the charter is for young people — I may have lost sight of the charter’s spirit, which applies to people of all ages. All of God’s children deserve the same protection from sexual harassment or contact, including adults.

That last sentence stunned me. He spoke those words as though they were a new concept, a bright idea, a revelation. Having witnessed his repeated disregard for young adult victims of clerical sexual abuse (including seminarians at his own diocesan seminary), I was not surprised to hear him hiding behind the Charter as though it were a shield. But the way he threw in that “including adults” line made my stomach turn. It also brought me to my knees.

Yes, I dropped to my knees and started to pray. I prayed that the Bishop would put down his prepared remarks, look us straight in the eye and be genuine with us. No more royal we-ing and charter-ing and the like. I prayed that he would be sincere and honest, remorseful and contrite. This was the time for a heart-to-heart conversation with his hurting people. Instead, we were hearing a carefully crafted, legally approved address.

The Bishop went on to address the calls of “some within our Catholic community” for him to resign. He had prayed about it, he told us, and received guidance and support from “colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters in ministry.”

This is what happens when you surround yourself almost entirely with cheerleaders and brown nosers. How grateful I was to no longer be among his “sisters in ministry.”

His next line was essentially the thesis statement of his address:

And I stand before you today recommitted to my calling to serve as Bishop of Buffalo.

But it was the next one that brought stinging tears to my eyes:

The shepherd does not desert the flock at a difficult time.

But you DID desert us, Bishop Malone. Time and time again!

  • You deserted us when you hid a 300-page black binder in your vacuum closet instead of dealing with the darkness it contained.
  • You deserted us when you rolled out an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that focused on protecting the diocese’s assets while leaving survivors confused and vulnerable, unanswered and unheard.
  • You deserted us when you wrote multiple letters of good standing for Fr. Art Smith despite knowing of the multiple, serious allegations against him.
  • You deserted us when you offered Fr. Robert Yetter public praise and an easy retirement while ignoring all recommendations to pull him from ministry due to abuse allegations.
  • You deserted us when you made other significant, unwise decisions or allowed indifferent staff to make such decisions for you. (I have to be vague here.)
  • You deserted us when you lied to a victim by telling him “you’re the only one” despite the fact that you had read the accounts of multiple other victims that very morning.
  • You deserted us when you lied to us by saying that there were only 42 priests in our diocese who had been accused of sexual abuse when you KNEW the number was more than double that published figure.
  • You deserted us when you did not respond to letters from survivors or their family members, but instead forwarded them to Lawlor Quinlan for a terse, legal reply.
  • You deserted us when you left for the Cape every single chance you got – especially when things became difficult here in the diocese.
  • You deserted us when you traveled to all sorts of committee meetings and administrative meetings that you didn’t need to attend – rightfully gaining the “airport bishop” title you so loathed – in order to avoid the hard work of leading our diocese.
  • You deserted us when you failed to provide paternal and pastoral leadership to our priests – stating at times that you would “divide and conquer” any priests who dared to challenge or question your decisions.
  • You deserted us when parishes would contact the Chancery seeking help after priests were pulled from ministry leaving their parish family devastated. You would offer them absolutely no support or guidance. When St. Mary’s in Swormville reached out for help after the Yetter story rocked their parish, they were told you were “emotionally distraught” and would not have anything to do with them.

I thought to myself: You’ve already deserted us so many times and in so many ways, Bishop. Don’t talk about shepherding your flock when you’ve failed to do so so many times. 

After talking about his “moral compass,” which made me roll my teary eyes, the Bishop told us that “now is the time for action.” He went on to make “a few promises:”

  • The establishment of a “task force to examine the diocese’s procedures for handling claims of inappropriate conduct with adults and to recommend methods for honoring all victims in a manner consistent with our protection of children.”
    • We have been told that this task force has been formed, but exactly a year later, we have yet to see anything produced by or decided by this entity. It is a figurehead of the ghost ship Captain Malone is sailing.
  • The establishment of a new Office of Professional Responsibility “whose mission will be enforcement of our diocesan code of ethics.”
    • Steve Halter got this job. I do not believe he is independent. I do not trust his judgment. I need to write a blog post about him sometime soon. 
  • The diocese’s cooperation with “any investigation initiated by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney.”

The Bishop closed with an apology and a request for prayers:

Most importantly, to the victims of clerical abuse of all ages, children and adults, I am profoundly sorry for the pain this has caused you. While nothing I can say to you could heal the hurt of this tragic breach of trust, as bishop of this diocese I do extend my most heartfelt apologies. I want you to know that we will do all we can to restore your faith, to help you heal and to help you begin to move forward.

Please join me in praying first for victims of abuse everywhere.

And please find it in your heart, if you can, to pray also for me, and for all those who are trying to overcome the darkness of this sin, and bring back the true light of what the church should be for everyone.

I was saddened that the Bishop was still reading his remarks when he issued that apology to survivors. Put down those papers, Bishop, I wanted to scream at the television, The survivors deserve so much better than a scripted apology from you! 

looking down

But there would be no heartfelt, genuine apology that afternoon. Neither would there be questions:

As you know, I usually do Q and A, but not today. Today is a day simply for this statement. At other times of course in the future, I’ll be available to entertain those.

As we know, the Bishop did not entertain questions until November 5th so he really was talking about “the future.” And even when he did take questions that autumn afternoon, he relied heavily on his legal team while doing so.

After he was done, Bishop Malone took his folder and headed toward the side door from which he’d come. This time, he paused to bow reverently before the altar and tabernacle. It was an odd sight given how he strode into the room not ten minutes before without a glance at the tabernacle. It was almost amusing to note that he’d forgotten his darn iced tea by the podium where he put it.

This press conference marked the official end of my lingering hope that Bishop Malone might be able to lead us out of this darkness. His words were scripted, his attitude was arrogant and his demeanor was disconcerting. Not to mention that he talked much more about “we” than about “me.”

He must resign, I said that afternoon as the tears dried.

A year later, I echo those words while holding back tears. It has been a full year and what has changed in our diocese? Nothing. There is a new task force, a new officer, a now “independent” review board, but there is nothing actually new here. It is business as usual with some new names and faces thrown in as a diversion attempt. The Bishop is using the same exact tactics he was utilizing a year ago as this story makes clear. He is “listening” his way around the diocese while desperately hoping that we’ll all “move on” and get over this.

We cannot do that, Bishop Malone. This is our diocese. We live here. We love it here. We don’t escape from the diocese at the first opportunity.

We want healing and hope, truth and transparency.

A year later, we have none of these things.

We deserve better.

We demand better.

You must resign.

 

 

All screen grabs were taken from this WGRZ video, which I selected because it includes Charlie’s closing line and the Bishop’s expression as he watched Charlie:

https://www.wgrz.com/video/news/local/bishop-malone-full-press-conference/71-8232002

Direct quotes were taken from the following transcript courtesy of the Buffalo News:

https://buffalonews.com/2018/08/26/transcript-of-bishop-malones-statement-regarding-abuse-calls-for-him-to-resign/

Last of the Listening Sessions

Dunkirk. I thought that this Southern Tier town, which shares its name with the French city made famous by an epic WWII battle, would be more of a battleground last Saturday. It was decidedly not.

Dunkirk – the westernmost city in New York state – sits just below Lake Erie. (Fun fact from Google: the name Dunkirk derives from the West Flemish “dun” and “kerke,” which means “church in the dunes.”) Driving there this past Saturday morning, I recalled how Father Joe Gatto used to refer to his hometown as “the holy land.” He is a very proud Dunkirk native and is a former pastor of Holy Trinity Parish where this final public listening session was held.

After parking in the lot that morning, I headed toward what looked like the primary entrance. Just a few steps later, I was stunned to see Fr. Dennis Riter exiting his car and heading in the same direction. I had not expected him to attend and was quite at a loss for words. He looked as though he’d aged 10 years since the last time I saw him – when he came to the Chancery on Monday, March 26, 2018 to receive his decree of administrative leave following allegations of child sexual abuse being lodged against him. I felt such a wave of conflicting emotions when I saw Fr. Riter: shock, frustration, pity, and an overwhelming awkwardness – all while thoughts of his alleged victims spun through my mind. There was no way I could avoid speaking to him as we were within mere feet of each other. No matter what, I’m committed to civility and charity. Awkward? Yes? Rude? No. “Good morning, Father Riter. I am praying for you.” (This is true – I do pray for the accused priests. They are some of the hardest prayers I’ve ever said.) Father Riter responded with a faint smile and “Thank you, Siobhan.” And then we walked in the door of Holy Trinity’s school building together.

As the Riter shock began to wear off, I confronted another surprise: there were not many people in attendance. 60 or 65 at the most and that’s generous. I expected the place to be packed with people raising questions and seeking answers! Instead, it was a pretty mild group of middle to elder aged people with a few young folks mixed in for good measure. I selected an unoccupied table on the left side of the room. I usually join a table, but this time I needed a second to collect myself and thus chose an empty table. Within a few minutes, three people came over and asked to join me. Of course, I told them they were very welcome to do so.

Right then, Steve Halter (Director of the Office Professional Responsibility) came over to our table and tells me, “I watch every time to see who sits with you, Siobhan. I watch that every time!” I didn’t really respond to this other than with a weak laugh. Thanks for the update, Steve – that’s not weird at all, I thought to myself. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the fine folks who either sat at my table or let me join their tables at the listening sessions. I attended all of these listening sessions as a committed, lifelong member of our diocese – not as a leak, a mole, a rat, a thief or a traitor. Thank you, table mates, for treating me with kindness and respect. I am grateful to each of you.

The listening session got started with the standard prayer sequence and a brief welcome from Bishop Malone: “Thanks for coming here this morning. These are heavy sessions, but they are a very important opportunity for me to hear from you – your concerns and your hopes.”

Then Stephanie took over as Moderator noting that she wasn’t “on my game this morning” due to different technology (an older slide projector for her PowerPoint). She reiterated that this is “our chance to be heard and it is the chance for Bishop Malone to do the opposite – to listen.” She noted that this is “not a closed program – if the media are here, you will be able to meet with them afterwards. Kathy – are there media here?” Yes, Kathy Spangler said – media are here including ABC National. Then Stephanie said, “So the media are here. But they aren’t here in this room because we want this to be a safe space. Remember that we can all essentially be reporters these days so do not use any devices to record anything. We need to keep this a safe place.”

At this point, Maureen Hurley stood up to remind Stephanie to introduce the people at the head table. [Maureen was in the very back of the room at the MRT table along with Nancy Nielsen and another MRT member. She speaks with the authority of one who is accustomed to being heard and listened to.] Stephanie duly introduced the men at the head table: Bishop Malone, John Hurley and Dennis Mahaney. Then everyone at the tables was instructed to begin the 25-minute period of “table talk.” Since I was sitting just about opposite Fr. Riter, I did observe him periodically during the table talk segment. He appeared to be primarily listening to the 8 people at his table.

Here’s what the tables had to say:

  • We hope this doesn’t bankrupt the Church
  • A lot of us feel a sense of resignation that we just have to go through this
  • The Diocese of Buffalo should focus on the fact that our Church is not the only ones with these issues – teachers, doctors, etc. have been abusers, but our Church is carrying the brunt of the blame and we need to point this out to the press.
  • Our parish is currently working on a major church project and people are donating money to it. We hope we don’t see a for sale sign on our parish after these updates we are paying for.
  • We have financial concerns – want to know where our money goes
  • Mental health – the Church did what it was supposed to do based on mental health guidelines from 30 years ago. The Church would send the priests for treatment and they’d be told “you’re cured” so the Church thought that was right. But the mental health position has changed and now we know they aren’t cured. So we need to clarify that.
  • Chain of command – who is the official spokesperson for the Diocese of Buffalo? It shouldn’t be everyone speaking or a disgruntled employee – we would have gotten fired if we did that.
  • Punishment for priests not happening if proven to have done wrong. They need to be punished and go to jail – not be sent somewhere.
  • Young people are falling away from the Church and our parishes are diminishing
  • How can I ever respect a priest? I’m having a hard time and wondering where my religion is going. (An older lady was reporting this for her table – it was heartbreaking to hear her sweet, vintage voice say these words)
  • At our table, we had a series of questions:
    • What is going to happen to the Catholic Church without major changes taking place?
    • What are the changes that need to take place?
    • Does canon law still work in 2019?
    • Do the precepts of canon law still apply in practice?
    • Do the vows priests make when ordained goa against human nature?
    • Should there still be a vow of celibacy? Perhaps there should be a worldwide look at the celibacy vow.
    • MRT – from what I understand, there are 2 issues being promoted by the MRT:
      • Permit female deacons and priests
      • Eliminate the papal appointment of bishops and leave it to a group of lay individuals at local levels
    • Who’s responsible to answer these questions because we’d like some answers
  • At this final question, faint applause could be heard building throughout the room. Stephanie interjected and said that there was to be no clapping because at past sessions, that has “set up division in the room.” So there was to be “no clapping in agreement or support.”
  • We feel the need for closer community for the Church – for it to be more social and like a family as it was years ago
  • We are concerned because 10 or 15 years ago, we participated in the Journey in Faith and Grace and met every week. But nothing was done about it. Back then, we were talking about the same question prompts as are on this sheet (hopes and concerns for the Church spiritually and practically) and we have not moved forward at all.
  • Young people think the Church is being hypocritical and are using that as an excuse to not go to Church
  • It also feels hypocritical to go to Confession – to confess sins to the priest who is a sinner
  • We hope the Church can have more transparency
  • We can’t put our hope in a priest or a bishop or the Pope – our hope is deep in our souls
  • This is a cleansing and purging of our Church
  • We are missing the opportunity to pray – the Bishop and priests should be encouraging fasting, the rosary, prayer, etc. There is no evening Mass in our county for people who are working during the day. We need to emphasize prayer.
  • Mental health issues need to be addressed during priest training
  • We feel a great deal of anger and frustration and betrayal – can’t get beyond the betrayal
  • The strong foundation of the Church is shaken and we have doubts and worry for the future
  • The process has been more legal and less diocesan
  • We need a statistical analysis of the impact of this scandal on our Church
  • This is a purification for our Church, but it is sad that the Church was forced into it instead of it coming about through a recognition of the problem and the necessity for this purification
  • We are waiting for a feeling of hope, but don’t have it yet
  • Justice is needed for all
  • This is an opportunity for women to be more involved in the Church – perhaps women priests can be considered
  • We need accountability and the Bishop has to take a strong lead here. This is a major crisis of faith and a Church crisis. In order to restore trust, this cannot be a public relations exercise. It has to change from the bottom to the top. Our faith is in Jesus Christ – not the hierarchy of the Church – that is where the issues are.
  • There needs to be an immediate response to allegations. Instead of leadership from the Bishop, he is pushing it off to committees.
  • If the Church had handled this up front, we would not have this issue
  • The Church, the Bishop and the Diocese have to accept responsibility now so we can move forward.
  • We need leadership from the Bishop and we are not getting it. He is pushing the responsibility off to committees and the Diocesan Review Board. On that ABC report on national TV, a sex crimes expert said that the Diocesan Review Board has no idea what it’s doing with regard to sex crimes.
  • Bishop – if you’re going to be here another year and a half and you want it to go better, you have to stand up and be a leader
  • Financial impact – we are worried about bankruptcy and does that mean that money would be taken from Upon This Rock. Would our donations be susceptible to these lawsuits? What impact would the lawsuits have on our Catholic school subsidies?
  • What is the Diocese going to do to protect the future of the Church?
  • We have to restore the trust of young families in the Church
  • We are loyal to the faith and hope the Church can be more honest about the situation
  • We need to think about moving beyond this and drawing members back into the Church. We may have to focus on the current problem, but look ahead too.
  • The archaic structure of the Church is reflected in each parish. The rules are archaic – like the rules that went down with this issue
  • We are concerned about the number of older adults who come forward but we are appreciative of the facts that have come up
  • The cover up has to stop – truth, facts – we have to deal with the facts. They are black and white.
  • We support the Diocese of Buffalo financially and are worried about the St. Joseph Investment Fund, our pensions, Upon This Rock, etc.
  • Youth – we need to work on helping them – they are our future
  • In the past, priesthood was a place for people to hide – we hope that is not the case now
  • People have fallen away from the Church – how to handle that? Small parishes need to work together on this
  • Separate theology from the behavior – don’t leave the Church because of the sins of some people
  • Confessing the sins of the Church – it must admit the sins and then we can move on after a good confession from the Church
  • This is an opportunity for the Church to be forgiven because the Church has done things that were incorrect
  • For every bad story, there are probably 1,000 good stories such as how the Church has done many good things for the youth in this area.
  • Riter table comments:
    • The Church is moving in a positive manner to resolve this issue. The Church will be smaller, but stronger
    • There are cultural differences to be considered – it is easy for people to replace Church responsibilities and priorities with sports or other priorities. Our culture has changed
    • Strengthening families – parents are the ones who bring their kids to Church and parents are not bringing their kids to Mass
    • We are hopeful in Christ. We are moving in a positive manner – these sessions are a sign of that. People recognize that things have to change.
  • We have lost faith in how the Church responds to these issues
  • This was a deep awakening for us. Kids need to be willing and able to tell adults if something is wrong.
  • These issues need to be put to rest in a firm and faith-filled manner with concrete, scientific evidence – every situation needs to be proven or disproven. Who are guilty and who is not? In some cases, settlements are made before a full investigation was made.
  • This is disheartening for American journalism. How can we restore faith in the media in the US?
  • We expected this to be a different format. We thought we would hear more from the Bishop.
  • People are not giving to Upon This Rock or giving weekly in the collection. Instead, people are now supporting Northern Chautauqua Catholic School since NCCS is the only Catholic school in the county. We have some administrators of that Catholic school here today and we need to represent and support them
  • There is concern for the people of Dunkirk and the division, confusion and sorrow they have been experiencing because of the situation here (this point was raised by me at our table and spoken by our table reporter, who did a lovely job. This was the closest thing we got to an acknowledgement of the Riter case the whole morning.)
  • Parishioners are voting with their wallets and their feet
  • There is concern and fear for our Church especially with young people leaving
  • There is a need for support for parishes impacted by allegations
  • There is a lack of support for Southern Tier parishes
  • We need transparency – get it all out so we can heal
  • Seminarians are leaving because of the deep-seated culture there
  • There is also the struggle of priests trying to be leaders and they struggle to handle the crisis
  • A year later, there has been no difference in the transparency department – we still have no transparency
  • The Bishop walked into a cesspool – you are up to your eyeballs in it. Your response needs to be swift and strong.
  • Fr. Dan (Walsh, pastor of Holy Trinity) said this may be a new reformation in our Church
  • The faithful will remain regardless, but please give us hope that the faithful won’t have to endure this for 10, 15 or 20 more years
  • The Southern Tier is so far removed from the Diocese – we feel left behind
  • We need to get it all out there. We’re tired of seeing shocking stuff in the news – we need to get it out in black and white.
  • There is also the struggle of good pastors – how is the Diocese of Buffalo helping these priests? It would be beneficial for parishioners if the pastors were being helped by the Diocese.
  • How did we even end up here at all? We have such frustration.
  • The MRT seems to us like a good idea and a good avenue
  • Lay pay people in parishes need to step up to repair some of the damage that was done
  • More people need to get involved in the seminary screening process because there is a homosexual culture there
  • There is a bigger issue here – the Church is involved in a cultural issue. A contributor to this was poor catechesis. Now there is a conflict between doctrine and the culture.
  • Youth involvement is absolutely crucial. How do we bring young people back to the Church? Young people should run to the Church for help not being running from it.
  • Someone at our table is concerned that her voice was not heard at a previous listening session she attended
  • There is a great need for the Sacraments and prayer
  • There should be no sexual predators in positions of trust with children
  • Would filing for bankruptcy save the Diocese?

At this point, the table reports concluded and Stephanie offered anyone the opportunity to speak if they did not feel that their point or concern had been raised by their table. the following individual comments were made during this segment:

  • We need to support the priests who are committed to lead us – one said he was afraid to be seen as a priest in public, which is heartbreaking
  • There is a need for change, but some changes that have been proposed are against Catholic doctrine. Women in the diaconate or priesthood and abrogating Papal appointments of bishops are changes that are not in accord with Church teachings. There are not permissible changes for Catholics. If they happen, it will not be the Catholic Church any longer. The Church can change, but I will serve the Church of Rome.
  • My heart was broken by the stories of so many precious, innocent children’s lives being destroyed by people in positions of power and trust. Our Diocese is responsible for those lives and we have to do something for them. My heart continues to be broken.
  • When you were at St. Mark’s, Bishop Malone said that he personally knew several homosexual priests in Buffalo. But how does he know they are not acting out their homosexuality? I would like an answer. We love homosexuals, but how do you know they aren’t acting out. What can be done to stop heterosexual or homosexual predators? No one like that should be consecrating hosts – that would be an abomination to the Sacraments. How can you let this happen over and over again?
  • How do we support the priests who have been cleared? There should be a debriefing for parishes with a priest who has been removed. How can the Diocese help us to help them?
  • Have there been changes to the screening process for Seminarians so this situation won’t occur in the future? All aspects should be screened – not just homosexual, but mental health and other difficulties that would affect parishioners
  • We need a strong commitment to prayer and a Diocesan-wide consecration to Jesus through Mary. We will see change and victory through prayer.

Bishop Malone’s remarks:

  • This is a terrible crisis. There is the terrible trauma of victims and the trauma of the Church – I see signs of that trauma in you and I feel it too.
  • I’m not a masochist – I want to stay on not so I can see myself in the paper and news, but because of my responsibility and my determination to move forward with you and work with all of you and to reach out to those who were so wounded by some members of the clergy. We have to move toward renewal.
  • Someone mentioned that this could be a period of reformation in the Church. We must remember that during the years after the terrible time of the Reformation when it was so divided and so full of pain and anger, God’s grace got hold of people like you, and I hope like me, and said we have to stand up and keep going and be the Church together and do it right.
  • So I believe that’s what we can do together. I know that I’m not the one to do it alone – together is the only way.
  • This is why I’m so grateful for the Movement to Restore Trust. It has been and it is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, which is why I was very, very grateful to be invited to really work in partnership with the MRT.
  • We’re trying to really accomplish a number of things primarily to respond to the hurt of victims and improve all of the ways that we do that and all of the ways we handle these things going forward.
  • And secondly, in good ways that are consistent with Scripture and who we are as Catholics, to change the culture of the Church. The culture of how Church administration functions particularly by involving more and more lay women and lay men in key roles.
  • We’re going to be doing that – not that we don’t already have that here, but we want to enhance and strengthen it. We’ve already been doing it.
  • Even at the level of the Vatican, because as you know, this sadly is a global Church problem. We see it right before us here in Western New York, but it tragically runs right through the life of the Church. It’s a terrible, sinful deflection from all that we’re called to be.
  • You know that – that’s why you’re here today. That’s why you’re angry and feel betrayed and dismayed and all of it – I get it, believe me, I get it – I hear it. But I don’t want to abandon you. I want to work with you to move forward.
  • I did not know when I was assigned here by Pope Benedict just about 7 years ago, what I was going to find lurking in the darkness of this diocese. It’s a good thing that it’s come out. The only way there can be purification and healing and moving forward is that it comes out.
  • For your information – I think it’s important that people know this – this is a key piece of the problem that happened here. Back in 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a decree to the bishops of the whole world requiring that whenever there was a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor – substantiated meaning either proven or admitted by the cleric – that case was immediately to be sent to the Vatican for their adjudication.
  • That’s when you would have seen cases where the case went to Rome and the decision would have been that the Holy Father had dismissed a priest or a deacon from the clerical state. It’s what the world calls being “defrocked” – that’s not a Catholic world – that’s a media word. It’s called dismissal from the clerical state or if the priest was 95-year-old and he was guilty and he was sick and dying, they might not have gone that far– they might have said he’s on a permanent life of prayer and penance and he would never function as a priest again and all those things.
  • For reasons I don’t comprehend, even though that process of sending cases to the Vatican was going on elsewhere – I did it in Maine – it never happened here. And we’re doing it now. We have 7, 8 maybe 9 cases already in Rome of priests with substantiated allegations.
  • The difficult thing for us bishops is that it takes too darn long for the Vatican to act on these things. Te reason for that is that sadly there’s such an overwhelming number of cases from around the world that have to be funneled through that system for a final decision from the Pope. A bishop cannot dismiss a priest from the clerical state – only the Pope can do that. I can remove him from ministry and that’s what I’ve been doing, but then it has to go to the Vatican for that final decision.
  • So it’s important for you to know that this process never happened here, which is why when I first came here, people said to me, “We’re so blessed in Buffalo – we ducked the bullet on this one – we didn’t have all these cases.” Well, soon we found out we did. But, the key is we’ve learned from this and we rely on the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • When people say to me – I’ve had people in my family ask me – how can we remain Catholic with all of this going on? I say the only thing we can do is to focus on the Lord Jesus. That’s the only way we’re going to get through it and do that together.
  • That’s enough in general from me. We don’t have a lot of time and I have about 10 pages of notes and Dennis Mahaney has even more detailed and copious notes – thank you very much, Dennis.
  • But what you’ve given to us in these seven sessions is not a “one and done” thing. The reason we’re keeping all of this material is because we intend to take it all and study it all and pray over it all and consult with people – maybe some of you – and allow this to determine our path forward: what need to be the priorities in the life of the diocese so that together – out of this crucifixion – we can come to resurrection.
  • I’m not overly pious – if you know me, you know that – but this is a crucifixion experience, isn’t it? Especially for victims and their loved ones. But for the whole Church.
  • But we know that if we live this in faith and do the right things – and I’m trying to, believe me – I know where I failed; but I want to do the right things moving forward and when I came here, I found that there’s about 50 years of bad, bad stuff that had been going on before I ever came. No one told me that when they asked me to come to Buffalo, but we found out about it and now everybody knows and it’s good it’s out there, but it’s painful and I’m sorry that all of you have to share in that pain. But that’s part of what it is to be Church as well.
  • Let me answer this woman’s question about homosexuality in the priesthood. There are homosexual people in every profession – would you all agree with that? (General murmur of agreement)
  • Homosexuality in itself is not evil. The orientation is not an evil thing. For anyone to act our his or her sexuality whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual in a way that’s not consistent with that person’s state in life is wrong and it’s sinful. I’d be just as concerned about a priest who I found out was having inappropriate relationships with a woman. The same for a priest with a man.
  • Do I know that there are homosexual priests? Of course. Do I know that any of them are acting out and violating their celibacy and chastity? No, I do not. You say how do I know that? Well, I would only know that if someone informed me about it.
  • You asked me in another meeting if I follow them around. No, I have other things to do. But if someone gave me that information, I would act upon it.
  • Number two – I want to make it crystal clear that all of the studies show – including the massive study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that looked into all of this for us scientifically – two things from that study:
    • 1) there is no intrinsic connection between a person being homosexual and that person tending to be a pedophile. Most pedophiles, believe it or not, tend to be married men. That may shock you, but that’s the fact. I can give you the chapter and verse on it.
    • 2) the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is the premier academic institution that looks at all this stuff, in a big study they did for the bishops a few years back, the psychologists told us there is no particular test that can absolutely identify someone as a potential predator.
  • Which leads me also to respond to someone else’s concern – there is a very, very thorough screening of everyone entering the Seminary.
  • Can we be sure it’s 100% in weeding out bad candidates? You can never be 100%. But we have full psychological battery of test that are done with interviews an all those kinds of things. It is taken very, very seriously in all seminaries these days and in our seminary.
  • The formation that they receive also looks at all of these issues. I don’t want to use all of our time on this as I have another few things to concentrate on here, but you probably know that there are four dimensions of formation for the priesthood or any ministry: intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and the human.
  • For me, a major, major concern has to be the human formation of the candidates. Is this a healthy human being? That’s number one.
  • If that’s the case, then we look does he have the intellectual capacity? Does he have the style and personality that can be pastorally effective? You can work on that. But the human and the spiritual are the two deep pillars and believe me, we’re very aware of that and looking at it all the time and we will look at it all more carefully.
  • We have a new rector at the seminary right now who is very much on top of things even at a moment of crisis for the seminary itself. Believe me, those things are in place and we never take our eye off of them. They can always be improved and we work on that at all times.
  • What I try to do here is to touch on the issues that came up most frequently. So let me comment on the financial issues that came up. Everyone is concerned about that.
  • We had a meeting of our whole Catholic Center staff this past week – a meeting like this actually – and we gave them some facts and they expressed their concerns.
  • I know there is a big deficit in trusting what I say and what the diocese says now, but I tell you that there will be no money from Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities– those are all connected with separate corporations apart from the diocese – and we have been assured on this so many times by our attorneys and other people – that they’ve been set up in a way that they are untouchable. Does this mean that some people may not try to go after them with lawsuits? We can’t control that.
  • But we’ve got every kind of firewall and protection and veil there that we believe protects the contributions of the people to the work of the Church because in my mind and my heart and in my prayer every single day as I pray for all of us including for myself, believe me – my focus is on these two things that we need to do:
    • Respond to this terrible moment in which we find ourselves and these listening sessions are part of that and number two – and we reach out to victims and bring healing and transparency, and
    • Number two is to make sure the fundamental mission of the Church goes on
  • I heard from so many of you at every single listening session your deep concern about the young people in the life of the Church. Most of my ministry before I was a bishop was with the youth and young adult community so I’m as concerned as you are.
  • This crisis has impacted our young Catholics, but as someone mentioned, this crisis of the young people kind of falling away has been going on for a long time. And it is connected to our very secular culture and all of that.
  • But please know that Dennis Mahaney is responsible for the division of the diocese concerned with Youth and Young Adult Ministry and this is a very, very high priority.
  • Even as we are in crisis response, we cannot let lag the fundamental mission of the church. Which is the proclamation of the gospel, concern for the poor, the bringing up of our young people in the faith and all those kinds of things.
  • Someone mentioned bankruptcy. Is bankruptcy a possibility? The answer is yes. Is it a decision we have made? The answer is no. All the other seven dioceses in New York are in the same boat. Cardinal Dolan calls frequent conference calls to all bishops – we have one Monday morning at 9 am – so all the NY bishops will be on the phone for a long time conferring and consulting with each other and sharing ideas. We’re all kind of at a crossroads preparing ourselves and doing our homework in case we have to move toward bankruptcy.
  • If we decide with lots of consultation that that is the better way to continue, we call it reorganization because it is way to continue the Church’s missions even as we deal with the crisis.
  • Or will be go ahead and try to settle cases and responds in that way. I’ll just tell you this– a new term I’ve learned in this whole process by working with an expert attorney from New York who is doing what’s called “insurance archaeology.”
  • It means digging deep into the dioceses and parishes to find every single insurance policy that has ever existed to see what’s covered for these kind of cases and what isn’t. Sometimes parishes in the past had their own insurance policy and so the archaeology term is appropriate because sometimes they have to go down into old files and boxes in the basement of the rectory and they’ll say “Aha! Here’s the policy that covers the 1980’s.” We have periods of time when many of these abuse cases happened when we had insurance for these kinds of offenses. They’ll be some gaps though. So that’s all going on right now.
  • So there’s a lot of work behind the scenes and there’s no decision at this point about which way we’re going to go with that. The fundamental purpose is to do what we have to do for the victims for their justice and healing and at the same time to keep the work of the church in your parishes and in our schools moving forward.
  • There are probably two hundred other things that I would comment on now if I could, but let me say that I appreciate more than you know your passion as hurting Catholics to come here today and to speak the truth from your hearts and minds to me.
  • Is it a vulnerable kind of a feeling? Of course it is and that’s okay. But I want to be with you to help move us forward beyond this into true renewal and purification which is what the whole church needs. The church is – as the Second Vatican Council said – ecclesia semper reformanda, which means it’s always in need of reform. And you are certainly seeing that that’s more than a slogan these days. We need that desperately – there’s no question about that.

 

  • Stephanie: Let me talk a little about next steps. Both the Diocese and the MRT are gathering our notes and comments. After the MRT was formed, we worked and developed some recommendations and delivered them to the Bishop and the Bishop formed a Joint Implementation Team so there’s a group that has representatives from the diocese and representatives from the MRT that are working together to identify tangible, actionable things that can be done. So this will inform work for both of those groups.
  • There is information on MRT at the back if you’re interested. You can get involved with the MRT or you can also just start something in your own parish. That’s within all of our own power to do that. That’s important – how do we get this into the parishes and up from the parishes as well. If you’re inclined to start something, the MRT has some groups that might be one avenue. But if there’s anything that you guys want to do – do it. Form your own group get something started even if it’s just at your parish level.
  • We do have some reporters here – Spectrum News Buffalo, WGRZ-Channel 2 and we have ABC News National here as well. The media is down that hallway and I think kinda to the left. If you want to talk to the media, I’m sure if you head down that hallway, you’ll find them if you go in that direction.
  • Last thing we want to do is a closing prayer
  • Bishop Malone after leading the singing of the Our Father: Let us remember the good priests and keep in mind how many priests have been ordained in our diocese over the year and how many good priests there are.

 

After the session formally closed, I spoke with quite a few people who approached me with comments or concerns. I could sense each person’s deep faith and was grateful for their positive, affirming words. I consider such comments to be a gift from God and the goodness of people’s hearts. It more than makes up for the times when people tell me that I should be in jail, or flip me off, or tell me I’m a bad Catholic.

One older lady was particularly memorable when she shook my hand warmly and told me, “One of my friends doesn’t agree with what you did, but I keep telling her, ‘That girl is the hound of heaven – she’s trying to save Bishop Malone’s soul – she’s the hound of heaven.” She was so sweet as she kept saying “the hound of heaven” while smiling at me. I told her how much it meant to me that she would recognize my lack of hostility toward the Bishop. Indeed, I do care very deeply about his soul and pray always that he might right his course. If I have to keep hounding him to do the right thing, so be it. And, of course, the true Hound of Heaven (as strikingly described in Thompson’s poem, which can be read here) has been at this much longer and far more effectively than me!

Upon exiting the gymnasium/cafeteria where the listening session had been held, I began to look for the media area that Stephanie had mentioned at the close of her remarks. You may recall that her instructions were rather vague: the media was “kinda to the left” and you’ll find them “if you go in that direction.” The following photos were taken in the middle of the hallway she was talking about so that you can see the distance from the gym door to the end of the hallway:

dunkirk hallway to media.jpg
The exit door, which was not labeled, is to the direct left. The media area is at the far end where a camera crew’s gear is visible.
dunkirk hallway other direction.jpg
Those are the gym doors that people would have come out of upon exiting the listening session

People were coming up to me and asking, “How do we get out of here?” because the exit door (seen at the direct left of the first photo) was not labeled. There were no signs at that midpoint indicating where the media were located. They were stuck down at the far end of this long hallway in classrooms such as this:

dunkirk classroom
A TV’ crew’s duffel bag is visible in the middle of the floor

Given how difficult it was to find the exit, you can imagine how very few people were finding the media rooms. I was able to direct a few people in their direction, but it was clear that hardly anyone made it down to speak with the media. You had to be very determined and almost eager to speak with the media in order to take the time to find them. I had the opportunity to speak with all of the media folks there that day and the universal reaction was: “Why are they keeping us from even being seen let alone spoken to by people?” One of the reporters told me that she’d tried to sit in on the session and had promised Kathy Spangler that she would not have a camera or recorder on her. Kathy refused this request and made her go back to her classroom. This reporter kept saying to me, “All we want is to hear people’s thoughts and concerns – we want to give them a chance to speak about these issues. We’re not against the Church – we just want to talk to people.”

When I saw Pete Madden – an ABC National producer whom I now know well – I could immediately tell that the Spangler set-up was getting to him. Pete is the human definition of chill: super relaxed, calm and easy-going. But here he was – sequestered in a kindergarten classroom trying to interview anyone who could find him. He was clearly and understandably frustrated by this unusual, unprofessional and unreasonable set-up. Pete told me that he wanted to interview me, but to wait until “we can go outside and get out of this circus.” As I was waiting for him to wrap up in his classroom, I observed Stephanie, the MRT Moderator, approach Pete and ask him if anyone from the MRT had spoken to him. Pete said that no one had, which seemed to concern Stephanie. She gave Pete a bunch of MRT literature and then said that he should talk to someone from the MRT so their perspective could be shared. Pete said he would interview anyone who wanted to speak with him and asked Stephanie if she would be so inclined. “No,” Stephanie replied, “but Nancy would” referring to Dr. Nancy Nielsen. Dennis Mahaney, who was standing close by, indicated that Nancy “didn’t want to talk to them” and had already left. Pete reiterated that he would speak to anyone – from any organization – who would agree to go on camera. Dennis said he would be so willing and Pete conducted that interview “at the kid’s table,” as he put it later.

I was relieved that we were able to exit the building and conduct a few interviews outside. This is where Pete and his camera guy set up their interview spot:

the blob
Pete and Dave interview The Blob

As you can see, they were careful to set up as close to the church property as they could without standing on it. However freeing it was to be outside, there were some challenges to this location. The primary one concerned road noise. The powerful rain storm that had passed through during the listening session had left the road quite wet, which exacerbated the standard vehicular noise. During my interview, Dave had to signal when Pete and I should speak so as to avoid talking over particularly loud vehicles. But as Pete and Dave said, “It’s way better than being confined to a classroom interviewing people while perched on a kid’s chair.”

For me, it was very embarrassing to see how the media was treated at this event. Our diocese is already a dumpster fire – why add to it by ostracizing the media in such an unprofessional manner? Pete is a national reporter who flew in from a major city to be present at this listening session. The other reporters may not have flown in, but they likely drove at least an hour. It doesn’t matter if it took them 15 minutes or 5 hours to get there – they should have been treated respectfully and professionally. What is the Diocese afraid of?? That people might speak their minds to a national or local reporter? That the media might – gasp – find out that people are frustrated and angry with good cause?

I finished this report on the first anniversary of the last time I talked with Bishop Malone: August 21st, 2018. It was a strange, sad experience to be typing up my notes on his remarks while remembering the last remarks he spoke to me. Perhaps someday I will recount that experience… for now, it is still too painful to describe.

It’s quite a relief to have these listening sessions come to a close. For one thing, my left wrist was about to go on strike if it saw my purple notebook open on a Saturday morning one more time. For another thing, it has been extremely frustrating to listen to the Bishop’s spiels and not be able to interject or challenge so many of his statements. (!!!) And most of all, it was deeply saddening to hear from so many people who wanted answers to their questions and received none. So many people left these listening sessions feeling as though they’d wasted their time and were leaving with more questions than those with which they’d entered.

Thanks to all of you who have followed along on this listening session summer tour of the diocese! Special thanks to all of the pastors and parish staff who hosted these events and coordinated the hospitality that was provided to us. A big shout out to the media who braved the Spangler universe – especially this past Saturday. And to all those who attended these listening sessions… my thanks for your faithfulness and conviction!

Lord, have mercy on us and our diocese.

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.