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

2 thoughts on “Listening Session #6

  • Your reporting gives us a snapshot of what happens at these sessions and it is important since it provides a contemporary account of what the local church is going through as this crisis unfolds.

    Many serious observations and questions are raised but in general it seems like a one way street. Maybe that’s why they’re called listening sessions. The bishop listens but only responds when and as he sees fit.

    With the emphasis today on things like dialogue, encounter, accompaniment, would it be better if in the future there could be more dialogue in the process or would it simply be too messy to try such an approach?

    Like

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