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:
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:
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:
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.