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