The bee is more honored than other animals,
not because she labors, but because she labors for others.
~ Saint John Chrysostom
My first statement to the media last year ended with these words: “My heart is heavy, but my soul is at peace.” There were many reasons for that heaviness of heart, but one of the foremost was that I felt as though I’d left a comrade on the battlefield. Father Ryszard, my colleague of three years and hopefully a forever friend, was still working closely with and for Bishop Malone. Last autumn, I was so desperate to get Father Ryszard out of there that I practically staged an intervention. Fortunately, it did not occur as planned and Father had the stamina to persevere in his role as Secretary to the Bishop. Without his strength, we would not have The Malone Recordings.
As I noted in a statement to the media, none of the information revealed in the Malone Recordings is shocking to me. It simply confirms what I came to learn about Bishop Malone – that he is an arrogant, cowardly and self-centered prelate who is incapable of effective, pastoral leadership. He must resign immediately.
The real story of the Malone Recordings is the heroic courage and quiet strength of Father Ryszard Biernat. He is an immigrant, a missionary, a survivor and a priest. It was appalling to learn about and then witness how the Diocese and Bishop Malone treated Father Ryszard. They revictimized and retraumatized him repeatedly. If this is how they treat a survivor priest who was a member of Senior Staff, no wonder they treat other survivors so deplorably! All last year, I desperately hoped that Bishop Malone would be the man I had thought him to be. At every turn, he dashed those hopes. Father Ryszard, on the contrary, became even more the man I thought he was – a man of God devoted to the good of His people.
Before he became a whistle blower priest, Father Ryszard was best known as the beekeeper priest. His affinity for bees began in the 5th grade and has only grown stronger since then. I used to love it when Father Ryszard would stop by the Chancery in his bee suit on his way to the bees. I don’t have a picture of that ensemble, sad to say, but I do have a photo of his “bee truck” parked in the Catholic Center lot:
Father Ryszard was always filled with such tangible joy when he was heading out to see his bees. I used to laugh and say that I was one of his millions of co-workers since he had so many bees in his hives! Father is very well suited to the craft of beekeeping as it requires a love for animals and nature, a curious and resourceful mind, a resilient and humble spirit, great trust in God and a calm demeanor in the face of potential stings! Father devoted so much time, effort and energy to caring for his bees and cultivating their golden gift so as to share it with others. It was clear that Father cherished his time with the bees as an opportunity to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate his spirit.
In addition to creating his renowned Holy Honey, Father Ryszard used his beekeeping experience to enrich his homilies and talks. In a 2014 interview, he explained that “honey bees in Eastern and Central Europe are a symbol of the Christian religion because they work together and sacrifice. Their instinct is to protect the hive. Hives are a living organism with different bees taking the role of collecting water, nectar, pollen, feeding the young and cleaning the hive. They take many roles with one goal – producing something good. [Hence] the parallels between the hive and the Church.”
Father Ryszard lived out this hive symbolism in his person and in his priesthood. He was the ultimate team player: helpful, hard-working and humble. Never once – not once in three years! – did I ever ask him for help without receiving an immediate, affirmative response. He would almost literally drop what he was doing to help someone in need whether they requested a bus pass, a Bible or a blessing. He did many good deeds in quiet, unassuming ways. Father likely never realized that I noticed his humble acts of service or generosity. He was not doing good for accolades or applause – as Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz are wont to do – but to serve God and His people. I often thought that in so many ways, Father Ryszard embodied this description of Jesus from the Acts of the Apostles: “He went about doing good.”
Father was always seeking out or responding to opportunities to minister to the people of God in WNY. Gifted with tremendous empathy, he was often at the bedside of the dying or consoling those who grieved their loss. A humorous and holy preacher, he was constantly being asked to say Mass, lead a mission or give a talk. Naturally comfortable with people of all ages, he was beloved by children and revered by adults. More than a few times, people would find out where I worked and say, “Oooh, you get to work with Father Ryszard every day??!!!” Usually this query came from a parishioner at one of the parishes where Father Ryszard was stationed before he was assigned to the Chancery. “Father Ryszard used to be at our parish and we just loved him and we miss him so much” were words that I heard frequently. I remember one little girl telling me just how lucky I was to work with Father Ryszard. She was so very right.
In addition to his generous ministry, Father Ryszard lived out the hive symbolism through his many sacrifices for the Church of Buffalo, as he always referred to our diocese. He came to Buffalo as a young Polish man who barely spoke English and was still acclimating to our U.S. culture. Sexually abused by a priest when he was a seminarian, he would be revictimized by Bishop Grosz and retraumatized by Bishop Malone. Yet Father persevered through it all and was ordained here in 2009. He has generously served the people of our diocese since then. Like the bee, as St. John Chrysostom said, Father has labored for others. He even accepted the hardest assignment of them all: Secretary to Bishop Malone.
Some of the priests seemed to think that Father Ryszard was living on easy street with his Chancery assignment. No, he was living on servitude street. You want to know the first thing that tipped me off that Bishop Malone was not the man I thought he was? His treatment of Father Ryszard. Bishop Malone was mercurial in the worst way. One day he was treating Ryszard like a beloved nephew — the next day Father would be on his black list for some unknown (and likely asinine) reason. No matter how the Bishop was treating him, Father Ryszard continued to do the following with admirable grace and good cheer: drive him every where, share most meals with him, attend almost all of the same meetings, coordinate and direct all of his liturgies, arrange for all of his travel, and listen to him day in and day out. In Father Ryszard I witnessed heroic charity in the face of hubristic cattiness. So often last year I braced myself for 5-6 hours of Bishop Malone only to realize that Father Ryszard routinely spent every waking hour with him. Such realizations always made me cringe… and left me in awe of Father.
There is much that can and will be said regarding the content and context of the Malone Recordings. It is not the purpose of this post to dwell on those specifics although I am familiar with such matters. Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you about Father Ryszard and the good man of God that he is. Like his bees, Father Ryszard has continuously worked and sacrificed to “produce something good.” He is as honest as he is genuine. He sincerely strives for holiness. And he always seeks to do good.
At the end of the aforementioned interview, Father Ryszard was asked what makes him happy (other than working with bees and kids – albeit not simultaneously). His response is pure and beautiful: “Celebrating the Eucharist behind the altar – I feel as if I belong there. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as comfortable; it’s like a puzzle piece that just fits. There is a great affirmation – like drinking satisfies thirst; for me, celebrating the Eucharist affirms my calling. I can’t picture myself any happier than I am right now, doing what’s right and following the Lord.”
I believe that Father Ryszard has done what is right and is following the Lord. Father is making the truth known and bringing light into our ongoing diocesan darkness. It is hard to express both my pride in him and my loyalty toward him.
Father Ryszard used to be my trusted colleague. Now, he is a fellow whistle blower. But most of all – he is my good friend. He has my heartfelt gratitude, admiration and support.