An Apostolic Visitation

Well, I must admit that the timing made me laugh. Just yesterday I noted that I would be stepping away from social media for a time and then this afternoon’s announcement happened! Obviously these things are completely, totally and utterly unrelated, but the timing was amusing nonetheless. I’m still planning to take a break from social media, but wanted to react to this milestone announcement.

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There’s a lot to unpack here so I’ll use bullet points for brevity:

  • “Near future:” It will be interesting to see how quickly this visitation occurs. Region II bishops – the ordinaries of all the NYS dioceses – are due over in Rome in early November for their ad limina visits with Pope Francis. (The entire USCCB will meet as usual in mid-November. It remains to be seen what they’ll do about the bishops missing from Baltimore due to their being in Rome.)
  • “Fact-finding mission:” This sounds great! But from whom will the facts be found? THAT is my primary question. If the facts are going to be sought from Malone, Grosz, Karalus, LiPuma, Halter and the like, it will be a mission impossible.
  • “Reports specifically to the Congregation for Bishops:” Okay… so we’ve got a bishop investigating a bishop and reporting to a congregation for bishops. Got it. This can’t go wrong.
  • “To evaluate situations in dioceses:” There are situations and then there are SITUATIONS. There is a SITUATION in the Diocese of Buffalo – all caps, full stop. The language of this message makes the matter sound much more minor than it is.

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  • “DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn has been assigned to… conduct this fact-finding mission:” This is the ecclesial equivalent of having an employee investigate their colleague. DiMarzio and Malone are equals. They are in the same province and are very familiar with each other. They’ve been at World Youth Day together, they’ve attended the same NYS Bishops’ Retreats in Florida, and they see each other at several meetings a year – the NYS Board of Bishops meetings and the NYS Province meetings at the USCCB gatherings. They’ve been on countless conference calls with Cardinal Dolan over the years. There is a natural concern here as to how objectively DiMarzio can investigate a fellow bishop of his own province. I mean no disrespect to Bishop DiMarzio here. I am simply asking a genuine and crucial question: how effectively and objectively can a bishop investigate his brother bishop especially if they are from the same province? When Bishop Holly’s Diocese of Memphis was under an apostolic investigation, they sent a bishop from Atlanta and another from St. Paul-Minneapolis as the “apostolic visitors.” This is a crucial difference. It’s hard enough for a bishop to investigate a fellow bishop! If they are colleagues from the same province, the objectivity concern increases significantly.
    • Let’s not forget what Father Ryszard told us last month… how several NYS bishops were saying to Bishop Malone that “if you go, we will be next.” The sentiment was: Don’t resign, Richard, or it’ll be a domino effect and we don’t want the laity to have power over us like that. I don’t know if Bishop DiMarzio was one of the bishops who shared those sentiments, but it does raise a serious concern. The bishops of NYS have stuck together through lobbying against the CVA and starting IRCP’s in their dioceses… why wouldn’t two NYS bishops stick together through an apostolic visitation as well?
  • “This visitation is a non-judicial and non-administrative process.” I suppose that first adjective means that DiMarzio will not be making any judgments – just collecting information and passing it on. But I don’t know how the process could be non-administrative. “Administrative” is defined as “relating to the running of a business, organization, etc.” The diocese is an organization AND a business and this will be a process focused on the diocese. I don’t think that adjective is accurate.
  • “It is not subject to the recent instruction… Vos Estis, Lux Mundi.” WHY NOT??!!! Vos Estis outlined new norms against those who have abused or have covered up abuse. It offered some hope that bishops would be held accountable for their actions (or inactions, which was often the case with Malone). I simply don’t understand why Vos Estis hasn’t been invoked in our diocese. The fact that it has NOT been invoked after all these months strongly suggests that Rome and DC don’t have grave concerns about Bishop Malone’s leadership (or lack thereof) and his handling of the abuse scandal in our diocese. But I certainly have those grave concerns… and I know so very many people share them.
  • “The results will be submitted to the Holy See.” The “results” of a “non-judicial, non-administrative process?” Results would suggest some sort of judgment, assessment or administration.

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It was good to read that Bishop DiMarzio is aware of what a difficult time we’re having here in Buffalo. I hope that he will have a chance to hear about the difficulties from a variety of people to get a fuller sense of it. As for his promise to maintain an open mind, I sincerely pray he can fulfill that vital promise.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that sources have informed me that the Diocese of Brooklyn has many troubles of its own. One source with personal experience there noted that within the Diocese of Brooklyn, there are accused perpetrators still in ministry despite having CVA suits filed against them. This source noted that it’s only a matter of time before more comes out of Brooklyn. This is extremely distressing information, but it is important for us to be aware of it.

Not surprisingly, Bishop Malone had a statement all ready to go in response to the Nuncio’s message:

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Well, that’s two more things DiMarzio and Malone have in common – they both have spokeswomen and none of them will be making any further comments on this matter. Must be nice to be the head of an organization, institution or business where you can just say “no comment” as much and as often as you’d like!

As for Bishop Malone welcoming this visitation, that’s a cause for concern in and of itself. Of course, he could just be putting on a brave face, but that’s not a visage he pulls from his countenance closet very often. More likely, Bishop Malone doesn’t feel he has anything to worry about because his buddy Nicholas is going to come by for a visit and all will be well because… #bishops.

So what do I think about this Apostolic Visitation?

I’m torn between natural optimism and learned cynicism.

It’s about time SOMETHING was done. I was beginning to wonder if Rome and DC had turned our diocese to the “DNR” setting. A “Communique Regarding the Diocese of Buffalo” from the Nuncio’s office is, if nothing else, a significant milestone along the path of this marathon.

But the newly cynical side of me struggles to see how a bishop investigating a bishop for a congregation of bishops will result in any concrete change or actual accountability. I worry that this is meant to placate us: “We took care of everything – aren’t you pleased? You got an apostolic visitation! What more could you ask for?”

In many respects, we will have to wait and see. How will DiMarzio go about finding facts? With whom will he consult and inquire? As two of Bishop Malone’s closest assistants, I hope that Father Ryszard and I will be meeting Bishop DiMarzio sometime soon. I would love to give him a binder full of facts! How long will DiMarzio spend here? How open will his mind be? What information will ultimately end up with the Holy See? AND WHAT WILL BE DONE ABOUT IT?!

Yet I take it a sign of hope that the Noah’s Ark dove figures so prominently in Bishop DiMarzio’s coat of arms. That dove and its olive branch are such an ancient, enduring symbol of hope. We must have hope. His motto is also a beautiful one: “Behold Your Mother.” A timely reminder that Our Lady, whose rosary we celebrate this month, is always with us in this vale of tears. I’m off to say my rosary… I will be praying for our diocese – and Bishop DiMarzio – with all my heart and soul.

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The Case of the Missing Calendar

The October edition of the Western New York Catholic was published online yesterday and can be viewed via this link. The first thing I looked for was Bishop Malone’s calendar of meetings and public events, which is a standard feature of our diocesan newspaper. I scrolled directly to the first few pages, which are always devoted to the “Ministry of the Bishop” and contain the Bishop’s calendar and photos of his ministry around the diocese. But this month? The calendar and photos are not to be found.

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Now I can’t say that I was totally shocked by the absence of the calendar. There are two primary reasons why I believe it was eliminated this month: 1) a desire to prevent public protests, which require advance notice of where the Bishop will be and when; 2) the fact that his calendar may be in a substantial amount of flux these days.

For example, last night was the St. Therese feast day Mass at the Carmelite Monastery. It is a longstanding tradition for the bishop of the diocese to celebrate that Mass. But Bishop Malone wasn’t there last night. Either he decided not to attend or he was asked not to be there. This is just the latest in a growing list of events the Bishop has not attended for scandal-related reason.

October means the autumn Confirmation season begins in earnest. Although the fall Confirmation schedule is never as full as its spring counterpart, it still includes many stops on the “chrism trail,” as Bishop Malone used to refer to it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from quite a few parents who do not want Bishop Malone to confirm their confirmand(s). And they’re not happy with the idea that Bishop Grosz or Father Peter Karalus (the other designated diocesan confirmer) would be the replacement for Bishop Malone. I don’t know how this is playing out at parishes where Bishop Malone intended to confirm, but I’m sure there have been discussions about it. Perhaps the Bishop’s Confirmation schedule was still in flux when the October issue went to print. (We always had to have the Bishop’s calendar and column ready about 1 week before the paper was printed.)

The greater surprise for me in this month’s edition was the shocking absence of Bishop Malone’s face and name amidst its pages. This is the first time I know of when Bishop Malone does not appear in any photo in the publication. I remember how Msgr. Litwin used to go through the paper every month and count how many times Bishop Malone’s image appeared within its pages. Sometimes he would have us guess how many times – the average was usually around 5. Many times, the Bishop figured prominently on the cover itself! By contrast, this month’s issue contains 0 photos of him and only 7 mentions of his name – most in standard usage (his appointment of priests, for example). By contrast, the Bishop’s name appeared 28 times in the August edition of the paper with two photos of him on his “picture page.”

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I have myriad memories of working on the Bishop’s public and private calendars with Fr. Ryszard and Bishop Malone. When I first started at the Chancery, I realized that calendar-related questions and decisions would be a major part of my job. There were so many calendar requests and clarifications to discuss that I asked Bishop Malone if we could meet regularly to go over the calendar. When the Bishop acquiesced, I began referring to “Calendar Club Meetings” on his daily agenda and the name stuck. I even started using this Calendar Club logo on our meeting agendas! We would joke around that it was a very exclusive Club with membership limited to the three of us. Our Chancery colleagues would laugh and say they weren’t jealous – who would want to handle all the details of the Bishop’s calendar?

But you know who loved calendar work? Bishop Malone! Whenever I’d mention that I had a calendar question for him, his eyes would light up and he’d eagerly pull his “black book” (his trusty Day-Timer) out of his jacket pocket. He genuinely enjoyed the puzzle work of the calendar and never tired of taking questions about it. On the rare occasions when he left his black book at home, he would quip that he felt “incomplete” without it. And even when our Club agendas were 4 or 5 pages long, the Bishop was not distressed. He would tell other staff about those long agendas and seemed proud that we had so much calendar work to accomplish.

We sure have come a long way since those rosy Calendar Club days. Now the Bishop’s public calendar is not available to the public… at least for this month. This calendar concealment will curtail our peaceful protesting for a few weeks, but it won’t cease our efforts to call for Bishop Malone to resign.

Bishop Malone has disappeared from the Western New York Catholic.

Now he needs to disappear from Western New York.