Bishop Scharfenberger’s Remarks and Q&A at St. Mary’s, Swormville

The following is the transcription from a recording taken during the parish event on Sunday, February 23, 2020. Text has been tightened when necessary and any inaudible words have been removed to avoid misinterpretation. 

Introduction

Thanks, Father Bob. Now just to put a couple of things in context. As you know, I never expected to be here. I never expected to Bishop of Albany. I was a parish priest, happily in Brooklyn. I got a call one day that the Pope wanted me to become the new Bishop of Albany. It was a big surprise. And I was just as surprised by a similar call from a different guy saying we’d like you to help us out in Buffalo.

But I’m very happy to be here, because I believed my job as a priest to be of service to the church any way I can. And that’s why I’m here. I want to do anything I can to help you to be people of God has called you to be. And I say that because … A little bit about my vision about what the Church is. We know that Jesus has called each and every one of us to be a disciple. Therefore, each and every one of us is important and is part of the Body of Christ. And a lot of times, people will ask me questions like, what are you going to do? You, Bishop – how are you going to change the Church. And my response to that is, well I’m just one person. If there are things that are wrong with the church, we can’t blame one person. And if there are things that are going to be set right, we can’t expect one person to do that, except for Jesus Himself.

But what he has done, Jesus has done for each and every one of us is to call us to be a part of that family. So, my first way of looking at this is, we’re all family, each and very one of us. Each and every one of is a plays a part. And each and every one of us has to call out in one another what that role may be.

Percentage of Abuse

Now, another part of my experiences of late and I find it difficult to preach because I can’t help but think that anytime I preach for a congregation, a good … Well I’ve been thinking for a while, maybe about 25% of those in the congregation have suffered tremendously from some form of abuse. But I don’t just mean sexual abuse by priests. That’s a big, big factor. But I mean some form of abuse. Feeling disregarded. Feeling somehow unnoticed, unthanked. And a lot of times, I do hear that from folks. You know, after all I’ve done, no one thanks me or nobody even notices me. If I don’t show up for mass for a week or two, does anybody even notice that that pew is empty.

So there’s a lot of that. Somebody has advised me and said, “You know Bishop, it’s not 25%. It’s about 50%.” Which means probably the person sitting next to you, if it’s not you yourself, probably have a story of pain, a cross they’re carrying. Maybe something has happened in their life. So I can’t help but think of that as a context. I hate to see people suffering in silence. And that’s one of the things that motivates me just to be here. I don’t want anybody to feel left out.

Ad Limina Visit with Pope Francis, November 2019

So I hope … let me put it in this context. About three months ago, as you may know, the bishops of New York State met with the Holy Father, and his mucky mucks all over in Rome, the people in the Congregation. And we sat with the Pope, and that was the highlight of our trip.

adlimina shcarf

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany and other U.S. bishops from the state of New York walk through the Apostolic Palace after meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican Nov. 15, 2019. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

But, he sat there right in the middle, this big, palatial setting. No tables, no microphones. Maybe just a little bottle of water. And the first thing he said, after he prayed, was just that, “We’re here as brothers. And I want you to be able to speak freely. And don’t be afraid, you can say whatever is on your mind. And I will tell you a little about what’s on my mind.” And he said, “You know, there’s some things that you do that I really don’t understand, in the United States.” And he also said that, “I’m sure there are some things that I do, or I say, or people have said I say, that you don’t understand. But I want you feel that you can talk about that.” And it really broke the ice. So in that context, I’d like to offer that to you. He also spoke about how … That you realize how difficult it was to be a priest, to be a bishop, in this time, with all they’ve been going through. And I say the same thing to you. It’s not easy to be a Christian in our time.

There’s a lot of people who find it very difficult and very scandalized. And so is the pain that we’ve seen. And I can only imagine, when first some of these revelations started to come out, a year ago last summer, with McCarrick and of course the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. The first thing that I felt in my heart was I felt, “what am I going to say to the pastors, and the people in the parish who are in the front lines?” That’s what I was concerned about. And with the type of questions that they would be hearing from their loved ones … What’s going on here? What can we do about this? And so, that is what really hurt my heart. And that’s why I’ve been trying as best as I can to meet with my old priests, and to encourage them, and also other parish leaders as well, because each person is a leader. You may be the only Jesus that may person may ever known. The people that you meet, they know you’re a Catholic, they know you’re a person who is close to the Lord. You know, they look up to you. And I want to support you in that.

Another thing about Pope Francis … Somebody asked, and I forget who, “What is it that you think about as you go to sleep at night? What are the things that really bother you the most?” You know what he said? He said, “What concerns me more than anything else is the family and the pressures that so many families undergo. And the need to really address that.” So here’s my vision of what I feel about the diocese and the parishes. I see a parish as a family. Or even a family of families. I see the diocese as really nothing else but a family, a family of parishes. The health of the diocese is in the parishes. So something I would like to do is to encourage the families and the parishes within the diocese.

Diocesan Assessments

A question that was has come up and I’ll address that a little more later … what about the assessments, you know. Every diocese has this. This is not unique. But every diocese has some form of an assessment of parishes. And the purpose of it, the general purpose of it, is to assist the diocese in helping all parishes in a way that sometimes it’s difficult to do a little bit on a smaller scale. So there are some things at times, that you could do a larger scale to help parishes out. And that can be all sorts of things, like aid to schools … And that’s one thing. Or for helping people, like a building project, they could do that. Or for helping to supply people that are catechists, and the teachers, in order to do that type of formation. Or the formation of seminarians, deacons and so forth. Some of these programs, even though parishes participate in this, are sometimes best done on a larger organizational level.

Basically, the assessment is what helps the diocese to help other parishes. You can debate that. You know, sometimes is it too much, is it too little, is it done fairly? You’d like everybody to participate in some way and the way they can. Some parishes may be more capable of doing this than others. And there’s a rational basis in order for this to be done. That’s the basis for this.

Abuse Scandal and Abuse Survivors

But back to the original, important thing is that I want everybody to feel that they are a part of who we are as a family. We’re a family of families. One of the things that has brought that home to me is the opportunity to meet with a number of people. I don’t like to use the word victims, but I like to say the survivors of sexual abuse. And I don’t know about you, but when some of this started to break, a lot of this consciousness that we have about what’s been going on, we hadn’t known about it. And all the shocking revelations that now go back some 20 years, back in 2001. Back to Dallas, the Dallas Charter.

You know, my first reaction was, “Well this must be something coming from the media, that’s trying to attack the Catholic Church. Somebody’s trying to hurt the Church.” And I don’t doubt that there are people that have issues with the Church, and have agendas, things they don’t like about the Church. It could be any number of things. You know, on the basis of our pro-life stand. It might have something to do with our beliefs about marriage and all that. Maybe some people feel that the Church isn’t progressive enough, isn’t going fast enough. And we talk about the ordination of married people, women, so forth. Could be some of those agendas. But I have come to believe that that is really not the best way to look at this. The fact is that there have been people who have suffered from tremendous abuse and that is coming to light and it is better that it comes to light.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything new about this. I think the reality of this – maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. But I think that since the Garden of Eden, there’s been things like this going on. This is the first time in which we had the opportunity to know about that.

But here’s the thing that has my changed my life a lot. I have come to hear the stories of a number of people that have shared. They’re not all victims of sexual abuse by priests. I mean, anybody that’s grown up in an alcoholic home – if I can say it that way – know how boundaries can be broken. And those who suffer from domestic bias. How many times as a priest, and you hear this all the time, somebody comes to confession, and then to break into tears. And the priest would say, “Is there something you want to talk about,” and the person will say “Yes,” you know, and “My husband if violent.” So they might talk about why she should leave him if he is violent and she might say “Well, I can’t leave him, because if I leave him, then the children won’t have support,” and it’s a tremendous struggle with that. And it could be children abused by parents, parents abused by children. You do know that 80% of abuse, of sexual abuse, happens in homes, by people that are known: parents, uncles, and aunts, and so forth.

So, this awareness, and being able to speak with people, and learning, it really isn’t about money. Most victims and survivors just want to be taken seriously, want somebody to hear their story, and not to judge them, so that they feel guilty. I had one woman, I’ll call her Theresa – that’s her real name because she doesn’t mind if I tell her story. She was introduced to me by another friend of mine who is a survivor. And he was a person who I met when I was on the Brooklyn Review Board. And every diocese has a review board that is a unique kind of review board. By the way, that’s one of the things that some people have asked – what have I changed since I’ve been here. One of the things I wanted to be sure is that our review board, that advises the Bishop on any cases or allegations of sexual abuse by clergy is truly independent.

So, I made some changes right up front, in terms of who was on that board. In other words, I didn’t want it to be an over-representation by the diocesan officials. That the persons on the board were not employees. And that they truly were independent. No attorneys on the board, no diocesan attorneys. Not even the Vicar General. But people who truly would speak their minds, and I made it very, very clear that I expect them and commissioned them to be independent. I always tell them don’t be afraid of offending me. Tell me the truth, I can deal with the truth. Don’t be afraid of what the Bishop will say, what he will think, you know. Like any other human being when I hear stuff sometimes I, you know, I lose my cool. But, I want to be told the truth. And I think they understand that.

But I had that experience during my time on the Brooklyn Review Board. I was the one priest that was chosen by the other clergy to be there because I am a canon lawyer like Father Zilliox. But I came to really know some of these folks, their intentions, their honesty, the truth of what they’ve experienced. And it’s really, really changed my life.

Speaking about Teresa… she had suffered her abuse when she was about six years old, at the hands of a priest friend of the family, when he used to visit her parents. They thought the priest was a living saint. And she didn’t know, of course. What does a six year old know what was happening. And he started to abuse her. This went on for three years, until she was nine.

And then he got sick, and he didn’t visit anymore. How does a nine-year old, a six-year old, process this, you know. And she had two other sisters. And she shared with me some of the things that she went through, some of these stages, like oh, she started to think … Obviously, she didn’t feel … I shouldn’t say, obviously. Maybe that’s not obvious. But she didn’t feel she could tell her parents, because her parents loved this priest so much. And she was afraid they wouldn’t believe her. So, it created some distance with her parents. And then she started to feel guilty, that maybe this was happening to her sisters, too. So she felt a responsibility that somehow she the victim, was bad, or worse, because she didn’t help protect her sister. Now, this is a nine-year old girl dealing with this.

So you can see how with this kind of experience, and not having anybody to talk to, and feeling even more guilty because she wasn’t talking to anyone, you can understand the dilemma here. She went into her teen years, and being a very brilliant person, she did well in school, but gradually, she started a lot of other issues, depression and so forth. She thought of taking her own life.

As Teresa tells the story, she says, “You know, I left the church 13 times.” She did go through anger and rage. By the way, let me say this. If you any of you are angry about anything, don’t repress it. That’s the necessary stage. And if you’re angry about something, say it, say it. You can’t deny it. But you can’t stay here either. Anger can be a very good thing, because it can be very justified, and it has to be expressed.

But then, it can also be a motivation, and say, okay, now how am I going to take this passion, and put this into something that I’m going to do to help this get better. So it could also fuel a passion. It doesn’t just happen, and you get over it.

You know, one of those things for anybody that’s been traumatized and some of you know this from experience, is that there’s what we call a triggering factor. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s like PTSD. Anybody that’s been a victim, if you’ve been to Vietnam or something like that, you experience battle. You can be home from that, and you’re in the kitchen, your wife drops a pan, and it sounds like a bomb going off again. It can trigger reactions. I don’t mean this to be in any way flippant or funny. There’s a lot of times when the person that has been a victim, of any sort of abuse, may not feel comfortable in certain spaces. So a person that calls up and wants to talk about their experience, they may not want to do that in a church because that may trigger in their mind memories of the person who may have been a priest that abused them.

But Teresa said she left her church about 13 times. She kept going back … And this is my point … She kept feeling called to come back. So she would come into the church, and she would maybe sit in the back. She wouldn’t necessarily stay for mass. But she felt Jesus flowing. And she said, “I’m not going to let anything interfere with my relationship with the Lord.” And, little by little, she came back. And believe it or not, today, she wants to help the Church. She wants to help priests. And she even came to me as the bishop and said, “Bishop, I want to help you.”

This has stirred my belief, that every person that’s hurt in any way, whoever you may be, is actually not only a precious member of our family, but somebody that is an extremely important part of our healing process. And particularly, those who have often felt most affected. To feel that you’re part of this mission that we share. So, that has been … What I try to do is, I’ve always seen this as primarily, as a fundamentally spiritual thing. Whether it’s adults or it’s children, it’s a spiritual, moral thing. We all need to understand the dignity of every person. We can’t use other people as objects. And if somebody is not able to fight their tendencies to abuse somebody … And there are people that have mental … No question, psychological illnesses. You know, many of the priests that abuse, themselves were also abused. Which isn’t to say that everybody who’s been abused is going to do that. Many people, you know this from your personal experience, who end up resorting to violence in the marriage, for example, or the relationship, were themselves subjected to violence, by a parent or somebody in their life. We have to try to break that vicious. And the only way that we can do this is by listening to one another and walking with one another and supporting one another.

Spiritual Renewal

In my mind, what I try to do is encourage everybody to get holy. So look at our own lives and say, what are the patterns in my own life that aren’t holy? Where are my vicious circles? What is it in my mind that I need to touched by God’s healing grace?

Because each and every one of us, Jesus loves. I remember back in school, they used to tell us “Jesus loves you so much, that he would die for you, if you were the only person in the world.” And that’s the truth. And if every one of us really believe that, that no matter what we’ve done or where we’ve been, or what bad thoughts we’ve had, or what has been done to us, or how unworthy we feel or how broken we feel. Or how hopeless we may be, it doesn’t matter. That Jesus is still reaching out to us, and into our lives. He’s saying, I love you, I would die for you. And it’s the whole story of His life.

So, more than anything else, I think that it’s a spiritual renewal for each and every one of us … Priests and lay people alike. And one of the reasons that I call for the consecration of our diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary – 33 Days til Morning Glory – a little retreat based on the spirituality of St. Louis deMontfort. I have found it in my own life to be tremendously transformative. You give everything over to Mary, and you trust her to lead you to the heart of Jesus. And that’s really what it’s all about. So, it’s a spiritual thing.

Administration and Investigation

And then as I said, the confidence in our administrative structures. I know there’s been a lot of thoughts and talk about cover-up, and things like that. And secret files, and so forth. And I can talk about that if you want. There is in Canon law … You know, there is such a thing as a secret file. However, personnel files of priests and lay people, have never been a part of so-called secret files. But usually they [secret files] were for things that were not in the public forum, so to speak, like a clandestine marriage, a marriage that took place maybe between people that was not legal, according to church and to civil law. Or correspondence maybe between the Holy See that was confidential, things of that nature.

And I said this many times, I’ll say it again: Criminality is not entitled to secrecy. And I’ve already asked the District Attorney of our county right here to please, come in, look at the files. I don’t want anything to be hidden. [in:

We know you know there is an Attorney General investigation going on currently. All personnel files are being subject to a review, to see if there is any evidence of anything that is being hidden.

Survivors Viewing Files

And I said it very publicly too, if there’s any person that has suffered from abuse, who wants to know something for whom it would be helpful, in the process of healing, to know something about the history of the personnel who abused them if it was a priest. And I would be very happy to sit down with that person, and let them examine the record to see what is in there. Where was he located, where he was treated, and so forth and so on.

And so, as far as the transparency and openness, ability to take a look at something that affects you personally, I believe you should be able to see that. So, I just want you to know that that is another thing that I have been trying to do, to open up the files.

Financials

As far as financial records are concerned, you know there is a Diocesan Financial Report that is published, and it is detailed on our website. And it is done every year.

Sometimes, one of the questions that comes up is, what about parish collections? You know, is that going to be used to pay off settlements. And to the best of my knowledge … Parish collections are merely … The money that comes from parish collections belong to the parish. A parish is a separate corporation, according to New York state law. And not even the Bishop can just say “give me your collection.” That’s why I have to ask for your assessment – I can’t just come in and take it. That is your money – that is parish money. But I’m asking for your support for the diocesan services that are really there for you, and for all of your parishes. It’s not for me or for anybody else.

So, there is that, that separation. Now again, I understand, there may not be credibility, and I accept that. But you know what I’m saying, that I have to follow the law, too. So, when I was asked by the press on the very first day, they were asking me if I’m going to make changes and publish the files, and things like that. I said I will do whatever I can within the parameters of canon and civil law. So, I want to follow whatever the procedures are. But to answer the question though, parish funds cannot be used to pay the settlements.

So, I don’t know if there are other questions, but these are some of the things that I’ve been hearing, about transparency, and files, about finances.

Abusive Priests

What are we doing about priests that abused – you know, where are they? Who monitors them? This is one of the things that I take very seriously. And I’m in the process right now of making sure that I have contact with all of them and know who they are. Again, my own Diocese of Albany, and I don’t want to do anything here I’m not doing there, and vice-versa. But recently, I formed a committee, that’s specific role is to make sure that even if process has not been completed yet, that we know where he is, and that he has supervision. So, it’s very, very important that we take care of that…. You know, we’re a big family, and both those that have done wrong, as well as those who have been harmed.

Miscellaneous

So, I think I’ve spoken a little too much. But I wanted to give you some ideas of some of the things that I’ve been reading about, and trying to do, and … But you may have some advice for me. And you may have some questions for me about things that … And ask me about anything. Some people want the Latin Mass back, and I actually did a baptism yesterday in the traditional form, in the Latin Rite. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it. It was very interesting.

But one of the things that impressed me is that in the old Latin Rite, there was a lot of mention about the devil and the influence of evil. And I don’t see a lot of that in the new rite. You know, I remember back in the ’60s, and that was a time we were burning all this stuff, and everyone’s just having fun and didn’t want to talk about sin anymore. I don’t think we need to worry about that in our day and age, to be honest with you, that the devil is real. Satanic influences are real. Temptation is real. And we need to pray to St. Michael the Archangel. And we need a savior because we can’t save ourselves. So anyway, but it was a fascinating thing to see that, the desire to protect the child from the influence of evil, it was mentioned again and again.

And I’m saying, isn’t that really where we failed. And that’s one of the reasons today, thank God, we do have, I think better procedures – if you see something, say something. Do not be afraid. If you know somebody that talks to you say, don’t be afraid. Talk to the Bishop. It’s okay, I won’t yell at anybody, I promise. And I know you have a nice pastor. But I can’t guarantee that everyone who approaches a church person, is always going to feel you know that they’re going to be taken seriously.

So, I don’t know, the first person that asks a question, you’re the bravest.

Question & Answer Period

Moderator:

Thank you. Just to remind you to please line up in the center aisle and we will have one question per person and I’ll let you know when we’re starting to run out of time.

#1 Questioner:

Your Excellency, we thank you for coming here. We do have a question, with regards to the three clergymen who are credibly accused of sexual abuse. One of whom has a very nasty history, going back several years, and going back to the seminary. None of the victims have received any kind of support, or any kind of reconciliation, with regards to what has happened to them, what has occurred with those priests. And, even in this diocese, we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know what’s happening with these three priests, and their victims. So, I must ask: what is going to be done? And I think that is a fair question to ask about these three members of the clergy and for their former parishioners.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

If you would do me a favor, to write down the names of those three priests, and any victims that you may know of, so that I may get in contact with them and I’ll do what I can to address it.

1st Questioner:

I’ve already given Father Bob an eight-page treatise on the subject.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Then if it’s okay with you, please get that to me and I’ll do what I can.

2nd Questioner:

Good afternoon, Bishop. You said that the parish funds are not to be used in the lawsuits to reimburse victims. But what about the assessments? And what about Upon This Rock?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

The same thing. The same thing with Upon This Rock. The funds have to be used for what they were designated for, and what the program said it was for. And for the assessment, every single dollar goes specifically for the support of diocesan programs, and those that run those programs. None of that goes to any settlements.

2nd Questioner:

So, just to clarify. Where does the money come from?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Through the specific agencies in the diocese that are responsible for helping the parishes to do their work. So that would be —

2nd Questioner:

No, I mean the money that you’re going to pay out to victims. Where does that money come from?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Probably from the sale of the diocesan assets that have accumulated over the years. In other words … you know, from the sale of, probably property, and probably from money that has been invested, and the interest on that money. I don’t know if it’s started or what has been done. But that’s where it will come from.

3rd Questioner:

Thank you for coming, Bishop. This touched on a topic that I am very interested in – properties and the appearance of our diocese. In your time hear, we’ve learned that our seminary and formation center will be closing. And I know a spiritual center, a monastery, was put up for sale. As a lifelong Buffalonian to realize that the appearance, the face of our diocese is losing two long-standing institutions, might we expect any other changes, any property losses within the diocese, and is it for payment?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Well, I can tell you this much, the decision not to continue with the seminary program is not related to settlements, at all. It’s based upon the actuals, the circumstances we’ll be facing were actually faced for many years, in which the seminary budget had a severe deficit, of roughly about $500,000 a year. And the reason that it’s been able to continue … And it’s been a wonderful seminary. I want to say that the history is illustrious, and that has to be fully acknowledged.

But, for a number of years, the reason the seminary is able to continue is because of substantial reserves, that have built up over the years. And occasionally extraordinary gifts of friends, who have been able to help it. Of course, we can’t plan on those extraordinary gifts. But as we were looking forward, what we were seeing is that the reserves that we have been counting on, will run out in a year and a half. So in a year and a half, they would no longer be there, we would still have that $500,000 shortfall.

And the diocese itself, we’re not in a position to support the seminary. So, the question was, when did we make that decision? You know, to not continue any operation. So I was faced with the question of, all right, when do we do this? Do we do this now? Or, do we put it down the road? If we were to put it down the road, the only time we probably could face that debt would be next year at this time. The reason being that an academic institution like the seminary, where you have faculty and staff that have to plan for their own future. They have to have time to do that. So you can’t make that decision in June, or in September, whether it’s in operation. So it really has to be done before that second semester starts.

So, I made the decision to ask … Basically I asked the board to consider this. You know, there was also a study done by a non-binding committee, that actually did recommend that this particular decision … Actually made three recommendations. And that information was shared with the board. There was, I have to say, a very, very intense discussion on the board and many people weighed in.

But ultimately, the majority of the board did decide to make the recommendation to close. They brought that recommendation to me and I brought that to the members, the corporate members, and the rector, and so forth. They accepted that. But the decision was not based upon any … Actually, my understanding is, is that the land is owned by the diocese. But that the buildings themselves are owned by the corporation, the seminary corporation. So what eventually will happen to that remains to be seen. There may be some interest by developers, moving forward.

We’ll also say that we will continue to support the promotion of vocations. But actually we will involve even more people locally, in the formation of our priest and seminarian, as most dioceses do. So they will be sent to seminaries for their theological education.

But they will receive also pastoral formation, human formation, spiritual formation, and it will be done most likely right here in our diocese. And we will do that well I can assure you of that. We have to continue to promote a culture of vocations. And if you have a vocations committee in your parish, great. If you don’t, let me know, because I want to start one. Because sometimes, the best way to move vocations forward is just to ask, and pray. I know a lot of people … Well, I can tell you a story, but there’s other people that want to speak.

4th Questioner:

Good afternoon. This has been a long struggle in this diocese, and a long process. There have been a lot of punitive actions before you got here. And this parish, as you may know, has been very outspoken. We have members of our parish who have been very outspoken, on TV and different places. And, we have been made to feel that we are free to speak, and to share our opinions, which is not the case in other parishes in the diocese. I would like from you, some sort of guarantee or word, that our people who have spoken out, such as Father Bob and Deacon Paul Snyder, are not going to be punished. That they’re not going to be asked to leave this parish.

<Spontaneous and sustained applause that led to a standing ovation>

I’m a lifelong Catholic. I’ve been in church choir for most of my life. I’m here because of this parish, because of this community. And of our neighbors. And I can tell you right now, as difficult as it is, depending on change of leadership of this parish, I will be out again. It’s a very, very difficult thing as a lifelong Catholic, because this is a huge part of my life and tradition. And it hurts me when I have left for periods of time. So I just asking for your reassurance. Thank you for coming here.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

I can reassure you that we don’t punish people for speaking truth. So, that’s one thing that I assure you of. As far as transferring pastors and people like that, there’s any number of reasons that a bishop may transfer a pastor. Could be for the needs of the parish. Nowadays, it’s less likely that you will take a pastor from a parish, it’s more likely to give him another parish, or another job to do, while keeping his current job. So that’s been the pattern.

But I can tell you, in my mind, that this vindictiveness is just not part of the Christian gospel. So if that’s a reassurance, take it as such. Any decisions that I would take or I hope my successor would always be based upon what’s in the best interest of the diocese. And sometimes pastors themselves ask for change, too. They don’t always get it, but sometimes they do.

But those would be the processes we follow, and I would hope that that’s … I can’t speak for the past. I’m saying this may be different from what was done in the past. I can tell you as long as I’m here, any decisions that are made will be based upon pastoral duty. And you know, anytime with a change pastors, and I’m not thinking that way, okay? But, many times that a pastor has taken from one parish, to go to another parish, it’s always very difficult to accept.

So you have to be prepared for that possibility. Sometimes people are changed for health reasons, you know? So, I can’t give a guarantee. But I can tell that as far as reasons why somebody would be moved or transferred will not be based on any sort of vindictiveness or punishment. That’s childish. Thank you. I hope you understand that.

5th Questioner:

Hello. As a member of a family that probably was here at the inception of this parish and built St. Mary’s church during the Civil War. You have answered the question, as far as money. And that was my main question. But I’d also like to make a suggestion, coming from my family.

For who are we going to install for a bishop? And I would like to see a pastor, a priest come from this area of western New York, not from Boston, or wherever. But, we do have someone that is possibly a candidate in this parish, and he’s come back here, and I would like to see him at least considered for it. I would like to see Father Jack Mattimore considered for bishop.

Edward Scharfenberger:

Did you write to me before or was that somebody else too?

<Cross talk>

5th Questioner:

All right. I would like to see that.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Thank you very much for that.

6th Questioner:

When the whole scandal broke out, we were not supported in the diocese. We were actually left in the wind. I did want to know, moving forward, how will we know that the diocese helps support us? Because we weren’t supported. Our bishop came for our mortgage burning but when the crisis hit, he didn’t come back to help us. Moving forward, how will you help us get through, and help us heal even more? Because a lot of people have left this parish, that I have known.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

That’s a good question, and good, that’s one of the reasons I’m here now. And anything I can do personally when I’m around, I will certainly be happy to be here. I know I have Father Bob as a good collaborating brother to help. And the only thing more important that I can think is this … One of the things I had in my mind, is to create some way in which we can prepare, train, support, people in every parish … Or at least in every general area … That have specific skills or who can develop certain skills, in how to work with people in the light of these questions. So for example, if somebody does have … Personally has problems with a personal experience of abuse – who do they go to? I think … It pains me that somebody … You know, somebody comes forward and says, I have this issue, I have this problem. And then they’re just told, oh, on the website, there’s this number, you call the 800 number, you just call and they’ll take care of you. Now, that is true. There is an 800 number, and everybody’s encouraged if you know somebody that’s been abused or for yourself, yeah, report to the police, call the number. But I’m more concerned about the pastoral approach, and somebody knows that there is a person there, or there are people there, to walk the walk with them. A social worker would be one or a counselor, certainly somebody that has a spiritual dimension, because as you know, a lot of psychiatrists and social workers will not go into the spiritual development. So, what I’m trying to say is that I want to, going forward, develop sort of like oases of security in every area. Every parish … For example, if there’s 5 or 6 people that will support anybody that has any sort of experience, whether it’s domestic violence, sexual abuse, whatever, and there’s a safe place to go. And they will get the direction and the care, the accompaniment that they’re looking for.

I don’t want to use the 12-step programs as an analogy, because that may be offensive to some victims. But any of you that are in a 12-step program, whether that’s AA, SA, know that there is a wonderful context in which a person can anonymously come forward, hear other people. And then eventually maybe even get a sponsor. A person to walk with them. It concerns me that sometimes, where do you find a person that you can bounce off on if you have an experience. If you’ve been through a divorce, you know, trying to reorient your life. So, those kind of oases are important… It doesn’t have to be a priest or the deacons, you know, there aren’t enough of them around either. But if they’re working with the pastors and the deacons, and with some parish leaders, we could marshal the resources. Social workers, counselors, spiritual directors, storytellers, listeners … I think the charisma of listening is a very, very important one in this day and age. People that can hear and accompany, I think those are things that we can do, and I’m going to look to encourage that throughout the diocese. I hope that will help give some direction as far as I can see. Okay, thank you.

Moderator: I’m sorry. There will be just one more question again to allow time for the Bishop and Father to prepare for Mass. So this is the very last question for today.

<Crosstalk marked by several loud “no’s” from the people in the pews>

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Four more. How much time do we have?

Moderator:

Five minutes.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Okay. So if everybody takes two minutes, we should be able to have that time to prepare for Mass. Okay? Let’s try this. If everyone takes two minutes, we’ll have to go fast. And I would like to get to everyone.

<General applause>

7th Questioner:

I am a father of the parish as you can tell (smiles at the child he is holding). I’m also the scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 92 here at St. Mary’s. Question and a recommendation. I know from seeing things here at St. Mary’s, they take very seriously youth safety here. The Boy Scouts, a youth is not allowed to be alone with an adult. Therefore, if that’s always followed, this stuff never happens. So my question is, can you assure me that diocese-wide, there are never any more children left one-on-one with any adult at all? That’s really the question. I think that goes to the core of the anger within the community, where people wonder, how could this happen? How could it happen long ago and could it happen again. How is going to change at this point? Absolutely guaranteed, no exceptions, would you be able to say that?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

I can tell you what the policy is. I can’t tell you that I can personally enforce it. It really depends upon pastors, and scoutmasters, and parents, to … Obviously, our job is to communicate what the policy is. So, we’ll do everything we can to make sure the policy’s complete. But then we also have to depend upon others to make sure that they are observed. If they’re not observed – they’re not effective. Will that help, I hope? That’s the best I can do right now. Thank you.

8th Questioner:

Thank you, Bishop. My name is Sue Snyder and I’m Deacon Paul’s wife. And I just want to actually make a statement more than ask a question. We’ve been members of this parish for 30 years, and my family has been here for many, many years more than that. And Father Yetter was very close to us. And we were at the very epicenter of this entire situation. And I think, as a parish, we are still really hurting. I know I am. And it is very hard to come to church. Without Father Bob and Father Mattimore I wouldn’t want to be here. And I think it’s really important that the administration, and the people higher-up in the diocese, understand that this isn’t something we’re just going to get over like this.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Absolutely.

8th Questioner:

Because I remember when the bishop resigned, I heard Father [Inaudible Name] say, “Now that he’s gone, the pews are just going to fill up.” And my first reaction was, “No, they’re not.” And we come to church, but it is a very difficult situation here for many of us. I know I speak for a lot of people here. This isn’t necessarily about money, or anything else. It’s more about us because St. Mary’s is a very special parish. And I’d just like to know that you, and whoever succeeds you, will be supportive of us.

<Applause>

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Thank you.

9th Questioner:

First of all, the diocese did a terrible, terrible job. When Father Yetter left here, no one came up from downtown. Nobody did anything. It was a disgrace.

I have two short questions. One – what happened to that convent over on the east side that Bishop Malone put $200,000 into fixing it up for himself? Are we selling that or is it just sitting there? What is going on with that?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

I have no idea. I have not heard about that. I can’t answer that now, but I’ll look into it.

9th Questioner:

Well he put in hardwood floors and air conditioning for $200,000. And the second question is I want to know about former Cardinal McCarrick who gave $1 million dollars of our money to some crazy religious group. I want to know what kind of checks there are in the hierarchy today that they can’t just take our money and give it to anybody?

Bishop Scharfenberger:

I don’t know where he got that money from and I hope he is prosecuted criminally. He should be in jail.

<Applause>

Bishop Scharfenberger:

10th Questioner:

My concern is that there’s ways to speak out that can cause positive change and positive reactions, and positive healing ways for the parish. There are ways to speak out that can be very damaging. In my view, this parish has been damaged. We still need to heal. We are not healed. And what’s been happening, in my experience, is that we see a divide being created. It’s us versus the diocese. We are one family, as you said and we need to heal. And I believe that the current administration is not taking that into consideration. The whole sex scandal is still going on. We need to heal and it’s not happening. It’s us versus the diocese. We need to be one with the diocese. It’s turning into a money thing – we’re not giving our assessment, that’s wrong. We need to support each other, and I would like to see some change happening.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

Thank you. Thank you very much. Yes, that’s true. Pope Francis has made that point many, many, many times, and our communion is very familial. We have to stick together. We’re all connected to one another. We’re family.

11th Questioner:

Thank you, Bishop. I have a comment – is there any chance that the diocese will consider … We have two great Catholic colleges nearby that maybe our seminarians could also … they’ve got space probably that we could use. And, to keep our seminarians here. I saw them on March for Life bus, and it was very inspiring just to see that many seminarians. And that was just an idea.

The other thing was, just a couple priests that have been exonerated. I know when they tried to come back, they were kind of shunned. And I don’t know how to help other people experience and know, if you’ve been wrongly accused, which I know in the workplace can happen, how can you have people believe you. You say No, I was exonerated, but that person will never believe that I was exonerated.

Bishop Scharfenberger:

That’s a very, very tough question because some of the cases coming up right now are civil cases so the burden of proof is not the same as in a criminal case. But we do have to be willing to admit that if somebody’s been accused, and if evidence has not been found… now there may be some past situations whereby there were priests that were accused, and the review board did not find that it was credible. But the uprising of people was just so great that I found it very difficult to assign, you know. And it may be very hard for that priest to work. And that may be very unfair to the priest. There may be things that are true, but cannot be proved. So you have to find some way in which, you can find some industry that keeps a person out of contact with children, in a convent or something, or a hospital situation and things like that. So it’s a very difficult thing to do. How do you get back your reputation, even if it proves that there is no basis for the allegation? So, it’s … I don’t know if there is one answer to that.

But, just let me say, thank you very much. This is just a great parish. So, I’ll be very happy to come back anytime. And if you want to talk about everything, just let me know, and-

<Applause>

I should be clapping for you, because you’re God’s people. So witness to that faith. And you know, one time a brother who I respect very highly, said the most diabolical of all temptations, is the temptation to discouragement. It’s exactly what the devil wants, to pull us down, to make us pull down one another. So, what we want to do is remember that we’re never abandoned – Jesus is always with us. And each and every one of us, as we read in the Gospel a few weeks ago, is a light to one another. So let’s be the light of the world and salt of the earth, and we’ll one bear another. Okay? God bless.

<Applause>

 

Mixed Messages

Bankruptcy edges ever nearer. Accused abusers concelebrate. An abuser-priest sexually harasses and retraumatizes a victim-priest. A bishop’s “efforts fall short or fail miserably,” to use his own words.

And it’s only Tuesday.

Like many people, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the St. Leo’s fiasco*. I’ve posted many of those thoughts on social media. Tonight I want to share a deeper reflection with a focus on Monday’s mixed messages of which there were so many I must organize them within categories.

Mixed Message to the Priests 

We know that at least 4 “credibly accused” priests concelebrated at yesterday’s Mass with Bishop Scharfenberger’s approval: Gresock, Ingalls, Maryanski and Wolski. All four of these priests’ cases are going to Rome and Ingalls’ is already there. (According to the Diocese’s online record, which can be accessed by clicking here.)

A case “goes to Rome” after the local bishop and review board finds a claim or claims of abuse against a priest to have “a semblance of truth.” The case is sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is commonly known as the CDF. The oldest of the nine congregations of the Roman Curia, the CDF is separated into four distinct offices: doctrinal, disciplinary, matrimonial and clerical. That disciplinary office is the one which investigates grave delicts – the most serious crimes in the Church such as those that violate the Holy Eucharist or the seal of confession plus sexual crimes committed by clerics against minors.

Once the case lands in the CDF, it will likely sit there for a while. In 2019, there were a record 1,000 cases submitted to the CDF and yet that number still seems slight considering the scope of this worldwide abuse scandal. Eventually the case documents will be reviewed by CDF officials who will instruct the local bishop on his next steps: a tribunal trial on the local level, an administrative penal process, or a trial in the office of the CDF.  A common result of this cumbersome process is dismissal from the clerical state, which is properly referred to as laicization. The priest can appeal this penalty in which case the matter would go back to the CDF, which makes the final decision.

In my informed opinion, these 4 priests are serious candidates for laicization.

These 4 priests know their cases are in Rome.

They know (or should know) that they are facing potential laicization.

And their bishop invites them to concelebrate with him and their brother priests.

What are they to think? That having your case “go to Rome” isn’t that big a deal? That they might as well not worry too much about that whole laicization business?

And what do the other priests think?

They know these guys’ cases are in Rome and laicization looms.

Yet here they are concelebrating with the Bishop and, in Maryanski’s case, wearing clerical attire, which is a direct violation of his decree of administrative leave.

Such behavior and allowances would suggest that all is well and that, in private at least, CDF investigations are nothing to be too concerned about. We know all too well that things being okay/allowed/ignored “in private” is a huge reason we’re in this mess to begin with.

It’s worth noting that at least two accused priests did not concelebrate Monday’s Mass. I must commend them for abiding by the demands of their decrees of administrative leave. In addition, several other priests did not concelebrate for non-abuse related reasons. So it’s not as though the 4 aforementioned priests would have been alone in not concelebrating. But even if they were, it would have been the appropriate placement for them.

Several priests have privately expressed their surprise at yesterday’s concelebration situation. These kind of mixed messages enable the abusers and confuse the rest of the presbyterate.

Mixed Messages to the People of the Diocese of Buffalo 

In Bishop Scharfenberger’s press release today, which can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here, he states that he and the priests were gathering in a spirit of “prayer and penance.” He also notes that the gathering “had as its emphasis the need for true personal remorse and penance.”

Prayer, penance and remorse: admirable attitudes as we prepare to cross the threshold of Lent. And a particularly significant approach given that the Diocese is also poised to cross the threshold of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

But if this was indeed a penitential gathering in the face of bankruptcy, why did a catered lunch need to be served on real plates accompanied by both red and white wine?

I did some calculations based on menu details I received, the number of priests in attendance and the catering prices of the restaurant used**. A very low estimate is that the lunch for priests cost at least $2,725.00. Most likely it was closer to $3,500, but I can’t prove that.

Was this necessary, penitential or prudent? I think not.

I am not saying that the priests should have had peanut butter & banana sandwiches and chocolate milk… although I’m pretty sure that’s the lunch of champions.

But red and white wine, fancy chicken cutlets and grilled asparagus? Not exactly in keeping with the spirit of penance that Bishop Scharfenberger suggested so strongly in his statement.

The gathering at St. Leo’s occurred the very day after Bishop Scharfenberger was at St. Mary’s in Swormville in an attempt to cajole the parishioners there into handing over their sizeable parish assessment, which they’ve been withholding due to the abuse scandal. What is the Diocese doing with that assessment money? Paying for unnecessary luncheons, perchance?

The people of the diocese are well aware that bankruptcy is going to happen. Scharfenberger has made it quite clear that it is a matter of when not if. So he holds a meeting to prep the priests for bankruptcy and offers them a fancy lunch at the same time? The diocese is facing such debt that they have to “reorganize” through a bankruptcy filing yet they decide to spare little expense when catering a lunch? Talk about mixed messages!

Another mixed message: the abusive priests are the reason why the diocese is going to file for bankruptcy!! Their CRIMES are finally going to COST the Diocese something that MATTERS to them. (The lives, souls and well being of survivors have never seemed to matter much to the Diocese or the Church as a whole.)

Yet those same priests whose crimes are causing bankruptcy were concelebrating at this Mass of “remorse” and enjoying this “penitential” lunch!

Maddening. Simply maddening.

Mixed Messages to the Survivors of the Diocese of Buffalo

Bishop Scharfenberger talked about survivors a lot in his statement today:

  • “the need for true personal remorse and penance for the harm caused to victim-survivors”
  • “I deeply regret that this decision to gather privately in prayer and penance opened the door to yet another wound for those harmed”
  • “The well-being and healing of those who have experienced such trauma was and continues to be our constant preoccupation”

Constant preoccupation? In my experience, the constant preoccupation at the Chancery is on assets and reputation with a side concern for ensuring that retirement parties have full bars. I have seen precious little to suggest that much has changed in that regard.

Bishop Scharfenberer also mentioned his favorite motif – the diocese as family. He relies very heavily on this imagery in all of his remarks. Today he said “As a family we want to find ways to overcome what fractures us.” He has previously talked about his belief that “our victim survivors are our family.” Gosh, that sure sounds swell. But let’s see how this episcopally-favored analogy tracks in reality.

If the Diocese of Buffalo is a family, that means the following is true:

The heads of this family are well aware that certain members of the family have abused, hurt and violated other members of the family to such an extent that criminal prosecution should have occurred. The heads of the family did everything they could to hide this “problem” so as not to damage the family’s reputation or bank account.

For decades, the heads of the family continued to be aware of this “problem,” but did nothing to stop the abuse, help the hurting, or seek justice against these criminal acts. Instead, they moved the criminal family members around in the hopes that the “problem” would go away or they would “get better.”

As if it couldn’t get any worse, the heads of the family shunned the abused family members and made them think it was their fault, they were the “only ones,” and no one would believe them anyway. These abused family members suffered in silence without support of any kind from the family that was supposed to protect them and lead them to God.

Many if not most of the abused family members eventually became former family members. They came to the painful realization that the family did not care about them and treated them like the problem instead of dealing with and prosecuting the real problem in their midst.

So now the heads of the family are finally trying to figure out what to do about this “family problem” because the actions of the criminal family members are finally having repercussions. Money has become a constant topic of family discussions, but the heads of the family don’t want to talk about the real source of the problem: the criminal family members.

Instead, the head of the family let those criminal family members take part in a cherished family tradition that everyone knows they’re not allowed to participate in because of what they’re accused of. Later on at that same family gathering, one of the criminal family members harassed a family member he had previously abused. This harassment lasted for close to five minutes and occurred in the presence of many other family members in leadership roles. Not one of them stepped in to help the abused family member or to stop the criminal family member from further harassing and retraumatizating his victim.

TELL ME AGAIN HOW THIS IS A FAMILY??? 

The only family that comes to mind is the kind that specializes in cement shoes.

Many survivors have commented that Bishop Scharfenberger’s “family” mantra is painful to them. We Are Family is a great song for weddings, but it is simply not appropriate in this setting. Survivors are often estranged from their families because of the abuse they suffered. Most survivors are estranged from the faith family in which they were baptized and educated because any association there is traumatizing and triggering. It is not actually good for their mental, emotional or physical health for them to be “part of the family.” Talking about family in this context only adds to survivors’ pain rather than alleviating it.

In addition, it is important to note that most sexual abuse occurs within actual families, which makes the family analogy even more challenging and ill-advised.

Finally, “we are family” is a classic mixed message in this context. It sounds good, but it is contradictory and inconsistent. Sure, we’ll treat survivors “like family” at a Symposium when the media and powerful people are watching, but when they call up the Chancery to ask a question, they’ll get put on the voicemail circuit indefinitely. Sure, we’ll talk “survivors as family” to journalists or to parish groups because it sounds good, but this happy talk is hollow and very often hurtful.

______________________________________

My heart is heavy tonight as I write these words. I hardly slept last night because my heart physically ached for Stephanie McIntyre, a victim of one of the concelebrating priests, Father Ryszard Biernat, who was harassed by his priest-abuser after that now infamous Mass, and for the entire survivor community.

Because you know what IS a family?

The survivor family.

The survivor family sticks together and sticks up for each other.

If one survivor is struggling, the rest of the survivor family genuinely suffers with them.

If one survivor is under attack, the survivor family kicks into gear in order to support, defend and respond.

If a survivor is feeling down, their survivor family is there to lift them up.

Survivors stick together, support each other and truly survive together.

If Bishop Scharfenberger wants to use a family model for our Diocese, he should look to a family that has no mixed messages:

THE SURVIVOR FAMILY. 

—————————————————————————————–

*The full St. Leo’s story is available here courtesy of Charlie Specht of WKBW-TV

 

**I saw the catering truck when we were protesting and that restaurant conveniently provides their catering menu and prices on their website.

The Path Forward?

On Saturday, December 7th, the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT) held “A Community Symposium: The Path Forward” at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College. It was just over a year after their first event, “Restoring Trust: A Path Forward for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo,” which took place on November 28, 2018. (I didn’t realize until now that the first symposium had that similar “path forward titling.)

Unlike the first symposium, which was held at 7 pm, this one started at 9 am. You can watch a video of the entire event via this link: click here.

If you don’t have two hours to spare, here’s my report on the event beginning with the agenda for it:

MRT agenda.jpg

John Hurley got things started by welcoming everyone and noted their “robust agenda” which had been “in flux” given the events of the past week.

At that time, our Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Scharfenberger (henceforth Bishop Ed), took the stage and greeted everyone with these words of welcome:

“Thanks so much, John, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. It was John’s article that I read last week and I thought had some excellent points and I thought, “I have to reach out to this guy.” Little did I know that he was going to invite me (to this event)!

I’m here primarily because I want to say thank you. Thank you for your heart, for your soul, for your experience, for all that you are and all that you do. I know you’re committed disciples of Jesus. You know and I know that the only way to heal, the only way to bond is in the name of Jesus because He is the ultimate Shepherd and the ultimate healer. Each and everyone of us as a disciple of the Lord has that mission – we’re a mission church. I see this as an evangelical moment or an evangelizing moment. A moment for us to open our hearts to the message Jesus gives us that we’re all intimately loved each and everyone of us.

I know there’s a lot of pain. I know that sometimes pain presents itself first as anger. We can’t deny the fact that there is a lot of anger and frustration. Maybe in our personal lives, but also in those who expect much of us as leaders to be able to help them find a way out of the darkness they’ve experienced. The darkness of fear is absolutely chilling. Remember Jesus tells us that fear is useless – it’s faith that counts. The more we trust in Him – He’s with us and He accompanies us wherever we go.

Now that’s my homily – I didn’t come to preach to you. But I wanted you to know where I’m coming from. That my trust is in the Lord. My favorite expression is “Lord Jesus, I trust in You.” We should always go back to that source. If we do that, we realize that we’re never really alone. Jesus didn’t send us into the word as lone rangers. He commissioned us to work with one another. He founded a Church. And there’s this wonderful cooperation among all the elements of the Church – laity, hierarchy, clergy. We have to find, by opening our hearts to the Spirit, what task it is that the Holy Spirit has for each and everyone of us. In a beautiful way, we each have a role.

I say that very, very broadly because I believe that our victim-survivors – they are our family. They’re part of us. While we don’t want to burden them, they have a tremendous invitation, shall I say, to feel a part of the healing mission. Not only by telling their story, but also sharing the insight and the perspective that comes at times from pain.

I did mention that a way forward is going to be through sacrificial giving. I’m not going to take up a new collection – I don’t mean that in a financial sense, although obviously we need those resources. But it’s when each and everyone of us speaks from our pain – that is the way of the cross. Francis de Sales said that every second of Jesus’ life on earth was a constant humiliation. He was the Incarnate Word of God, but He was underestimated, undervalued, ignored, swept under bus, if you will. Even his own family thought He was deranged. So it shouldn’t surprise us at times that if we bear courageous witness to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we may be misunderstood, rejected, written off. But that’s not the way God looks at us. Each and everyone of us is a beloved child of God.

One of the Sisters at my grammar school used to say, “Remember that Jesus would have died for you if you were the only person in the world.” I want everybody to hear that and to know that. Particularly those who feel the Church has abandoned them or has not listened or hasn’t gone far enough to meet them where they are. Second thing to remember is that Jesus meets us exactly where we are. Wherever we are on our journey of faith – and there may be non-Catholics or Christians here – we have a God who constantly seeks us out as people. You can go right through the stories of the Gospel and see that Jesus didn’t have office hours. He didn’t say “You can see me as long as you fit into My schedule.” He was constantly being distracted even in the middle of prayer. He constantly went out of the box or out of His comfort zone. We need not be afraid to follow that example the Master set for us. Wherever we go, He goes.

I’m here primarily to listen and to see what we can learn today from one another. Thank you, thank you so much just for being here. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your presence. God bless.”

After Bishop Ed’s welcome, which was very well received, John Hurley introduced Michael Whalen, whose reflection can be viewed below:

As always, Mike’s words brought tears to my eyes. His good heart and loving spirit shine through every word he utters. I was particularly proud of him for mentioning that Bishop Grosz and Terry Connors must not escape accountability. Mike did a wonderful job from start to finish – bravo to the Man in the Green Jacket!

Mike’s remarks were greeted by a standing ovation as you can see here…

It made me tear up again to see Bishop Ed embrace Mike like that. Our former bishop never even met Mike let alone give him a handshake or a hug. Mike told me later that sitting next to Bishop Ed all morning was “like talking to my grandpa. He is so easy to talk to and he really listened to what I had to say.”

After Bishop Ed and Mike spoke, there was a very positive energy within the room, which was filled with close to 200 attendees. Then they started the “Overview and Q & A regarding Diocesan Bankruptcy.” Talk about an energy zapper! I’m not exactly sure how long this section lasted, but it must have been at least 25 months… I mean minutes. My notes on this section aren’t that good, so if you’re interested in hearing this part, you can go to the first link on this page and go to the 35-minute mark when the bankruptcy discussion begins. (God bless the lawyers who have to deal with bankruptcy in all of its boring-ness.)

Fortunately, the bankruptcy lecture was followed by an audience participation exercise because we needed to wake up a little! Everyone had one of these lists on their chair:

Qualities.jpg

We were supposed to form small groups and discuss the qualities necessary or wanted in our next bishop. Then each person texted their top 7 qualities – one at a time during 7 rounds of “voting” – to a poll that automatically generated “word clouds” based on the responses received. I must say, the tech part of this was super cool. I was impressed by how smoothly it worked and how quickly the word clouds were generated. Stephanie Argentine – of Listening Session fame – did a great job coordinating this entire segment of the event.

Attendees shared some comments with me regarding the list we were given:

  • Are we talking about a bishop or a CEO here?
  • “Aggressive,” “Dominant” and “Power-Oriented”? Why would those adjectives even be on this list?
  • If you’re going to have a list like this, it should include “Loves Jesus” and “Has strong Marian devotion” and “a man of prayer”
  • I’m a grown man, I don’t need a list of words – I can figure out what words I want to use
  • “Deeply spiritual” isn’t specific to the Catholic faith – that’s a really generic word
  • Continuous-Improvement Oriented is corporate talk – not church talk

(When it came time to vote, I focused on the H’s: holy, honest, hopeful and humble.)

There were multiple word clouds generated during each round. Here are some photos to show you how the process progressed (I didn’t get any pics of the first quality because I was helping my Mom get set up with the phone polling – love you, Mom!):

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After the third round, a word that was not on the list began to appear: Scharfenberger…4th quality 2nd pic.jpg

4th quality Scharf.jpg

Bishop Ed continued to poll well in the 5th round as you can see. In fact, he was the top choice of respondents at this point:

5th quality 1st pic.jpg

5th quality 2nd pic

5th quality 3rd pic

At this point, I noticed a little word at the bottom of the screen: LiPuma. I audibly gasped outloud as I almost dropped by phone on the floor. LIPUMA????? Click on his name if you’re unfamiliar with it so that you can learn more about what he’s done (and not done) within our Diocese during his years as a Chancery insider.

Msgr. LiPuma was seated to the left of where I was sitting in the back rows of the middle section:

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Three of the people in the photo above are current Catholic Center staff members. I can only imagine it was this group that began texting “LiPuma.”

Let me pause here for a brief PSA:

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Multiple priests have told me that “no one plays the game like LiPuma” and “Malone always wanted David to be a bishop.” Elevating LiPuma to bishop would continue Malone’s tactics of complicity and cover-up. No one would be more thrilled by such an episcopal appointment than Malone.

But I am telling you right now, LiPuma will be made a bishop over my dead body. LiPuma is a huge part of the problem — he was in the Chancery for 25 years!!!! The absolute LAST thing we need is LiPuma in leadership ever again. Bad enough that he’s the Chairman of the Presbyteral Council, the primary advisory body of priests. Bad enough that he wrote a letter on behalf of all the priests in support of Malone when many of the priests did not agree. Bad enough that he was made the rector of the glorious Our Lady of Victory Basilica. ENOUGH. NO MORE. NO LIPUMA. NEVER LIPUMA.

But LiPuma continued to appear in the word clouds:

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6th quality lipuma again

Fortunately, we were able to get “NotLiPuma” trending in response:

6th quality - not lipuma

6th quality lipuma not lipuma

But by the last round, it was clear the LiPuma crew was still going strong… his name was one of the top 3 choices at one point:

7th quality lipuma

We responded back:

7th quality not lipuma

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As nauseating as it was to see LiPuma’s name in so many word clouds, it taught me an important lesson. There are still people out there who think someone like LiPuma would be a viable episcopal candidate. They’re either ignorant, uninformed or blinded by loyalty/friendship toward him (or the hope of being close to a future bishop!). But on the flip side, there are people who are not ignorant, uniformed or blind — who voted “NotLiPuma” as soon as it became necessary. But ultimately, the LiPuma/NotLiPuma situation was saddening to me – it showed yet again how divided and polarized our diocese is in many crucial ways. (I also wondered what Bishop Ed thought of the whole back and forth about LiPuma. It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. But hopefully it alerted Bishop Ed that he should look into the matter!)

Fr. Bob Zilliox was up next and shared some of the great work he’s been doing within his parish: (Fr. Bob was on 60 Minutes last year and was also on the panel at last year’s MRT Symposium.)

“As a victim-survivor myself, I think of one of the great spiritual writers Henri Nouwen, who wrote a book entitled The Wounded Healer. Over the years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with individuals who’ve gone through abuse whether it was sexual, emotional, physical or spiritual. To journey with them. Coming to St. Mary’s as a wounded healer myself, I tried to the best of my ability to help that parish heal. In doing so, it has allowed me the opportunity to listen, to open my doors to those who want to come and share stories. I could understand where they were coming from.

Here we are looking forward with hope especially during the Advent season. Hope that we can continue to heal, to collaborate, to work together. Like the work I’ve done with my Parish Council to put together a Strategic Plan as to who are we as church. To empower the laity as I did a year ago when we first gathered in this magnificent space. And when I opened the doors of our parish to a victim-survivors group to allow them a forum to come and share their stories, to listen to one another, to reintegrate with the larger community, to know we are here for them, to journey with them, to walk with them and to help them continue the healing process. So there are success stories… whether it be in re-energizing parish life, in new evangelization and catechesis, the program for priestly formation, forming our young adults and families through human, spiritual, personal, and moral formation. To empower the laity to exercise their prophetic role. This can begin in the parish. I tell my parishioners: “It’s your parish – not mine.” Just as St. John the Baptist said time and again – my role is to lead you to Christ and in all humility get out of the way and let Jesus and the Holy Spirit do the rest. This is the model I’ve tried to instill in my parish since I arrived and we have seen success. Is there still a long way to go? Yes. I think of the Chinese proverb –  the longest journey requires the first step to be taken. I believe we’ve taken that step at St. Mary’s and that, gathered here this morning, we take that step as a diocese.”

It was wonderful to hear Fr. Bob explain some of the reasons for his hope. He has accomplished so much good at St. Mary’s by ministering to that grieving community with candor and courage.

Given that this is already quite a lengthy post, I am going to skim over the rest of the event. Nancy Ware, a member of the MRT Organizing Committee, gave some remarks to kick off the audience discussion about “Parish Engagement.” She wanted everyone to talk about things they are doing within their parish that have been successful and that other parishes could implement. During this group discussion period, we were supposed to write our ideas down on a postcard that Stephanie collected to “capture” the information.

John Hurley and Bishop Ed gave closing remarks as the event formally ended. Bishop Ed was again very well received by those in attendance. I should also note that during both group discussion periods, Bishop Ed circulates throughout the room introducing himself and talking to various people. If nothing else, Bishop Ed is much more personable and ready-to-engage than his predecessor ever was.

In closing, I would like to say something about the “envisioning session” regarding the qualities we’d like to see in our next bishop. To my mind, it would have been more productive to create a list of bishops whose leadership qualities are ones we would be looking for. Granted, there wouldn’t be a very long list, but I think that would be more useful to the Papal Nuncio than a list of “top qualities” to describe a desired bishop. (I should have stated earlier that the top qualities generated at the Symposium will be summarized in a letter sent to the Apostolic Nuncio (Christophe Pierre) within the next few weeks, according to John Hurley.)

To be honest, our next bishop has most likely been selected at this point. Multiple sources have indicated that Buffalo has risen to the top of the list of vacant sees within the United States. There is a confident rumor that our next bishop will be named by Easter. If that’s the case, his name is almost certainly already known to the Pope, the Nuncio and the man himself. It takes time to work out the logistics of such an assignment (especially in terms of taking care of the bishop’s existing diocese) so they would not waste any time making their selection especially with Advent and Lent – the Church’s busiest seasons – looming. All of this is a long way of saying that I felt as though the word cloud exercise – albeit well done and interesting – was ultimately a waste of time and tech.

I also want to include these post-Symposium quotes from Bishop Ed that appeared in this article from the Buffalo News:

Scharfenberger called his conversation with Whalen “wonderful.”

“I thanked him because I believe that our victim survivors are an essential part of our mission,” he said.

He also said he initially found the prospect of coming to Buffalo to sort things out as apostolic administrator “kind of terrifying,” but he has been heartened and surprised ever since.

“Ever since I’ve come here, I’ve seen nothing but goodwill, fidelity, a desire to help, and I’ve seen it all across the board,” he said. “I believe that is the story of what the Buffalo people are, both within the faith community and beyond.”

He said he knows he’s in a honeymoon period and that as hard decisions are made, not everyone will be happy. He also said he would move with deliberation — not haste — in making decisions about bankruptcy and addressing demands to cut ties with those who have been accused by survivors of covering up abuses.

“It does sometimes get to a point, like in the case of Bishop Malone, where regardless of what a person may or may not have done … that sometimes it just becomes an obstacle moving forward that that person cannot really be in a position that they’re in,” he said.

He added that the diocese will have to undergo restructuring that creates more accountability, but the process must be both organizational and spiritual.

“People did unholy, bad things – evil things,” he said. “And the only way to eradicate evil is to return to holiness and to return to God.”

Love that last line… returning to God and to holiness sounds like the ideal formula for restoring trust and finding that previously elusive path forward.

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A Great Loss & A Strenuous Month

Please keep Bishop Scharfenberger and his family in your prayers today as they mark one month since their mother returned to God.

According to an article in Albany’s diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, Bishop Scharfenberger used to talk with his mother nearly every day and visit her weekly. It quotes her as saying the following when he was ordained Bishop of Albany in 2015:

“I can’t actually explain it. It sort of takes my breath away. I brought my Kleenex. … It was completely astonishing for us. We are thankful forever. I never anticipated anything like this. It’s almost beyond imagination.”

Reading about Bishop Scharfenberger’s Mom reminded me that we never know what’s going on in someone’s life behind the scenes. Yes, he’s a bishop so it’s his “job” to overcome personal challenges for the good of his people. But he was a son long before he was a bishop and the loss of one’s mother is life-changing, by all accounts. Even if she’s nearly 100 and had a good, long life!

Bishop Scharfenberger has had quite a month…

  • Lost his Mom, celebrated her funeral Mass and buried her
  • A few days later, he headed to Rome for the NYS Bishops’ ad limina visit with Pope Francis
  • Found out he’s coming to Buffalo as Apostolic Administrator (not exactly the best news ever)
  • Came down with what sounded like a bad cold or virus (from what he said at the press conference)
  • Made it to Buffalo after a snow storm in Albany and took questions from the media for over an hour

We’ve been conditioned toward cynicism here in Buffalo, but I think we should give our temporary shepherd credit for his emotional and physical stamina.

May his mother’s soul rest In peace. And may her son get some rest after quite a strenuous month.

Confirmation Conundrum

Since August, I’ve heard from parents who were concerned about their children being confirmed by Bishop Malone this fall. One mother told me she was thinking of having her child take the necessary classes at a parish that normally has their Confirmation in the spring – in the hopes that Bishop Malone won’t be here then. Another parent told me that they weren’t looking forward to their son’s Confirmation and felt bad about it. Still another dad told me he and his wife were going to have their child confirmed as a senior and not a junior to avoid Bishop Malone as the confirming prelate.

While these comments made complete sense to me, they also made me very sad. Confirmation season used to be a joyful experience. How well do I recall the Confirmation scheduling that Fr. Ryszard and I used to do in the Chancery. Father was such a marvel at fitting them all in somehow! And, to top it off, he would coordinate all of the details for each ceremony and masterfully guide everyone through each Confirmation Mass. The fall and especially spring Confirmation seasons were very busy for the Chancery, but it was a “good busy” because of the importance of this sacrament.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is not a “coming of age” ritual or a graduation from religious education. Rather, Confirmation completes the graces of Baptism. Together, Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation constitute the sacraments of Christian initiation. As the Catechism explains: “by the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.” The Catechism further notes that “Like, Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character,’ which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.”

Simply put, Confirmation is a big deal. It is a special outpouring of gifts by the Holy Spirit which seal or “confirm” the baptized in union with Christ and equips them for active participation in worship and apostolic life of the Church (from the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The significance of this sacrament is also made known by its celebrant: a bishop. Anyone can (technically) baptize while priests give us the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick. Brides and grooms confer upon each other the Sacrament of Matrimony. Bishops are the primary ministers for only two sacraments: Holy Orders and Confirmation. Both sacraments involve a bishop anointing the confirmands or ordinands with chrism oil.

Because of their significance, Confirmation ceremonies were always included in Bishop Malone’s public calendar, which used to be published monthly online and in print. But since October, the Bishop’s public calendar has not been published. I assumed these special ceremonies were taking place as usual, but had no idea when and where they were happening.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the following message, which was sent at approximately 9 pm last night to the Confirmation families of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Williamsville:

We would like to let you know that we have received word from Bishop Malone that he will not be with us at the Confirmation Mass. So here are the details that we want to share with you. As you know from our earlier emails, we have tried to be transparent through a difficult time in our diocese.

Originally, Bishop Malone wanted to be with us to help work towards unity and healing with us and all the parishes where he was scheduled to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. However, recently, several people have alerted us that there were plans for protesters to assemble outside our church to protest the Bishop’s role in the handling of the victims’ cases of sexual abuse. We gave word to the Bishop’s office of this possibility.

The Bishop decided he would step down as celebrant of the Confirmation ceremony. He asked us to let everyone know that this decision was out of his concern that the students are not subjected to any disruptions on their special and holy day. 

Canon law allows the Bishop to give authority to a priest to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. So Fr. Ron has been given that permission and will confirm our students.

The sacrament of Confirmation is effected by and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bishop or priest is given authority to act in the person of Jesus to bring down the Holy Spirit so that each person will be sealed with the Holy Spirit. This is an act of God, not of man. 

Also, I want to share with you that the clergy and staff at Nativity are committed to outreach to the victims of clerical abuse. We continue to speak with and lift up the victims that we have met. We want to be a part of their healing. We want to work to heal our parish and our diocese. We will continue to work with you to bring unity and affirm each one of us in our Baptismal roles in the Body of Christ.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish

My immediate tradition was one of shock. I didn’t even know there WAS a Confirmation scheduled today so I certainly wasn’t planning to assemble outside their church to protest Bishop Malone. Yet even if I HAD known of this ceremony, I would never have made plans to protest it.

Since I began participating in and coordinating protests, I have been very discerning about which events to protest. My focus has been on Bishop Malone’s meetings with important groups particularly the Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Pastoral Council. The only time I have protested a Mass, it was at the Seminary where we were standing by the side of the main driveway – not right by the chapel. And in all three cases, the Masses in question included relevant elements such as the Apostolic Nuncio’s attendance or the installation of the new Seminary Rector.*

Please know that I’ve done a lot of thinking about the protests I’ve called. I’ve thoughtfully assessed the following elements: purpose, impact, location, timing, safety, signage, parking, media involvement (if deemed appropriate), and even weather. I would never dream of protesting a Mass let alone a Confirmation Mass. The Mass is the primary celebration of the Church – the sacrificial memorial of Christ’s Passover. It is Catholicism’s greatest treasure for it gives us Christ Himself present in the Eucharist. For the reasons outlined earlier, a Mass of Confirmation has tremendous significance. On a personal note, I remember my own Confirmation with fondness and gratitude. I would not want to take away from other confirmands’ celebration of this great sacrament.

So we’ve established that I did not plan to protest today’s Confirmation or any other such ceremony. Then who are these mysterious people who were “planning to assemble outside (the) church to protest the Bishop’s role in the handling of the victims’ cases of sexual abuse”? I contacted the only other people I know who have organized their own protests – the aforementioned Stephen Parisi and his fellow former Seminarian and Whistleblower, Matthew Bojanowski. When I inquired, I received an immediate response: no such plans whatsoever!

As far as I know there have been only three active protest groups in the Diocese this year:

  • Bob Hoatson, who called a press conference and protest at the Seminary twice this past spring
  • Stephen and Matthew, who have protested at the Seminary, the Catholic Center and the Bishop’s Residence
  • Me and my crew, as it were, who have protested at the Seminary, the Catholic Center and the airport

None of these three groups had anything planned for today’s Confirmation Mass.


This left me wondering…

  • Were Nativity staff members concerned that some of us protesters might be there and acted out of an abundance of caution?
  • Were there rumors of a protest since our airport protest was in the news just last weekend?
  • Were there assumptions made that we would be showing up because it’s a Diocesan event?

As it turns out, the answer is much more interesting:

The people who intended to protest were Nativity parishioners! In fact, some of the confirmand families themselves were considering joining in the protest at today’s Confirmation. 

That’s right – a new group of protesters was organizing itself! Wow!

As you may recall, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish has had a difficult history. Three of their recent priests/pastors have been accused of sexual abuse: Maryanski, Leising and Sadjak. Leising and Sajdak were cleared by the Diocesan Review Board and Sajdak was returned as the pastor late last year. Maryanski’s case is hauntingly horrible and can be read about via this link. Suffice it to say that the people of this parish have suffered over the past 18 months as they’ve learned about the abuse history of a former priest-in-ministry and dealt with the removal and reinstatement of their current pastor, which is a very unsettling experience for a parish family.

To the folks who were going to protest today I say two things: Thank you and Bravo! Thank you for having the fortitude and conviction to protest Bishop Malone. Bravo for having the strength to stand up to this shepherd who does not care for his sheep! He put your parish family at risk by allowing an abusive priest to minister among you for years despite Bishop Malone and the Diocese “having full knowledge” of his abuse history. Bishop Malone pulled your current pastor from ministry right before a Vigil Mass last November with no thought of the turmoil and distress that would cause you all. Bishop Malone pulled Father Ron to protect himself and save face – not out of genuine concern for any of you.

Please note that my praise of the would-be protesters is not intended as a commentary on those who were not planning to protest. I’m certainly not saying that non-protesting parishioners at Nativity are not good people or do not possess fortitude or conviction. Far from it. This is an extremely difficult time for our diocese and everyone has to do what is best for them and their family. It can be very hard to decide what is best to do in each particular instance. Unfortunately Bishop Malone continues to cause this difficulty and distress for people. Parents should not feel conflicted about their child’s Confirmation and confirmands should not be dismayed about who’s going to confirm them.

According to my source, Bishop Malone was told earlier this week that protesters might be at the Nativity Confirmation. At the time, he was determined to still celebrate the Confirmation. It was only much later in the week that he learned about the protesters being Nativity parishioners. This change in the identity of the protesters is what lead him to remove himself as the Confirmation celebrant.** 

This is a very interesting and important development.

Remember – the Bishop “asked us to let everyone know that this decision was out of his concern that the students are not subjected to any disruptions on their special and holy day.”

But wait! Earlier this week, Bishop Malone was okay with run-of-the-mill protesters being there. He wasn’t suddenly concerned about Confirmands and their families being “subjected to disruptions.” Rather, he was suddenly concerned about HIMSELF. He didn’t want to be protested by members of the very parish he’s visiting, which would be a very new and embarrassing development. Worse still, he did not want it to get out that members of the Confirmation class (and their families) were among those who were protesting! He didn’t want to subject HIMSELF to embarrassment and the latest episcopal low. So he did what he always does when a situation become difficult: he made his exit.

While it’s disheartening and discouraging to be reminded of Bishop Malone’s narcissistic cowardice, I am very happy for the people of Nativity! Their protest efforts were so successful that they didn’t have to actually protest! And now they can enjoy the Confirmation ceremony this evening at 7 pm. Their parish bulletin indicates that they have over 80 confirmation candidates – how awesome! I pray that they will have a blessed and beautiful celebration of this tremendous Sacrament.

Final thought… this situation really demonstrates the power of the people! Let’s continue to speak up and take a stand.

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Light & Love

BSG Logo_Final

The Buffalo Survivors Group (BSG) held their first public event a week ago today. The days since then have been busy ones, but I wanted to be sure and document this historic event on my blog.

The BSG was formed by Kevin Koscielniak, Gary Astridge, Angelo Ervolina, Christ Szuflita and Michael Whalen after they met on August 13th when preparing to file their CVA cases the next day. It was eminently appropriate that their first event would take place on November 14th since it was exactly 3 months prior – August 14th – that these men were able to file their CVA claims right after the stroke of midnight. You can learn more about that experience via this link.

“The Guys,” as I affectionately refer to them, began getting to know each other better in the days and weeks that followed that historic August evening. They began to discuss the possibility of holding a public event that would provide support for fellow survivors while educating the public about sexual abuse and its effects on survivors. Soon they had a formal name, a logo and a motto: To Enlighten and Empower. They hope to enlighten the public while empowering their fellow survivors. Their logo symbolizes the survivors’ journey from the darkness of abuse into the light of healing.

As one of The Guys explained the logo: “We have traveled a long road being silent. The sun began rising when we came forward and told someone about our abuse, but the road continues because we still have a long journey ahead of us. And this road is not just for survivors – it is for everyone who travels with us, people from the past like our families and friends… and the people who are now with us moving forward…. and for the people we will one day meet and connect with.” The logo is triangular in shape to symbolize the mountain that survivors are climbing as they overcome so many challenges in their lives.

The event was entitled Enlighten & Empower: An Evening with Survivors and the goal was to “educate and enlighten the public about sexual abuse and the symptoms and effects that survivors endure – all done through stories from survivors along with open, honest and transparent conversations with the audience.” The event was held in the Parish Center at St. Mary’s Church in Swormville. This location was chosen for a very specific reason – the pastor there, Fr. Bob Zilliox, is a clerical abuse survivor and has been an outspoken critic of Bishop Malone and the manner in which the abuse scandal has been handled in our diocese.

Fr. Bob

Fr. Bob got the evening started with a warm welcome and a particularly moving prayer that touched on the many sufferings survivors endure. After that, a touching letter was read from Chris Szuflita, one of the founding members, who lives at a distance and wasn’t able to attend the event. Then each of the 4 remaining founding members shared their stories.

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Gary Astridge went first followed by Angelo Ervolina

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Followed by Michael Whalen:

Mike Kevin Bill

And finally Kevin Koscielniak:

Kevin

As you can imagine, the stories these four shared were devastating and heartrending. The old saying “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room” was certainly proven true that evening. The Guys showed pictures of themselves at the time of their abuse, which made their testimonies even more powerful. Gary commented that his current fight for justice is really a fight for his younger self, who suffered so horribly at such an innocent age. As so many attendees noted afterwards, it was an honor and a privilege to hear The Guys share their stories.

Sarah at home
Sarah Ann Shiley

After The Guys shared their stories, they opened the floor to questions, discussion and conversation. During that time, another survivor was able to share her story – Sarah Ann Shiley. Readers of this blog may remember Sarah’s story from this post back in June when Sarah was not permitted to share her testimony at one of Bishop Malone’s infamous Listening Sessions. WKBW-Channel 7 also did a story on Sarah’s situation, which can be viewed below:

It was really incredible to witness Sarah share her story in such a supportive environment to a clearly engaged audience. Everyone was extremely moved by her compelling, heartbreaking words.What a powerful juxtaposition to the “listening” session this past June! I’d especially like to thank Sarah for representing the many female victims of clerical sexual abuse.

It’s important to note that the Buffalo Survivors Group is not intended solely for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Rather, it is open to anyone who has suffered abuse no matter who the perpetrator or associated institution may be. As the BSG has noted: “Sexual abuse has lifelong effects. Survivors of sexual abuse suffer in silence from many symptoms. We want to educate and inform the community about the psychological, emotional and physical harm sexual abuse causes, as well as provide support and help with resources that are available to survivors and the community.” As you can see, there are no distinctions made regarding abuse or the perpetrators of that abuse.

The evening concluded with a brief presentation from Rebecca Stevens, Executive Director of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) here in Buffalo. She was assisted in her presentation by Janine Tramont, Director of Development. Together, they explained the mission of the Child Advocacy Center: “to integrate and coordinate services to meet the needs of child victims of sexual and serious physical abuse and their families at a single, child friendly facility. Such response is intended to reduce trauma, promote accountability and facilitate healing.” Their vision is that children in their homes and in our community would be healthy, safe, and free from harm. 

The mission and vision of the CAC is very close to the hearts of the BSG Founders. As Michael Whalen has said, “There wasn’t a CAC to help me when I was a kid, so I want to make sure kids now a days get the help they need and that’s what the CAC does!” The CAC presentation provided the right note on which to end the evening – hopeful, optimistic and action-oriented. Many attendees spoke with the CAC representatives after the event to learn more about their work and to ask about opportunities for volunteering or other collaboration.

Although the event ended at 9 pm, quite a few people stayed for a while to talk with the survivor speakers and to connect with other attendees. Everyone I spoke with had a very favorable reaction to the evening. An attendee of the event told me that the evening represented a “leap over barriers” – the barriers of secrecy and shame, the aversion to discussing topics that are consider off-limits or taboo, the tendency to turn away from painful things rather than embrace them. This attendee and quite a few others were eager to know when the next event would take place. I told The Guys that it’s always a good sign when people ask about a second event right after your first one has concluded!

Because of the positive reaction to this first event and the desire to “enlighten and empower” as many people as possible, the Buffalo Survivors Group is planning a second event sometime in mid-January at a to-be-determined location. Please stay tuned for more information as it becomes available!

On a personal note, I found the evening to be very cathartic. Listening to the survivors’ stories brought on strong emotions, but it was a relief to express those emotions freely and openly. It is indescribably powerful to listen to such raw, painful truths being shared by such strong, resilient people. While the sorrow in the room was almost palpable, so was the loving support within the room. We cannot see or touch sorrow or love, but sometimes we can feel them to such an extent that they almost achieve tangibility. There was a great deal of light and love in that room: the light that comes from truths being shared and stories told… and the love with which those truths and stories were received.

Room

One thing I particularly valued about the set up of the event was that everyone was in a large circle. There was no “head table” or podium or anything like that, which was just as The Guys wanted it. They wanted the logistics to foster an open, honest conversation among friends and advocates. Another neat element of the evening: because the survivors who spoke were not introduced beforehand, attendees didn’t know they were sitting next to a survivor until he or she began to speak*.  It was a powerful reminder that we often don’t know that a survivor is in our midst. They are our family members, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our acquaintances. Let us strive to always be someone they can turn to if they need our help or support.

Gary Me Bill
Thanks to Bill Ogilvie (right) for joining me as a Moderator for this event

As you may have surmised, I forgot to take any pictures during the event, which means I have relied completely on WKBW reporter, Nikki DeMentri, for screen grabs from her story about the event. I’d like to thank Nikki and WKBW, Fadia Patterson and Spectrum News, and the WIVB team (I didn’t catch their names) for attending this event and spreading the word about it. Nikki’s full story can be viewed below:

Please stay tuned for more information about Enlighten & Empower: An Evening With Survivors #2!

 

* Michael Whalen being the exception here

Reflections on All Survivors Day

All Survivors Day is “an international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse, bring their stories into the light, raise awareness of the widespread nature of the issue and organize for change in the culture that allows sexual abuse to continue,” according to their website. For me, it is also a day to reflect on what I’ve learned from survivors and how knowing them has so powerfully influenced my life.

Talking to survivors at the Chancery during the spring of 2018 was a truly transformative experience for me. I often say that I’m not the same person I was before that time. Those conversations with survivors opened my eyes to the reality of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in a raw, powerful and lasting way. I vividly recall the emotions I felt as I took those calls or spoke to survivors in person. It was a “no turning back now” experience. Once you know, you know…. and there is no retreating to the Land of Before.

How grateful I am to no longer need to speak to survivors in hushed tones on a Chancery phone. I vividly recall modulating my voice when a survivor would call during a time when the Bishop or other Chancery officials were afoot. The hallway behind my desk led to Bishop Grosz and Steve Timmel’s offices, so I had to be careful. I knew I’d be in quite a predicament if one of the bishops or Steve heard me urging a survivor to get a lawyer and not sign anything without legal counsel. Likewise, I tried to hide my tears as best I could because otherwise there would be talk about “Siobhan having a tough day” or “Siobhan not being able to handle it.” Why, I thought, is the emphasis on me? Shouldn’t they be worried about the survivors and their plight, which was what brought those stinging tears to my eyes in the first place? Why were they treating survivor calls and visits to the Chancery as a nuisance rather than as a plea for help and a call to action? Why was Bishop Malone more worried about “isolating” me from survivor calls than addressing the issues the survivors were raising?!

zero abuse logo

These days, I no longer have to modulate my voice or hold in my tears. Through my job as a Victim Assistance Civil Specialist with the Zero Abuse Project (ZAP), I am able to spend my entire workday helping survivors. It used to be that I would work during the day and then devote my evenings and weekends to survivor-related efforts. But now my side passion has become my full-time focus and it’s AMAZING! How deeply grateful I am to be working for this awesome non-profit organization whose mission is to protect children from abuse and sexual assault, by engaging people and resources through a trauma-informed approach of education, research, advocacy, and advanced technology. The ZAP vision is “a world where every child is free from abuse.” Every ZAP employee is zealous about making this vision a reality.

Gone are the days when I had no place to bring a survivor visitor so we ended up in an unused storage room on the 4th floor. Now I can invite survivors into a conference room where they’ll share their story in a safe, secure and comfortable environment. Gone are the days of lowering my voice to tell a survivor what I really think. Now I share my thoughts and advice freely. And even though I don’t need to hold my tears in anymore, I find that I don’t cry nearly as much as I did back in my Chancery days. Why? I believe it is because now I can actually DO SOMETHING for survivors and that makes all the difference. During my Chancery days, I was crying for a lot of reasons: the suffering of survivors, most of all, but also my inability to help them plus the moral quandary of working for the Diocese. Basically, there was a lot to cry about.

Do I still cry? Absolutely. The sorrow is still there. It always will be. It’s impossible to hear survivor stories and not be moved by them. But now, sorrow isn’t my only response. I can take action and assist survivors. I can encourage them, support them, guide them, and help them. It’s sorrow that can roll up its sleeves and get to work: tears transformed.

My work with the Zero Abuse Project has taught me so much about what “all survivors” really means. In my new role, I speak to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, but also survivors of teachers, counselors, troop leaders and others. Talking to “all survivors” has taught me two very important lessons:

  1. Predators are frighteningly similar in their strategies and techniques
  2. Survivors are amazingly similar in their strength and resiliency

Of course, every survivor has a very different path to navigate. Some are struggling more than others due to circumstances over which they have little control. Others are just coming to grips with what happened to them and the experience is overwhelming them. One survivor told me recently that, “I always thought I was okay and that was in the past, but now I realize it never went away and it’s almost harder now than it was back then.” No matter where a survivor is at on their healing journey, they are dealing with daily challenges that non-survivors cannot truly fathom.

Navigating

As a non-survivor, I’ve been pondering the fact that survivorhood is somewhat like a country with its own language, customs and culture. It is a land that no one wants to enter, but once you are there, you see, hear and feel everything differently from those who are not citizens of Survivorhood. For non-survivors, the word “trauma” might bring to mind blunt force trauma or a traumatic brain injury. For survivors, that word is deeply personal and painful. Likewise, the word “flashback” might make a non-survivor think of a narrative technique in movies or books. For survivors, flashbacks are disturbing and often daily elements of their lives.

I’ve learned to appreciate these new definitions for familiar terms and to respect the culture of Survivorhood. I now choose my words carefully and am determined to always act in a survivor-friendly and trauma-informed manner. Whenever I’m not sure of what to do or say, I pray to God for guidance and I reach out to a survivor for advice. They are always more than happy to help! I have learned so much from them, but I know that I will always have more to learn.

On All Survivors Day, I want to recommit myself to helping all survivors in every way I can. I am fortunate that my job allows me to do this on a regular basis. But no matter what your circumstances may be, you can help survivors!

anne frank.png

The first step is to be the sort of person you’d want to turn to if you were a survivor yourself. If you were dealing with the immense pain and trauma of sexual abuse, what kind of person would you turn to for help or support? Most likely you’d be looking for someone who would believe you, listen to you and show you compassion.

“I believe you.” Just knowing you believe them is a tremendous gift to survivors. Survivors have many burdens to bear – they should not also bear the burden of proof.

Listen. Listen more than you talk. Listen more than you tell. Just listen. Don’t judge, don’t analyze, don’t criticize… treat the survivor as you’d want to be treated.

You may never know how much you’ve helped a survivor just by believing them and listening to them.

From there, compassionately assist them as you’re able. Express your support for them and encourage them to find help if they need it. Maybe you’re able to check in with them occasionally to see how they’re doing. You could invite them to an event they’d benefit from or include them in an activity they’d enjoy. Perhaps you have or know of a therapist who might be a good fit for them. If you’re of the prayerful persuasion, you can keep them in your daily prayers by name. If you have compassion, it will show and it will make a difference. It will help more than you know.

Robert Shelton
Infographic created by Robert Shelton

This helpful infographic shows the progression of engagement from pity to compassion. Compassion comes from Latin and means “suffering with another.” That is what we are called to do to the extent we are able: to suffer with survivors so that they are not alone as they have so often been. We cannot actually experience their suffering, but may we do all we can to relieve it.

Sometimes survivors are told to “move on” or “get on” with their lives. These are not a survivor-friendly or trauma-informed phrases yet they are frequently used. I believe that “carry on” is a much better and more accurate way to look at it. Survivors can’t leave their abuse behind and just “move on.” They will carry their abuse and its effects with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, survivors will continue their journey toward hope and healing, but they may end up taking two steps forward and falling back three. They will have to get back up and try it one more time. Why? Because what they are carrying is extremely hard and heavy:

  • pain
  • trauma
  • fear
  • isolation
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • estrangement
  • flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • trust issues
  • emotional distress
  • loss of faith
  • separation from God
  • loss of family support
  • financial difficulties
  • drug or alcohol dependency
  • self-esteem issues
  • problems with authority
  • anger
  • sorrow
  • physical ailments
  • self harm
  • panic attacks
  • self-blame and shame
  • relationship challenges
  • inability to concentrate
  • insomnia
  • suicidal thoughts

They are carrying on as best they can, but they are bearing burdens heavier and harder than we non-survivors can even comprehend. Let us be there to lift them up and help them as they carry on.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

The last item on the list above is a tragic but important one to remember. Many survivors are no longer with us because the burdens they carried became overwhelming. Let us remember and pray for them in a special way today. May we also pray for those who mourn them.

Before I close, I want to mention and salute survivors’ spouses, children and loved ones, who are victims of the residual effect of abuse. The ripple effects of abuse know no bounds and impact so many people. Please remember that a survivors’ family members may need support and encouragement just as the survivor themself does.

To all of my survivor friends: thank you for changing my life, helping me to become a better person, and teaching me what strength and resilience mean. Those are no longer mere words to me – they are real people with names and faces.

As you carry on, know that you are not alone. You are believed, respected and loved.

 

Those We Cannot See

[This is a two-part reflection… the first half focuses on the living – the second concerns the dead.]

A great deal of the work of life goes on behind the scenes and is accomplished by people who are not often seen or always acknowledged for it. These behind-the-scene folks are so often extremely humble and hard-working. Please allow me to introduce you to two such people. 

Yesterday was a difficult day for the I-Team at WKBW-Channel 7 as it marked the last day for Jeff “The Wizard” Wick. Jeff has been an integral part of the I-Team investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo as well as the other award-wining investigations they’ve conducted over the past several years. You may never have seen Jeff’s face since he’s always behind the camera – not in front of it, but you’ve certainly seen his work. The stellar graphic design and impeccable production value of the I-Team’s reports are all a credit to Jeff’s skillful talent. As a Catholic and former altar boy, Jeff shared Charlie’s commitment to the Diocesean investigation as well as the sorrow of covering such a dreadful story. Charlie and Jeff have something else in common: humility. Despite being enormously talented, Jeff never made a big deal about it. He and Charlie were always focused on getting the truth out and, in particular, sharing survivors’ stories. It was never about them – collectively or individually.

Although I didn’t work with Jeff as directly or frequently as I have with Charlie, I certainly came to appreciate his talents and his temperament. If you could define an adjective with a person, Jeff would be in the dictionary under “chill.” He remains calm and easy going no matter what time constraints or deadlines he may be facing. “Yeah, sure – yep, I can get that done” would be his relaxed response and then he’d work his magic and make it happen. I so enjoyed watching Jeff and Charlie work together. Theirs was a collaboration marked by congenial, harmonious camaraderie. Jeff was a true teammate to Charlie – keeping up with the Diocesan doings while also covering completely different stories for WKBW. It’s really a wonder that he was able to do it all and do it all so well.

When Jeff mic’d me up yesterday morning for my interview with Charlie, it was a bittersweet moment to know he’d be behind the camera for the last time. I was deeply grateful that I could do one last interview with the two of them, but it saddened me so much to think of Jeff making his departure. Ultimately, gratitude got the upper hand as I considered how fortunate we were to have Jeff on the I-Team especially for these last 18 months. His contributions were extremely significant and made a lasting impact on our diocese and community. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Jeff. I know that he will be successful in his next endeavor because talent, skill and humility are always a winning combination. Please join me in thanking Jeff for his amazing work and in wishing him well as he heads off to DC to work for Newsy!

I can’t talk about Charlie’s behind-the-scenes guy without highlighting his behind-the-scenes girl… his wonderful wife, Shannon. In fact, I’ve been waiting for just such an opportunity to express my gratitude and respect for her. During the course of Charlie’s work on the DOB story, Shannon has made truly innumerable sacrifices while her husband has been devoted to this difficult and time-consuming work. Especially last summer and fall, Charlie’s I-Team responsibilities resulted in a lot of late nights and weekend work. I remember thinking of Shannon so much during those tumultuous months. A year ago, I wrote this to her in an email: “It’s almost as if you’re a military wife whose husband is engaged in a very unusual battle that keeps him away for extended periods of time. Charlie has the greatest work ethic I’ve ever witnessed, which is awesome and so crucial for our cause, but a real sacrifice for you. Thank you for making that sacrifice for the greater good. You are one of my heroes!” I certainly feel exactly the same way a year later.

Thank you, Shannon, for sacrificing you and your family’s time with Charlie so that he could complete the investigations and reports that have had such a seismic effect on our diocese. Thank you for your crucial input on the stories especially #3 last fall! Thank you for being selfless when it would have been quite easy (and very understandable) for you to have a different reaction. Thank you for helping your three sweet children to understand why Daddy was working so much even though you couldn’t explain the substance of his work due to its dark nature. Thank you for enduring the frustrations, challenges and even harassment that have come your family’s way over the past 18 months. The Mom is like the flight attendant of the family – if she remains calm and composed, everyone takes comfort in knowing that it’s going to be okay. Thank you, Shannon, for keeping it all together through all of the turbulence of this past year. You are the definition of a behind-the-scenes hero and we all owe you more than we realize!

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Paying Pedophiles

“Follow the money” is an expression commonly used when describing suspicious political or business dealings. It is not a phrase that I would have associated with the Catholic Church… at least not before last year. 2018 opened my eyes to the corruption and complicity within the Diocese of Buffalo, which we know is sadly present within the entire Church. But during my time at the Chancery, I never had anything to do with financial matters and had very little ability to follow the money. However, I know someone who did and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you.

When Kim Petrella started working for the Diocese of Buffalo in September of 2014, she was part of the Payroll Office. Soon after I started at the Chancery in July of 2015, Kim moved to Accounts Payable. Considering the amount of accounts that needed to be paid, I assumed that Accounts Payable was a multi-person department just as Payroll was. But at the Catholic Center, Accounts Payable was just one person: Kim. A single staff member was responsible for writing all of the checks and overseeing all of the money flowing out of Diocesan headquarters. Kim would receive check requests from all of the different departments within the Catholic Center as well as external bills from various vendors.

No matter how busy she was, Kim always had time for a smile and never let me feel bad about adding another request to the pile. The fact that Kim was able to keep Accounts Payable running smoothly is a credit to her work ethic, ability and tenacity. She was exactly the kind of employee the Catholic Center needed: capable of doing more than one person’s worth of work and keeping her chin up while doing so. I remember thinking how crazy it was that one person was responsible for all of that work, which included dealing with a check-writing system that was older than I was.

ibm computer
This is what Kim’s computer looked like with the IBM AS400 software to match. 
ibm software
I used to do a double take every time I saw Kim’s computer screen or saw her using green bar printer paper. Visiting her cubicle felt like traveling back to the 80’s in terms of technology. 

Kim was handling an unbelievably intense workload with only decades-old technology at her disposal. Catholic Center managers were not used to Accounts Payable actually asking them for receipts or reminding them to use tax exempt forms. From Kim’s perspective, they had all been coddled by past employees in her position, who must have looked the other way.

The CFO at the time, Steve Timmel, requested that Kim let her supervisor, Chuck Mendolera, know of any red flags or issues she encountered. But this was purely an illusion – they didn’t actually want to know about any misspending. Kim’s proactive approach resulted in a reactive response from Chuck. When Kim brought up questions about overspending, misappropriation of funds, personal spending, missing documentation or missing petty cash, she was pacified by Chuck with comments such as: “Don’t get involved with budgets,” “That department brings in a lot of money so we can’t tell them how to spend it,” “Leave that department alone” and “Why are you always at my door with another issue?” As Kim explains it, “I never really understood what gaslighting was until it was being shoved in my face anytime I had a legitimate concern while working there.” Despite those legitimate concerns, she was supposed to “just do her job.”

But then the time came when she couldn’t just do her job.

MW

When Michael Whalen stepped forward on February 27, 2018 to tell his story and hold the Diocese accountable, Kim and other Finance colleagues were watching from the windows of the 4th floor reception area. They saw Michael standing in the cold “just speaking his truth” as Kim put it. All Kim could think was “This poor guy has no idea what he’s up against!” Kim reflected on the stark difference between the special treatment priests received and the minimal assistance a few victims were getting. She recalled the lavish spending by Bishop Malone and the mindless spending within various departments. Cringing, she thought of the diocesan lawyers and the millions of dollars they make from defending the Diocese. She knew that the cards were stacked high against Michael Whalen.

When Kim arrived to work shortly after Michael’s press conference, she took a quick glance at the Insurance Services checks to be processed that day. She saw a $500.00 deductible reimbursement check request for Rev. Norbert Orsolits to be sent to his personal mailing address. Kim was flabbergasted. Orsolits? she thought. Wait, no – that can’t be. Just days prior, the WNY community had learned of Orsolits’ crimes against young boys. He had personally admitted to molesting “dozens of them.” And now she was expected to write a check for this man?

InkedOrsolits struck by unknown_LI
This is a photo Kim took from her flash drive of a previously paid reimbursement to Orsolits. Kim no longer has the hard copy – it is with the FBI.

Kim remembers thinking to herself, “This has to be a mistake – there’s no way they’d be paying a priest who was JUST named as an abuser.” Stepping away from her cubicle to clear her head, Kim thought about asking her co-workers if they thought the payment should go through. She knew that if she asked Chuck about the payment she’d be met with opposition. As Kim described it, “In a moment of divine intervention, I happened to look at my co-worker’s chair and saw Michael’s picture on the front page of the paper that was sitting there. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Michael’s picture. I knew I had stumbled onto something bigger. There was something wrong going on if they were knowingly paying and supporting a priest who just admitted to abusing ‘probably dozens of boys.'”

Kim quietly retreated back into her cubicle to try and figure out what was going on. This is how Kim describes her thought process at this seismic moment:

Was this check request intentionally given to me or was there some kind of probation period for an accused priest? As soon as I sat down and started reading Orsolits’ file, I saw that he had four previous reimbursements paid to him within the past few years. They were all for collision work. I even made one payment to him without knowing who he was! At that moment, I realized that this check request in front of me was an intentional payment to Orsolits. I literally felt a shift in reality. Everything I’d seen in the past 4 years finally made sense. A montage of memories paraded through my mind: sorting mail for priests with the 795 Main Street address because they were “unassigned” with no other address, internal memos about priests going on ‘Special Medical’ leave, meetings between Finance and Insurance Services, the Diocesan Review Board meetings, all of the catered priest parties at the Bishop’s Residence, the monthly payments for Art Smith’s luxury apartment in Williamsville – even the treatment I had received from management. I was poking at the scum that was thinly hiding the network of people and paperwork it takes to keep this scam going.

The circumstances of the check request on her desk didn’t help matters. Orsolits’ car had been found on the side of the road in Ellicottville – damaged to such an extent that it required a tow to the nearest collision shop. When the mechanics contacted Orsolits, he stated that he had no idea how his car was found all banged up on the side of the road. At the time, he said, he’d been at a yoga class in Sardinia. (These two locations are a 30-minute drive apart.) No further explanation was required of Orsolits. The Diocesan Insurance Department didn’t look into the matter or take into account the multiple vehicular mishaps Orsolits had experienced over the past few years. All of them were labeled “Hit and run” or “Struck a deer.”

This time, Kim couldn’t “just do her job.” She couldn’t stomach the idea of writing a check for Norbert Orsolits. Not after learning what he’d done to young boys over the course of so many priestly assignments throughout the diocese. She was morally repelled by the idea of preparing a check for Orsolits and mailing that check to the exact same cabin where he had abused young boys – including Michael Whalen.

Kim couldn’t help but think of all the costs the diocese had covered for Orsolits over the years: health insurance, dental insurance, auto insurance, pension, etc. She realized that for decades, the diocese had been paying pedophiles a LOT of money. This was just one such pedophile and he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

orsolits 10 years
This is the pension amount that Orsolits has received from the Diocese of Buffalo over just the past 10 years. This figure was calculated by using the diocese’s own Priests’ Salary Scale. It does not include health or auto insurance premiums and payouts or other costs.

Not long after her Orsolits check awakening, Kim was talking to Chuck in the copy room when he began screaming at her. In fact, he became so apoplectic that the entire Finance and Payroll departments could hear him. At the end of his outburst, he yelled at her: “Get out!” At this, Kim went to the office of Steve Timmel in tears and threw her papers on his chair. She told Steve that she didn’t print out the Insurance Services checks that were due. As she explained: “I had an involuntary, visceral reaction seeing the Orsolits’ payment request and seeing Michael’s story on the front page. I knew that I physically and morally couldn’t print that check. I told Steve I wasn’t being insubordinate, but I wouldn’t pay that pervert priest his check.”

Kim was so upset by the situation that she took a few days off as suggested by Colleen O’Connell, the HR Director at the time. Colleen had recommended that she “cool off.” On the morning of March 13th, which was Kim’s birthday, she received a call from Colleen who said, “Happy Birthday! I need your resignation letter if you’re not coming back.” So Kim sent the following email of resignation:

Kim resignation
Text reads as follows: Hi Colleen,
Please accept this email as my resignation and two week notice as of March 13, 2018.
The reasons I gave to Chuck were that I owe it to myself to start looking for a job where my hard work is recognized and appreciated. I can’t stay at a job where I’m crying, shaking and throwing up. And that I’m tired of getting ignored or yelled at whenever I bring up a concern. Either involving financial red flags I thought I was supposed to be looking for or any suggestion I asked from him regarding struggles I have with department managers, concerns about timely check processing or concerns about my job duties in general. I have been an outstanding employee and I am to the point where I am physically sick from the work environment and atmosphere. Starting with my bullying concerns with [Employee name removed by their demand] I experienced within my first few months of employment, and ending with having Chuck Mendolera screaming at me to get out on March 12, 2018 I can no longer perform my duties in that environment.
Kimberly Petrella
Kim Petrella couldn’t pay pedophiles. So she resigned from her position.

Kim Petrella left a steady job for the sake of her conscience.

Michael Whalen stood outside of the Catholic Center and courageously told his story of abuse.

Kim Petrella took a stand inside the Catholic Center for the sake of Michael Whalen and all other victims of abusive priests.

She wouldn’t and couldn’t do her job one day longer. She couldn’t write one more check or insurance payout to a pedophile while also knowing that Payroll was taking care of paying pedophile their pensions.

We owe Kim a tremendous debt of gratitude for courageously following her conscience.

Earlier this month, Michael Whalen was able to extend his gratitude to Kim. After meeting Kim, he listened as she told her story and how his actions had influenced her so much last year. Michael was awed by Kim’s story and her courage in the face of such pressure to “just do her job.” He told her again and again how proud of her he was and how grateful he was to her. As Kim shared her story, there were some laughs and a few tears and there was a great big hug at the end of it. Michael told Kim that she’s now “part of his family” – the family of survivors and supporters he has been gaining for well over 18 months now.

For Kim, this is what meeting Michael meant to her: “Finally being able to meet Michael was a huge honor for me. I wanted him to know that I saw him that day when he stood on the corner bravely naming his abuser. He had no idea I was watching from the 4th floor. I needed him to know that I SAW him.”

Do you want to know what made Michael smile the most during his meeting with Kim?

The fact that her departure from the Accounts Payable department meant that the check for Orsolits wasn’t written for approximately 7 weeks. It gave Michael some satisfaction to know that his abuser had to wait for that check instead of receiving it right away as he normally would.

For decades, the Diocese of Buffalo has treated its pedophile priests better than the survivors of those pedophile priests.

Thanks to Kim, we know about it. And so does the DA and the FBI.

Kim has fully cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and looks forward to speaking with the Attorney General’s office regarding the financial concerns she discovered during her employment with the Diocese of Buffalo. 

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Nota Bene: There are 23 (alleged) pedophile priests on the Diocese of Buffalo’s current payroll. 22 deceased priests stayed on the DOB payroll after abuse allegations against them were known to the diocese. The Diocese of Buffalo has been paying pedophiles for decades. These abusers were never held accountable for their crimes and they continue to receive regular financial support from the Diocese. Members of the Diocese of Buffalo have been unknowingly funding this pedophile payroll the whole time.

[Here is the Diocese’s current list of Priests with Substantiated Allegations of Abuse of a Minor: https://www.buffalodiocese.org/documents/News/PublishedDiocPriests91219.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1G5Cge0e0zaLex_t9n_R2zTouB5goatBuTcdEPgeMxFpV86z1MgAjsm7w]

In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a motu proprio entitled Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. Motu proprio means “of his own accord,” which indicates that the order was drawn up and issued by a pope on his own initiative, and not conditioned by any petitionary requests. A motu proprio is always signed personally by the pope.*

The salient section of this motu proprio is as follows:

Whenever an Ordinary (Bishop) has at least probable knowledge (notitiam saltem verisimilem habeat) of the commission of one of the reserved grave delicts**, after having carried out the preliminary investigation, he is to inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which, unless it called the case to itself because of special circumstances, would indicate to the Ordinary how to proceed. 

By Bishop Malone’s own admission, this process of sending cases to Rome would have resulted in many abusive priests in the DOB being dismissed from the clerical state. They would have lost all of the rights and privileges of the clerical state INCLUDING FINANCIAL SUPPORT. The Diocese of Buffalo would have saved millions of dollars since 2001. We would not have been financially supporting clerical criminals as they lived in their cabins, cottages and condos. 

Bishop Malone likes to go on and on about how his predecessors didn’t follow this motu proprio and send cases to the Vatican as they should have. It is undeniably true that Bishop Mansell and Bishop Kmiec didn’t follow this protocol and they’ll have to answer for that in this life and/or the next.

But the fact remains that Bishop Malone allowed those same cases to languish in the Secret Archives! The infamous black binder – which he received a month after he was installed as our bishop – clearly alerted him to the existence of all of these cases. He knew about the “bad guys” and the “broken toys,” as he and Bishop Grosz referred to the abusive priests. Bishop Malone knew they were in there and he did nothing about it. He put the black binder in the vacuum closet and was done with it.

Prior to August 2018 – exactly 6 years after he was installed as bishop – only one case had been sent to Rome for adjudication. And that did not happen at Bishop Malone’s initiative! Rather, it was Father Bob Zilliox who initiated the filing of that case***. If it hadn’t been for Father Bob – with support from Father Ryszard – NO CASES WOULD HAVE GONE TO ROME BEFORE AUGUST 2018.

Bishop Malone would have been here for SIX YEARS and never processed EVEN ONE CASE despite a papal order from nearly twenty years prior.

Meanwhile, the people of the Diocese of Buffalo continued to innocently contribute to the pedophile payroll. 

Bishop Malone has publicly stated that a decision about bankruptcy will be made before year’s end. For many reasons, the Diocese of Buffalo should not file for bankruptcy. One of the primary reasons is that bankruptcy wouldn’t even be a consideration if pedophile priests hadn’t been on the diocesan payroll for decades.

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*Thanks to the Catholic Dictionary for this definition.

___________________________________________________________

** The delicta graviora are as follows:

Delicts against the sanctity of the Most Holy Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Eucharist:

1. Throwing away, taking or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose, or profaning the consecrated species (CIC can. 1367; CCEO can. 1442).

2. Attempting the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice or the simulation thereof (CIC can. 1378 § 2 n. 1, can. 1379; CCEO can. 1443).

3. Concelebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice together with ministers of ecclesial communities which do not have Apostolic succession nor recognize the Sacramental dignity of priestly ordination (CIC can. 908, 1365; CCEO can. 792, 1440).

4. Consecrating one matter without the other in a Eucharistic celebration or both outside of a Eucharistic celebration (cf. CIC can. 927).

Delicts against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance:

1. Absolution of an accomplice in the sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (CIC can. 1378 § CCEO can. 1457).

2. Solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in the act of, context of or pretext of the Sacrament of Penance (CIC can. 1387; CCEO can. 1458).

3. Direct violation of the Sacramental seal (CIC can. 1388 § 1; CCEO can. 1456).

Delicts against morality:

The violation of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, committed by a cleric with a minor under the age of 18.

___________________________________________________________

*** This was a case that I wanted to take with me because it involved Bishop Malone having assigned the priest as a pastor when that priest had multiple allegations of abuse of minors in his file. However, this case had finally gone to Rome for adjudication and I was worried about messing with the process. I figured our Diocese had only sent one case to Rome and I didn’t want any actions of mine to disturb that long-awaited process. I trust that this story will come out eventually. The truth always does.

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Both of the staff members mentioned in Kim’s resignation letter have been promoted this year:

Employee Name Removed by Their Demand

Chuck Mendolera: https://www.wnycatholic.org/news/article/featured/2019/04/10/103600/diocese-announces-new-executive-director-of-financial-administration

 

Photo credits: Kim Petrella and Michael Whalen with thanks for allowing me to interview them.

 

 

 

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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