Daybreak Heartbreak

Over the past few months, I’ve done quite a lot of reflecting on what took place a year ago. Each day brings back memories of what was happening on that same date last year. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on my gradual progression from morally compromised employee to diocesan whistleblower, which took place during June and July of 2018. I’ve determined that there were essentially four phases of this process the first three of which are as follows: 

  1. Moral: Was I morally compelled to take decisive action? How would I answer to God if I did nothing?
  2. Emotional: Exposing the truth would mean betraying Bishop Malone – could I do that?
  3. Practical: Could I obtain the necessary documents without arousing suspicion? Have I confirmed to whom I will leak the documents and how they will be used? Am I willing to accept the consequences of my actions? 

That second question was such a difficult one, but I eventually could answer “yes” to it.

This post tells the story of how that yes came about.

(Stay tuned in August for the fourth phase – theological – a challenging but crucial stage)

 

It was June 14th. A Thursday last year. Amidst the still-swirling sexual abuse scandal within our Diocese, the Catholic Center’s fiscal year was drawing to a close. It would end on August 31st and associated financial discussions were taking place. A memo earlier in the year had warned staff that budget cuts and layoffs were likely to occur. But none of us could ever have anticipated what would come to pass.

That afternoon, Bishop Malone received an email outlining the “carefully wrought plan” (his exact words) regarding the elimination of Daybreak TV Productions. It had been decided that Daybreak staff would be informed of this on Friday, June 22nd with Claire Rung, the Director of the department, being notified the day before.

However, Claire was too perceptive for their plan no matter how carefully wrought it may have been. She had begun to realize that “changes were on the horizon” for her department. Ever the professional, she did not want to bid on work that her team could not fulfill. When Claire inquired with the appropriate administrators, she was told that indeed, she might not want to bid on things at this time. Seeking more information, Claire met with key members of Bishop Malone’s administrative staff. Those staff members told Claire that “the process is still unfolding; nothing is off the table; please be patient and understanding until the end of next week.”

However, the process was not still unfolding and there was nothing on the table – it was a done deal: Daybreak TV would be completely eliminated at the end of next week. They did not invite Claire to the table while the process was unfolding. They did not seek her input, advice or suggestions before they laid down the hatchet on the department she had devoted her career to building and strengthening. They did not honor and respect her as the director of an award-winning department, a brilliant businesswoman and a devoted employee for over three decades. They just wanted her patience, her understanding and her cooperation.

Claire wisely asked to be informed “sooner than later what is happening” and promised that she would maintain confidentiality. Thus they decided that she would be informed on Monday, June 19th and her team would be informed that Friday as planned.

During the evening of June 14th, Bishop Malone informed Father Mark Noonan (Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia at the time) of the following:

I am scheduled to do a “Consider This” shoot next Tuesday morning, which I may now cancel or postpone if Claire will know the fate of Daybreak by then. It will just be too awkward for everyone involved. Staff will definitely pick up on Claire’s mood, even if she says nothing… and maybe on mine, too.

For whatever reason, the Bishop did not cancel or postpone the Daybreak shoot for Tuesday the 19th. (In my opinion, he couldn’t come up with a believable excuse.) Early that morning, the following email exchange occurred:

CRung requesting mtg pg 12nd page of Claire requesting mtg

As you can see, the Bishop responded quickly to Claire and immediately squashed the idea of meeting with her that morning – even for 15 minutes. He “knew what this was about” and didn’t want to deal with it directly. I was cc’ed on Claire’s email and responded privately to Bishop Malone. My words completely contradict the Bishop’s statement to Claire that it was “impossible” for them to meet that day.

I was the keeper of the Bishop’s calendar. I used to fit people in all the time when he asked me to. Because of all the calendar requests that came my way, I had become an expert at making the pieces fit in the jigsaw puzzle that was his Outlook calendar. Trust me: he could have met with Claire that day. For at least 15 minutes.

Despite having been informed of her department’s termination the day before and having her meeting request squelched by the Bishop, Claire’s mood did not give evidence of the pain she must have been in. However, the Bishop himself was definitely in a mood that morning. He was noticeably nervous and fidgety before what would be his final “shoot” (recording) with Daybreak that morning.

As for me, my mood was one of incredulous despair. I could not believe that Daybreak was going to be entirely eliminated. Theirs was easily the most beloved department in the entire Catholic Center. All 8 of the Daybreak employees were universally loved and respected. They were also incredibly skilled, talented and experienced. Cumulatively, they had spent close to 120 years working for the Diocese of Buffalo. They had won countless awards for their sharp, innovative and faithful broadcasting. They were not just a team – they were a family. I could not believe this was going to happen!

But it did. The Daybreak staff was assembled on the morning of Friday, June 22nd and informed that their last day of employment with the Diocese would be Friday, July 6th. They left their offices soon thereafter to process this enormous blow as best they could. Word of their termination spread quickly through the building and created a wake-like environment. People were meeting in the hallways and literally crying on each other’s shoulders. Employees who had worked with Daybreak staff for over three decades were disconsolate. If you had walked the halls of the Catholic Center that afternoon, you would have felt it – the tangible sense that something was terribly, terribly wrong.

 

This is the “candy bar card” I made for the Daybreak crew on the day they were informed of their department’s elimination. They ate the candy during their final staff meeting and left the poster board message in their recording studio on their last day. When uploading these photos, I noticed that my pink drawstring knapsack is visible to the left of the leftside photo… I carried most of the documents out in this innocent-looking bag. 

It is important to note that Fr. Mark Noonan was the one who had to fire the Daybreak employees. The oversight and general management of the Catholic Center is the responsibility of the Moderator of the Curia/Vicar General so this doleful duty fell to him. What an enormously awful task! He had started his position just a few weeks earlier on June 1st and was now responsible for informing 8 employees at once that their positions were no longer in existence. This was an unprecedented event and he was at the helm despite being so new to his position. Since it was a Friday, the Bishop was off and received confirmation of the termination meeting via email.

It was to Father Mark that I sent this email on the evening of Sunday, June 24th with Bishop Malone cc’ed:

SMO to Claire sending comments .jpg

2nd page of SMO to Claire with comments.jpg

Colleen (HR Director) and Steve (CFO) are noted as being off that week. I remember thinking that they’d taken a page out of the Bishop’s playbook by being on vacation right after a difficult decision was rendered in which they had been intimately involved. It was particularly absurd to have the HR Director out of the country when you’ve just let 8 employees go all at once. Yet that kind of dysfunction is par for the Catholic Center course.

I’m sure Bishop Malone would have left for the Cape early if he could have! He was scheduled to leave for Massachusetts on Friday, June 29th, but he moved up the Diocesan Review Board meeting from Thursday, June 28th to Wednesday, June 27th so that he could leave for the Cape on Thursday instead of Friday. He was eager to leave town as soon as he could. I remember thinking that the Bishop was lucky the DRB members and lawyers were able to rearrange their schedules last minute like that. This was the infamous “five-page agenda” DRB meeting with so many priests’ names listed. In addition to changing the meeting date, they had to schedule the meeting for 4 hours instead of 2 and they still couldn’t cover everything. How could they? There are over 100 priests’ names listed on that agenda!

And now I come to the most painful and yet most significant part of this post: Bishop Malone’s personal response to the Daybreak team’s plight.

When I sent that list of complaints/concerns to Father Mark, I included one of my own – #15: “This must feel like such a slap in the face for the Daybreak employees especially since Bishop Malone worked very closely and regularly with them. They helped him to look and sound his best and he actually knew their names. They must feel betrayed.” (What a loaded comment that was, Siobhan of Last June!)

Indeed, the Daybreak employees were the ones Bishop Malone knew best other than us poor, unfortunate souls in the Chancery. He “actually knew their names” and worked with them at least once a month if not more frequently. His interaction with them was a friendly and comfortable one. He would have me email the Daybreak team with last-minute requests for the teleprompter while he ran down to their first floor recording studio to have his make-up done while he reviewed the scripts with Claire.

ann doing make up.jpg

I knew how much the Bishop enjoyed working with the Daybreak team because I saw him in action with them. I can vividly recall his strong rapport with each member of their team. They had done a lot of recording together over the years both in their Daybreak studio and at various events throughout the Diocese. The Bishop had truly gotten to know them as individuals and to value them immensely as a team. As I’ve mentioned before, Bishop Malone is an extremely gifted speaker. I remember watching him record 3 or 4 “Consider This” clips in rapid succession once and was amazed at his stamina and skill. I think his record was 6 in one session! He truly does resemble Archbishop Fulton Sheen in that respect – he is extremely effective in front of a microphone or television camera. The Daybreak staff recognized his skill and rejoiced in it. Theirs was a wonderful collaboration with the Bishop.

Which is why I was stunned to my core to witness Bishop Malone’s treatment of them the week of June 25, 2018. He was in the office Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week. The Daybreak team made multiple requests to meet with Bishop Malone. He did eventually meet with Claire, who came prepared with ideas, strategies and stats. But it was to no avail – life support had been pulled before she had a chance to start CPR. As for the rest of the team, the Bishop flat out refused to meet with them. There was no explanation given – he just would. not. meet. with. them. And it was worse than that – he avoided even looking at or acknowledging them. Let me explain…

The Bishop’s parking spot at the Catholic Center is in the garage behind the building. Thus he rarely enters the building from the front entrance – he uses the back hallway and goes the long way around to the lobby to get in the elevator. That rear hallway butts up against the back of Daybreak’s department. The Daybreak team often stored large recording equipment in that area. The back door to their department opened up into that hallway so they would often be going in and out of that door to retrieve or store various supplies.

During the three days he was there that week, Bishop Malone saw more than a few members of the Daybreak staff in that hallway as he headed to or from the garage. Eyewitnesses told me that the Bishop did not look up, acknowledge or greet the Daybreak team members. He tried to act as if they weren’t there or he hadn’t seen or heard them. Father Ryszard could be seen behind the Bishop – waving and smiling as usual… trying valiantly to diffuse the awkwardness caused by his boss, who was pointedly ignoring the familiar staff members so near at hand.

The Bishop left for the Cape on the morning of Thursday the 28th. I was in shock that he’d let 4 days go by without speaking to the Daybreak crew. He never had the group conversation with the team that they naturally expected given their close relationship with him.

That same morning, I was working at my cubicle trying to catch up a bit with the Bishop out of the office. All of a sudden, I was overcome with a wave of strong emotion that brought on an uncontrollable crying fit. I was accustomed to these at home – while folding laundry or doing dishes or eating cereal in the morning before heading into work – but this was entirely unexpected and unprompted. I ended up having to leave the Chancery abruptly in order to recover. Soon thereafter, I received this kind text from a colleague, who had witnessed my tearful departure:

redacted

How vividly do I recall the emotions and struggles I mentioned in this text! The moral compromise, the immense disappointment, the emotional and mental exhaustion, and that terrifying fear that I might lose my faith. “Please, Lord!” I would cry out to Him: “Let me lose my life before I lose my faith.” This may sound overly dramatic, but it was truly my prayer. I would rather lose my life than live it without faith. My faith in God informs and inspires every aspect of my life and makes it worth living. I did not want to live without faith.

This was an extremely serious situation and I knew I must take decisive action to save my sanity and my soul. First step: obtain a new job. I remember searching on Indeed.com and saying to myself, “You’re going to be the next employee to leave after the Daybreakers. You’re going to walk out the Catholic Center’s brass front doors as soon after them as you can.” I found an unexpectedly good job listed and applied for it with determination. The next day I heard from the company and was scheduled for a phone interview on July 5th. Until then, all I could do was embrace the Malonelessness of the Chancery and try to protect the fragile embers of my lifelong faith.

Unfortunately, the next day and the weekend to follow (June 30th and July 1st) had an extinguishing rather than enkindling effect on that faith.

On Friday, June 29th, I sent an email to Father Ryszard and Father Mark that resulted in this exchange:

 

That entire week had been filled with calls from distraught people – usually elderly – who were heartbroken that the daily Mass would no longer be broadcast by Daybreak. After sobbing through survivor calls in March, April and May, I was now crying with seniors for whom this TV Mass was the highlight of their days. I remember one sweet older lady telling me through tears that “the daily Mass is my time with Jesus – they are taking my Jesus away from me.” All I could do was cry with her and do what I could to console her.

That Saturday and Sunday, Father Mark Noonan was sent down to Dunkirk to reinstate Fr. Dennis Riter as Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. (You can read more about Fr. Dennis Riter at this link.) This was an unprecedented event: the public reinstatement of a priest accused of child sexual abuse. Fr. Riter was being reinstated just 3 months after he was pulled from ministry and placed on administrative leave. You would think that such a difficult task would fall to the bishop of a diocese or his auxiliary bishop. But no – they sent Father Mark down to Dunkirk during his first month as Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia. To say that I was furious about the whole situation (the reinstatement and the reisintater) does not even begin to cover it.

I texted Father Mark on the morning of Sunday, July 1st to see how he was doing and to express my concern about his difficult task: “Today marks just ONE month since you officially started. I think it’s crazy that they sent you down there to handle such a significant task at a very volatile parish.” Father Mark responded that the situation was “extremely stressful” and he “just wants to do right by every single person in WNY.” Bless his heart, as they say down South – he was a man of integrity who had the best of intentions. He was made to do that which neither Bishop Malone nor Bishop Grosz was willing to do. Bishop Malone approved the reinstatement, but he did not face the people and the media in Dunkirk that hot Sunday morning. Bishop Malone made his young Vicar General literally do his dirty work while he enjoyed the peace and beauty of (Es)Cape Cod.

All in a week, I had watched Bishop Malone betray his Daybreak colleagues by not deigning to acknowledge them or speak with them after the devastating elimination of their entire department. Then I watched him betray, in a lesser but still poignant manner, his Vicar General by sending him to Dunkirk. So much for loyalty, I thought.

The next week was Daybreak’s final one at the Catholic Center. My heart was breaking all over again in anticipation of their last day on Friday, July 6th. I knew the only way I could get through that dreadful week was to do something for the Daybreakers. Thus I began planning a private luncheon with them on Thursday the 5th and a building-wide Appreciation Breakfast on morning of the 6th.

 

I knew that planning for these two events would keep me focused on something positive during an otherwise painful week. My thanks to Father Mark Noonan for recognizing the need for this Appreciation Breakfast and supporting the efforts to make it happen.

Late in the afternoon of Monday the 2nd, Bishop Malone received a Jeff Anderson press release that George Richert forwarded to him:

RJM to RSB

I may need to call off my vacation and return to Buffalo. Those twelve words jumped out at me and made me sick to my stomach. I hadn’t realize just how much I needed Bishop Malone to be on vacation for three weeks. “He can’t come home early,” I thought in despair, “He’s only just left!” That evening and all throughout Tuesday I kept telling myself that it couldn’t happen… he wouldn’t come home early, right? Please God, no.

Tuesday, July 3rd. Driving into the parking lot at Wegmans that evening, I was mentally reviewing my shopping list: ice cream and toppings for the ice cream sundae bar at the Daybreak luncheon, beverages and other items for the Daybreak table at the Appreciation Breakfast, and a few other miscellaneous items. But in the back of my mind, I was repeating the fearful questions that had plagued me for the past 24 hours… would Bishop Malone really curtail his vacation and come back to Buffalo? If so, when? Would he come back right after tomorrow’s holiday? How would I handle his unexpectedly early return? How could I return so quickly to “grin and bear it” and “fake it til you make it” mode?

As these questions overwhelmed my mind, my body soon became overwhelmed as well. I was suddenly incapacitated by some strange combination of fear, stress, anxiety and distress. Having survived two anaphylaxic reactions, I recognized this “feeling of doom,” but knew I had consumed no triggering fish or shellfish. What the heck is happening to me? I thought. My body had seized up in a strange way as if it was trying to find the fetal position and my car seat and steering wheel prevented it. Having never experienced anything like this before, I was completely unsure what was going on.

Realizing I needed help, I called my personal 9-1-1… my dear Mom. An RN by trade, she was soon there with her ever-consoling words and advice. After assessing my condition (and knowing right away that this was a panic attack), she made an immediate recommendation: I am taking you home. “No! No! I have to get the ice cream for Daybreak!” Mom assured me that I was in no shape for shopping and that she could get the ice cream and bring it to me later. “No, no, no I have to pick out the flaaaavors for them!” I cried out like a plaintive toddler. Knowing that it is unwise to argue with the emotionally distraught, my Mom found herself accompanying me to the freezer section of Wegmans where I selected the ice cream after intense deliberation. Somehow all that mattered to me at that moment was getting that ice cream for them. It was as if my mind had to focus on that one task in order to recover from the attack that had rendered me incapacitated.

Thursday’s luncheon and ice cream sundae bar was a wonderful celebration albeit a tearful one. I shared with the Daybreak team my distress over Bishop Malone’s refusal to meet with them. I also told them how immensely impressed I was by their graciousness, dignity and professionalism during the past two horrible weeks. We shared memories, stories and laughs along with the tears. My heart was so happy to have spent time with them even as it was so heavy to think of their impending departure.

The Appreciation Breakfast on Friday morning was as successful as a tearful farewell can be. We all needed this opportunity to gather with our Daybreak colleagues to celebrate their many achievements, acknowledge their amazing work, and wish them the very best. It was cathartic even while it was sorrowful. The eight Daybreakers were class acts from start to finish… I’ve never seen that level of professionalism-despite-pain before or since.

db table

consider this

Around 5:30 that same evening, I emailed the Catholic Center with a digital copy of the “Tribute to Daybreak” booklet that was given to the Daybreak staff at the breakfast. (The booklet can be found in its entirety below the text of this post.) As I explicitly stated in the email, all of the quotations in the booklet were taken from the many emails that were sent in support of Daybreak. When I received this email response from Bishop Malone regarding the booklet, I was literally speechless.

RJM to SMO regret about tribute

A “significant omission??!!” Yes, Bishop Malone, there had been a significant omission regarding Daybreak: your meeting with them, acknowledging them, consoling them, and encouraging them. Yet here he was – passively aggressively offering his “just a thought.” To the very best of my recollection, this is the only email message from Bishop Malone that I did not respond to even by acknowledging receipt. I simply had no words.

After the Daybreak departure and during the remained of Bishop Malone’s vacation, I had a lot of time to ponder my next steps. I had secured the job I applied for and was making plans for that transition. At the same time, I made the decision that I was not going to leave the Chancery empty-handed. My whistle blower plans were still in their nascent stage, but I no longer struggled with the general concept of it. The moral imperative was unavoidable and now I no longer felt any lingering emotional attachment to Bishop Malone. His coldness to the Daybreakers had cast a chill on my own relationship with him. A naturally loyal person, I had had a front row seat to Bishop Malone’s lack of loyalty to the Daybreak crew.

If he could do it, so could I.

Little did Bishop Malone know how complete my “radio silence” would be… the next time I would communicate with him would be the morning of Monday, July 23rd when I greeted him upon his return to the Chancery. Shortly thereafter, I would give him my three weeks’ notice. Three days later, I would meet Charlie Specht. Before the week was out, I would begin leaking documents to him.

Bishop Malone taught me two very important lessons last year:

  1. The power of the media to coerce him into much-needed, long overdue action
  2. How to betray those close to you

They were startling, disquieting, and painful lessons, but I learned them well.

I dedicate this post to my former colleagues in the Daybreak TV Productions department. It was a joyful privilege to work with you and it is a great gift to still call you friends. May you always know that you are loved by so many people and by Our Lord most of all! 

Daybreak Team Names

Daybreak TV’s YouTube channel where you can view their “Consider This,” “In A Word” and “Question of the Day” series among other productions:

https://www.youtube.com/user/DaybreakTV

The “Tribute to Daybreak” booklet:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Listening Sessions 2, 3 & 4 in a Word: Sick, Sarah & Sue

Listening Session #2: Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this event on June 15th due to a nasty respiratory virus that laid me low. I was initially determined to still attend, but ultimately decided that I only want to spread truth – not germs! The MRT provided notes for session 2, which can be found at this link. I believe these notes were compiled by Dennis Mahaney, who took notes by hand at the first session and then wisely upgraded to a laptop.

st. marks.jpg
St. Mark’s Parish, Buffalo

 

Listening Session #3: The only session held during the evening, this event took place at St. Mark’s Parish in Buffalo on Thursday, July 27th. For me, it was a very special occasion because I finally got to meet Sarah Ann, a survivor I’ve gotten to know through social media over the past months. Everything she has stated or shared has demonstrated that she is equal parts sweet and strong! As much as I looked forward to meeting her at St. Mark’s, I was anxious to ensure that this would be as positive an experience as possible for her. We arranged to sit together and I picked the table closest to the only easy exit from the St. Mark’s gym. I wanted to be sure she had an escape hatch in case it became too much for her.

As difficult as it must have been, Sarah not only stayed for the entire session, but edified and educated those at our table by sharing some of her testimony. Unfortunately, she was not given the opportunity to do so for the entire group of approximately 60 people. On Tuesday the 25th, Sarah had reached out to the MRT (Movement to Restore Trust, the lay group running these listening sessions) to see if she could speak at Thursday’s session. She noted that she “would not take too much time” and that her “intention is to let others know of the ramifications of the abuse on adult survivors, the detrimental impact on our faith, and awareness that continued support from the community is essential to our healing processes.”

Unbelievably, Maureen Hurley (wife of Canisius College President John Hurley) responded to Sarah in this fashion: “It is not appropriate for you to have a formal spot on the agenda for the listening session tomorrow night as the flow and agenda for the session has been planned for some time.” It is hard to fathom why Maureen Hurley or any of the MRT organizers would not welcome or at least accommodate a survivor’s request to speak at this type of event. If anyone deserves to be listened to, it is the survivors. In fact, they are the ones we should be listening to the most. The only “appropriate” response to Sarah would have been a warm, inviting welcome. Instead, she was given the run around about “flow and agenda” – both of which could have been modified to accommodate Sarah’s request. The MRT head honchos are professionals with years of experience running all sorts of things. In particular, Maureen and John Hurley are extremely successful and experienced leaders. If they can’t adjust the “flow and agenda” of an event of this nature with two days notice, they shouldn’t be in charge of a convenience store let alone a college.

You can read more about this debacle via the WKBW story at this link.

  • Regarding John Hurley’s statement (in that linked story) that the listening sessions are set up by the Bishop – this was directly contradicted by Bishop Malone’s words at the Olean session on Saturday morning when he stated: “These sessions are intentionally arranged by the planners – not by me.” Sounds like a classic case of “It wasn’t me – it was the other guy.” Hurley and Malone are cut from the same cloth…

Getting back to the session, here are my notes:

Stephanie, the MRT Moderator, gave the standard intro and overview for the event. Certain phrases really stuck out to me this time given Sarah’s experience such as “this is an opportunity for all to be heard” and the desire for “unvarnished, unedited comments” to be expressed and recorded.

I have to give Stephanie kudos for holding up the “stoplight timer” that I mocked after the St. Greg’s listening session. She noted that “it didn’t go well the first time” and that her use of it was “really awkward” and made her look like “a spaz.” She invited people to play around with it as long as they gave it back to Dennis Mahaney, who must own the thing. I can’t imagine anyone took her up on the offer, but I appreciated Stephanie’s humor and candor regarding that infamous timer.

Sitting at the front of the room were Bishop Malone, Dennis Mahaney and Dr. Nancy Nielsen, who is a member of the organizing committee of the MRT.

At our table, Sarah and I were joined by three gentleman: one was very well informed/researched about the scandal, another who had a self-identified rosy view of things, and Stephanie’s husband. Stephanie’s husband is not Catholic, but attends Mass with her and their family. (Stephanie’s husband was already seated at this table when Sarah and I joined it so he was not a plant lest anyone wonder about that.) As you can imagine, this was a very unique and diverse group! Each of us had an opportunity to speak and were listened to respectfully by the others. Sarah, of course, had the most powerful contribution. She spoke about the personal toll of her abuse and how it has affected her entire life and her family as well. Sarah noted that she’s focused on healing right now, but knows that her pain will never fully go away. She made several excellent suggestions and remained so strong while she was speaking. It was clear that her words had a profound impact on her listeners.

According to the MRT directives, each table is to have a scribe and a spokesperson. I volunteered to be the scribe, but ended up being the spokesperson by default. The three gentlemen declined to speak and Sarah had understandable apprehension given the response she’d received from Maureen Hurley. Thus I prepared to read the list I’d just compiled.

It was both a strange and emotional situation for me. I would be addressing the room as a whole, but in some sense I was also speaking directly to the Bishop. That was a strange realization. I was also extremely humbled to be speaking for Sarah as she wanted her suggestions to be shared with the entire group. I wanted to be certain that I represented her well – that was incredibly important to me. I don’t usually get too nervous before speaking in public, but this time I did. Here was our table’s contribution to the “report out” segment:

  • We were privileged to have a survivor at our table, who shared their perspective. As you can imagine, this was a very powerful and impactful part of our table’s discussions.
  • This survivor made several suggestions including:
    • Counselors who work with abuse victims should be trained and well versed in the ramifications of sexual abuse
    • Survivors should not have to call the media to get answers about their abusers- that information should be made available to them by the Diocese
    • Anyone who has been abused should call law enforcement to report
    • It is important for the Diocese to follow-up with survivors. They will struggle for the rest of their lives and need as much support as possible
  • Our table noted that the laity must be involved in holding bishops accountable as they cannot do this themselves
  • Concerns were raised regarding the fact that so few young people are here tonight
  • Regret expressed that these crimes and related matters were not handled properly so it became a scandal and an even greater tragedy
  • It is up to the laity to save our Church
  • We must have truly zero tolerance of any abuse of a child or an adult
  • At the other end of the spectrum, we need to recognize and support good priests

Other tables’ contributions were as follows:

  • The news media is doing the digging – we get the truth from them
  • Why aren’t priests punished as regular people would be?
  • Why is there a watering down of abuse as if some types of abuse “aren’t so bad”?
  • We have to be honest – we need to know the truth
  • From a 96 year-old attendee: “The Catholic Church is losing its prestige and holiness due to the scandal and the cover-up”
  • Attendance is down at all the parishes
  • Priests violating their position of trust is a savage thing
  • Why is Bishop Malone allowing active homosexual priests to remain in ministry – they should not be priests
  • Can we count on the Church to handle this correctly?
  • People feel bad about priests who are accused but not found guilty – no information is provided on that and their reputations are at risk
  • There should be sympathy and support for accused priests
  • Everyone needs to be involved in this renewal
  • There needs to be collaboration with the laity on all key issues within the Church
  • After Vatican II, priests were not educated to teach the faith
  • Great concern for the future of our Church – schools are closing and young people are leaving
  • People are sick of hearing about this and want to move on
  • This didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight
  • Disappointed in the turnout tonight – not as many people here as there should be
  • Part of how this happened is that priests were treated like they were God
  • We need more and constant transparency
  • The Church teaches us to be moral and truthful, which makes it even more horrible when the leaders of the Church are not being moral and truthful themselves
  • People are not giving to good and worthy charities because of the scandal
  • We are angry and upset at the attitude of hubris not humility that we see from bishops
  • We are worried about inaction – the hierarchy is not moving fast enough to address this scandal and make things right
  • We need to move forward with other issues – such as the border crisis – that will unify people and help to build community
  • There should be other people sitting up there with you, Bishop Malone – it’s not just your mess – you are cleaning up other people’s mess too
  • We feel more disappointment than anger
  • Most pedophiles are homosexuals
  • We have great fear for our young people – we are losing them
  • We cannot let this divide us or freeze us – we have to keep being Catholic
  • When will Bishop Malone be answering our questions?
  • The Diocese should consider having a Board of Ethics (made up of clergy and laity) that would investigate with accuracy
  • Children are not being catechized enough
  • Concerns about the formation of priests – the Diocesan Counseling Center reviews who will become priests and the Center is run by an old priest and two older nuns. They are the ones picking our future priests
  • As someone familiar with the science, I want to note that there is a difference between homosexuality and pedophilia
  • Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God, foundress of a religious congregation of the Benedictine order called the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope, is waiting for a bishop to invite her community to his diocese. Would Bishop Malone consider this for our diocese?
  • We have not had a satisfactory apology statement from the Diocese – nothing that’s been said has matched people’s feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration
  • We have to fix this for real this time and prevent it from happening again
  • The only hotline we need is 9-1-1!
  • I’d like to thank the survivor at our table for attending tonight despite the anxiety they must have felt. Survivors should feel welcome to be present at an event like this and hopefully they will receive a warm welcome and support from the laity.
  • Survivors should be able to meet directly with the Bishop
  • Restorative justice is needed – not just a settlement amount because that alone doesn’t validate victims
  • There has been silence from the Church on other matters – such as the NYS abortion laws – because of the focus on this scandal
  • We still don’t have transparency. Fr. Joe Gatto was to be sent to St. Christopher’s and now he’s not going there. Why? What is the process? We don’t need just the decision, but the process behind it. How was that decision made and by whom?
  • We are angry at the abuse of power and the secrecy
  • The Church could become a leader in this area if we respond to this properly

Bishop Malone’s Remarks:

  • Thank you for all of your comments. I feel the passion in your voices and especially your desire for me to reach out more effectively to those abused by trusted clerics.
  • I also heard your concerns about the future of our Church and how we need to be formed in faith. The key is to teach about Jesus – that’s the key.
  • There is not time for me to answer directly all of your questions, but I am grateful to you for articulating them. I hear your tremendous concern about these matters.
  • Before the scandal broke last year, I was preparing to hold a Diocesan Synod, which hasn’t happened in this Diocese since 1954. In fact, when she worked for me, Siobhan was very helpful in finding information on synods around the world. [When the Bishop started talking about the Synod, I decided to take a break from writing and count the attendees. I was in the mid twenties when I heard the Bishop say my name, which was startling to say the least. I do recall that Synod research I did for him… guess he does too. He talked for about 3 minutes about the Synod, which was not a very effective use of time since by his own admission, a Synod won’t be happening anytime soon in our diocese. I remember thinking Sarah could have used those 3 minutes to speak.]
  • I want to assure you that I do meet with victims – privately and quietly
  • Laity and clergy are co-responsible for the Church
  • I wish I had done listening sessions like this when I first got here
  • I want to do another round of these after the scandal – it is good for this time of gathering and listening to happen
  • The USCCB is united in how to move forward to ensure that this never happens again.
  • I hear your rage, sadness and disappointment
  • I believe at this point, our Catholic schools and organizations are the safest places for children and teens because of our elaborate VIRTUS process, which is audited every year and we always get excellent marks
  • Pope Francis thinks the metropolitan method is most effective. With this method, a person would make their report to the metropolitan bishop, Cardinal Dolan in our case, who would draw in lay people in the response. There is a strong call for lay people to be involved in the process. Bishops are committed to lay involvement. We don’t want bishops policing bishops either. If the metropolitan is accused, the report would go to the next senior bishop.
  • This is a global scourge – the abuse of children and all of that
  • EthicsPoint – this program has been in our diocese for two or three years, but was used for accusations of fraud with Church funds. Now it can be used for anyone to make an anonymous report – any kind of ethical concern can be reported.
  • As for why priests weren’t punished – 30 or 40 years ago, offending priests should have gone to jail. A few have gone to prison in our diocese.
  • We do hold ourselves accountable to law enforcement
  • We have to be very careful when speaking about homosexuality and pedophilia. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it very clear that homosexuals must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Whether a person is homosexual or heterosexual, the problem is acting out one’s sexuality in a manner that is not consistent with their state of life. I do not know of any priests with a homosexual orientation who are acting out – they are living chaste, celibate lives. We cannot draw a straight line from from homosexuality to pedophilia as the John Jay report makes clear. Pedophiles are most likely to be heterosexual, married men so we can’t lump pedophilia with homosexuality as that is a slam on those who live out that orientation chastely and faithfully.
  • I understand your concern about losing young people. In fact, there will be an 8th listening session this fall where I will be meeting with college students. I didn’t run this by the Joint Implementation Team, but I think they will be okay with it. I did a lot of ministry with young people in the past so I am looking forward to this final listening session.
  • I believe that the MRT is a working of the Holy Spirit in our diocese. I have pledged to work with them. The leaders of the MRT are making good demands of me.
  • I hear your call to include more laity and women within the leadership of our diocese. We recently welcomed 3 women to the Finance Council, for example. These may seem like small things, but they are significant.
  • The Diocesan Review Board has a new Chair – Judge Sal Martoche. There is one priest on the Board, but otherwise it is all lay people. I go to their meetings and listen to their reports, but I have no vote.
  • I’m going to ask Nancy Nielsen to take the mic and explain some of the next steps for the MRT:
    • The full MRT report will be coming out soon so keep an eye out for that. The people on the MRT are not pushovers as Bishop Malone can tell you. Also, there may be not just one survivor here tonight, but others who were victims of teachers, Boy Scouts, etc. Be welcoming to survivors – help them and it will transform you. We need to feel their pain in order to understand their anger and frustration.
  • Bishop Malone again: In your comments, I sensed a combination of hope, fear, anger, dismay… I get it – more now than I ever have in the past. Some of the things said are hard to hear, but it is good to hear the focus on the mission of the Church. We cannot neglect the larger mission of our Church including ministry to migrants and immigrants, pro-life ministry, evangelization and catechesis. We have to focus on these too or we will be worse off than we are.
  • I would be interested in learning more about the religious order that was mentioned with which I am not familiar. Please talk to me afterwards so that I can get more information from you.
  • Please pray for me no matter how you feel about me – please send a prayer my way. Not just a quick prayer during Mass – “for Francis, our pope, and Richard, our bishop.” Prayer is a spiritual energy that runs among us.

After Bishop Malone concluded his remarks, Stephanie gave a brief pitch for the MRT and JIT. She also noted that although the Bishop could not answer every question, he did address the most contention questions raised during the evening – the ones raised about homosexuality/pedophilia.

The evening closed with the “Our Father” about which a question was raised regarding the Pope’s recent change to the prayer’s translation in Italian. Bishop Malone noted that so far that wording change is only in effect in Italy. He is not aware of when such a change might be made here in the US.

After the event formally concluded, I was able to say farewell to Sarah, who had remained so strong and resolved throughout the evening. It was such a pleasure to meet her and an honor to sit with her. Before I headed out, I spoke with an attendee who made this insightful observation: “I think the Bishop is so deep in it that he doesn’t hear himself or how he comes across when he’s talking about the MRT or EthicsPoint or whatever else. He really doesn’t know how it comes across to us.” Well said!

walsh.jpg
Archbishop Walsh High School, Olean

Listening Session #4: This session was held at Archbishop Walsh High School in Olean on Saturday, June 29th. I’m not usually down much farther south than Ellicottville and that’s normally in the winter for skiing. It was incredibly beautiful to make that drive – and go even farther south – when the landscape is lush and green.

Upon entering the cafeteria, where the listening session was being held, I surveyed the room to see where I might sit. I don’t have any strategy for where I sit – it’s very much a spur=of-the-moment decision. In this case, I spotted a lady in a teal shirt seated by herself at the end of a table one row in from the back on the right side of the room. I decided to sit opposite her and introduced myself. Her name was Sue. Another gentleman sat down at our table, but that was it. There were approximately 65 people in attendance and only a few tables had 5 or more people. Most of us were spread out rather sparsely among the remaining tables.

Bishop Malone took the microphone first this time and welcomed everyone. He made a point to note that he “was happy to say he recognized many of your faces from my many visits here. This area has deeply Catholic roots and great beauty. I always find it a calming experience driving down here from Buffalo. If I were a young priest, I would volunteer to be assigned down here.” He then took his seat with Dennis Mahaney in the far left corner of the cafeteria behind the main podium. (Nancy Nielsen got there late due to GPS issues and sat up with the Bishop upon her arrival.)

Stephanie then took the mic and gave her usual spiel although she manages to not sound like she’s said it three times before. With Sarah in mind, I noted that one of the objectives listed on the MRT slideshow behind Stephanie is for the listening sessions to be an “intentional period of listening to victims, survivors and the larger Church to inform and influence the Bishop during this Paschal moment in the Diocese of Buffalo.” That sure sounds nice, but is this really occurring? It didn’t on Thursday night, that’s for sure.

Before she closed her intro, Stephanie said that she wanted to “address the elephant in the room – the news story that was on TV last night.” (See WKBW link above) She noted that “we received some feedback that these sessions are overly structured and not allowing people to speak.” She emphasized that she is “staking her professional reputation on her participation in these events and she does not intend for people not to speak if they want to. But today is not an unstructured open mic or town hall style event.” She never mentioned Sarah or her situation, which I found odd since Sarah was the heart of that story. But Stephanie’s mention of the story in general was important because it indicated that the DOB and MRT teams watched it and took note of it. I do wish that they had acknowledged Sarah and apologized for the response she received last week.

Stephanie again mentioned the stoplight timer, which “made me look stupid,” and noted that they’ve “retired” it.  I appreciate her candor and ability to laugh at herself. For someone who witnessed the timer’s debut, I was very glad to hear about its retirement.

Lastly, Stephanie encouraged smaller tables to come together to form larger groups so as to better facilitate discussion. At this suggestion, the gentleman at my table (who turned out to be the principal of the high school) and I started to move to the table just behind us. I asked Sue, the lady at my table, if she would like to join us. She said, “No, I’ll stay here. I’m going speak later if I can.” There was a pained look in her eyes as she spoke and she seemed almost relieved to be left alone at the table. I told her it was nice to meet her and then turned to my new tablemates.

Here are the comments from the table “report outs” (beginning with my table, which is why some of the comments are in the first person singular because I heard them directly from the individual speakers before the formal statements began):

  • As a convert from atheism, what drew me to the Catholic Church was the moral clarity of the Church’s teaching. So these troubling revelations are all the more distressing because it show’s the hierarchy’s lack of moral clarity on these issues. At the very top of the Church, there was a lack of understanding of what is the right thing to do. This is very disturbing. People on the street know what is right and wrong more than the bishops do.
  • There can’t be two sets of standards – we have to deal with these issues and address them directly
  • I question the validity of many of the claims because I grew up in Salamanca and knew hundreds of priests and there were no problems that I knew of. Maybe I was just lucky, but maybe not.
  • Jesus called the high priests hypocrites because they put burdens on people that they themselves would not carry. We need to reestablish the moral authority of the priests. There is laziness and laxity within the priesthood that needs to be addressed. We need to build virtue and be more aware of virtue ethics.
  • You can’t taste your soup while you’re stirring it – the bishops cannot hold themselves accountable. Bishop Malone has shown us that.
  • I question the MRT’s independence and priorities especially since many of the members are social friends of Bishop Malone’s.
  • Where does the Bishop get his advice and input from? Who is advising and informing him? No one from the Southern Tier or very few.
  • How are priests being personally held accountable and the Diocese being held accountable?
  • What is the current screening process for the Seminary?
  • Has the culture and training at Christ the King changed for the better?
  • When men become priests, there should be ongoing mentorship and supervision. What does this look like currently? It needs to be annual and ongoing.
  • Grave disappointment that this has gone on for so long as well as shame about the cover-up
  • Are children safe today? We need to listen better to our children and young people
  • Seminarians should enter older and with more experience
  • Media concern – some allegations are false and ruin lives and reputations
  • What about the possibility of allowing some married priests?
  • There is a lack of moral clarity among the hierarchy
  • We need to build virtue within the priesthood – not just a focus on theology
  • Bishop Malone is surrounded by people who agree with him or protect their friends and keep information from the Bishop
  • There has been a devastating effect on Catholic education – funding and enrollment have suffered greatly because of the scandal
  • The second group of victims are the good priests, who are being unjustly lumped in with criminals
  • The Catholics of the Southern Tier are neglected on the Bishop’s councils and advisory boards. The MRT is composed of members exclusively from Erie County
  • We need to utilize law enforcement and have a well-established processed to file reports – an objective process
  • The mother of a victim was at our table and reminded us that the families of victims need to be healed as well. They trusted the abuser and feel guilt. Children should never be alone with an adult. The Boy Scouts have a rule where there are always two adults and two children or more. It is important to seek understanding of the pain of victims
  • This scandal is bringing us to our knees – the only way out is up
  • Church administration is a closed system, which breeds dysfunction
  • More lay participation is needed on advisory boards and seminary decisions. The lay people should be elected not selected – at both the parish and diocesan levels
  • The laity is the Church as well as the priests – there needs to be an increased awareness of the role of the laity
  • Youth ministers have concerns about how to reach out to families with kids in the early grades who have lost trust in the Church
  • The Diocese and the Church are not getting to continue their ministry and mission because of this scandal
  • This is not just a Church issue – the greatest amount of pedophilia is in families
  • People need to learn about these things through Diocesan channels – not from the media
  • There is a lack of trust and people are voting with their feet by not showing up at church
  • There is anxiety over where the money goes – no one wants their hard-earned money going to settlements for priests’ crimes, but people do want victims to be compensated
  • The Bishop has vowed responsibility to the people of his diocese – we need to see an open, humble, apologetic approach from him
  • Is most of the guidance to Bishop Malone from a legal and PR stand point? The language that is out there – “pay off” versus “pay out” – shows the distinction between business language and that of a spiritual nature
  • People feel on the outside on these issues – like they’re sitting in the cheap seats. They have an overall sense of the game, but not much knowledge or sense of what’s really going on
  • The Church intentionally compartmentalizes itself to hide the truth and to protect itself
  • The Church needs an ability to apologize – to say we are sorry – to empathize
  • The Church is experiencing the consequences of the abuse. We are now facing the effects of 20 years ago when the bishops made themselves exempt from the Charter. Today we are seeing the effects of that abuse of power. Unless we change things, we will keep reliving consequences 20 years from now
  • Child victims and their parents carry their pain to the grave – until the day they die. (The gentleman who spoke these words did so in a deeply empathetic voice. As he spoke, loud thunder booms could be heard for the first time amidst the rain that had been falling for some time. We could see lightning in the distance. It was quite a dramatic moment.)
  • What penance is being done by the institutional Church to demonstrate to the world at large the pain we share? How do we demonstrate this penance after our credibility has been so badly damaged? What are we doing as a Church that shows we understand and we are sorry? We need to show our repentance to the world. My brother and I are lifelong Catholics – our family was “the Catholic family in town” – but we would consider leaving the Church if something is not done to show repentance. My brother suggested that something be done in the biblical tradition of sackcloth and ashes to show remorse. The elegance of the Church does not reflect contrition. Proposal is that for 1 year, all the altars in all the churches around the world be stripped as they are in Lent. This would send a message to the Catholic faithful and to the world. It would be a sign of humility, remorse and contrition.
  • People are leaving the Church – we have concerns about the future and growth of it
  • There is a shortage of clergy – some priests are doing triple and quadruple duty

At this point, the lady named Sue raised her hand. People would raise their hands when their table was ready to “report out.” So when Sue raised her hand, Stephanie directed Kathy to bring the mic over to her: “Sue’s going to talk.” I noted that Stephanie knew Sue’s name as though she were already familiar with her.

Sue took the microphone and walked over to the middle of the room at the back – opposite Stephanie and the head table. This is what she said:

“I am the mother of a victim. I became Catholic when I got married. My young son was molested at a Catholic church – St. Mary of the Angels. He was an altar boy there. When my older son was 10 or 11, he changed. He was disruptive and had no interest in school. He also didn’t want to go to Church, but we pushed him to go. He eventually became a drug addict and an alcoholic. When he was 19, he told his Dad what had happened to him. He didn’t tell me because he was ashamed. He never had a relationship with a woman or got married. He was always an addict. 4 years ago, he took his own life. My younger son recently turned 42 and he told me, ‘My brother never got to be 42.’ My older son never told his brother or anyone. This is the first time I am publicly talking about this. I am no longer Catholic and have found another church that I attend. The minister there has helped me to see that this did not happen because of God or because of anything we did. Please protect the children so that no one else has to go through what our family has suffered.”

There was immediate and hearty applause. There were many tears being wiped away. This writer was holding back sobs – no matter how many times you hear victim’s stories, it is never becomes easy or less emotional. Each story is its own tragedy and holds enormous pain. In this case, the pain was dramatically increased by knowing that this man suffered so greatly in life and ended up losing it.

But through my tears, I knew something very powerful had just happened: every single person in that room would never be the same after hearing Sue’s story. Her son’s life, while immensely tragic, was going to have a far-reaching impact. Because of his mother’s courage and strength, his story would inform and inspire a room full of strangers.

After Sue took her seat, the report outs continued:

  • The victims are the quiet ones. They don’t want money. We can’t treat them as outcasts
  • Outward sign of remorse is so much needed – get rid of the glitz and glory. We like the idea of making the altar simple
  • We need to get the women of the Church involved – this would help with remorse and healing
  • Thank God the laws have changed – when I was young, I was molested by my uncle and there was nothing I could do about it. (There was applause for this victim-survivor as well)
  • It’s hard to imagine that there could be so much pain and joy living side by side. I am a lifelong Catholic and had the greatest Catholic education and parish life, but that was right next to victims who were enduring the greatest tragedy. The pain is so great.

Bishop Malone’s Remarks:

  • These sessions are intentionally arranged by the planners – not by me.
  • I have not been through the pain your families have experienced. I am almost breathless thinking of all of this. This is the most powerful session of the four we’ve had so far because of the testimony we have heard today.
  • Legitimate demands are being made of me and of the Diocese. There is a need for things to be very, very different.
  • People have been tragically hurt on many levels. I see and hear the pain and anger
  • This comes back always to Jesus – He is the reason we are here. We expect more of our clergy because of Jesus – they represent Him.
  • We will fix things to the extent we can. I remain hopeful despite the pain. There has been a crucifixion of victims and their families. And there have been false accusations, which are horrible things too.
  • I’m glad I’m here today. To be honest with you, coming to these as your bishop in this climate makes me very vulnerable. But I offer that vulnerability to you, the victims and their families.
  • I am sorry that all of this happened and that I in some instances could have done better and did not
  • It is not the expectation that I can handle every point that was raised today
  • I want to thank Sue for her courage and honesty in sharing that horrible, horrible part of your family life. At this, Sue spoke to the Bishop: “Hold yourself responsible to protect kids now.” He answered that he will and he does.
  • VIRTUS is a bright hope amidst this darkness. I believe that the safest environment for children and youth is our Catholic environments. Every year all dioceses in the US have an external audit to analyze our response to the Charter and we are always scored as being 100% compliant.
  • Seminary: The admission of candidates is something I keep a close eye on. Young men applying to the Seminary go through a rigorous and vigorous application process that includes a battery of evaluations and interviews. They also write up an autobiography. All together, it is a long process that takes months. I read all of their dossiers and interview them last. I make the final decision. Only once did I turn an applicant down and it had nothing to do with abuse concerns. All through the course of a Seminarian’s experience at Christ the King, they undergo evaluations and participate in regular meetings to gauge their progress. Also, lay men and women being formed for Church ministry study side-by-side with our Seminarians. This is a unique feature of Christ the King.
  • Collaboration and co-responsibility between clergy and the laity is very important and one that the MRT particularly emphasizes. This is crucial for the direction of the Church.
  • I agree with the need for ongoing mentoring and supervision for priests. We have some, but agree there needs to be more
  • I know many have feelings of anger and rage – I have to take it. I could flee – and I know some of you wish I would – but I feel I need to stay here.
  • I agree with the comment about virtue building – couldn’t agree more
  • Bishops policing bishops: all of us bishops were horrified by the McCarrick situation. People had to have known of his abuse of minor and seminarians and yet he was elevated to the level of cardinal. We are still demanding an explanation from the Holy See. This exasperates me as much as it does you.
  • General description of the metropolitan reporting process described in the Listening Session #3 report
  • Mention of Steve Halter, Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility, who is a 28-year veteran of the FBI. We also have investigations done by two former district attorneys.
  • There is serious involvement of the laity at the Diocese and women in leadership roles within the Catholic Center
  • Lack of Southern Tier involvement – we will fix that. At this, Stephanie interjected that someone’s earlier claim that the MRT is entirely made up of Erie County residents was a fair statement. A woman stood up and said she was on one of the lay councils – I believe she said the Diocesan Pastoral Council, but there were several people speaking at once so I can’t be sure. The Bishop started counting as people named lay leaders from the Southern Tier. He said, “Okay, that’s 5 people. I’m not being defensive.” Then someone in the crowd noted that “there are 8 counties within the Diocese of Buffalo, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the WNY Catholic. The input, feelings and contributions of Southern Tier Catholics are not being considered or heard.” To this, Bishop Malone responded, “I hear you and I will respond. I apologize if we haven’t been inclusive.”
  • I have committed myself to significant demands on myself.

At this point, Nancy Nielsen was given the mic to talk about the MRT. She encouraged people to join them and noted that it is not a closed group. Because they met at Canisius, most of the members were from Erie County. In July, the entire MRT report will be released. It has been prepared by lay people. Please keep a look out for the report and read it. EthicsPoint was an MRT suggestion – that there be a central reporting format whereby any misconduct can be reported. It needed to be accessible and easy to find. Previously EthicsPoint was only for financial report, but now it is for any misconduct. This was the most powerful session. Be open to listening to people who have been wounded. Not to stay mired in the past, but to accompany them. It will change you – it changed you when you heard Sue today.

Then Steve Halter took the mic and said, “The bottom line is – call the police. But I still need to hear about it so that we can take action from the Diocese’s standpoint. Also, on the Adult Misconduct Task Force, there is one person from Jamestown.”

Now Stephanie was back at the mic and preparing the group to say the “Our Father.” At this point, Sue got up from her chair and made her exit. I had been hoping to talk to her again, but wanted her to be able to leave in peace. So grateful to her for coming and speaking as she did!

A few thoughts:

  • When the Bishop noted that “this is the most powerful session of the four we’ve had so far because of the testimony we have heard today,” I wanted to stand up and shout: “OF COURSE IT WAS!! It was powerful because finally someone at the epicenter of this tragedy was permitted to speak and share their story. THESE are the people you and we should be listening to most of all.”
  • I couldn’t help but wonder if Sarah’s courageous presence on Thursday night and her excellent interview on Friday paved the way for Sue’s testimony in Olean. Stephanie seemed to be aware that Sue would be speaking and there was a casual formality to those proceedings that suggested some advance knowledge. However, it came about, it was wonderful that Sue could speak to the group at large. I hope that she will not be the last of the survivors or survivors’ loved ones to speak to the Bishop and the listening sessions attendees.

Thoughts on the Moderator and Mic Passer:

Stephanie, Moderator from the MRT: It is obvious that she is truly devoted to this endeavor.  Stephanie isn’t driving around to Olean, Dunkirk and Batavia and several spots in between for the fun of it this summer… she seems genuinely committed to these events and her work at them. I appreciated both of her humorous, candid mentions of the “stoplight timer,” which by her own admission was a major fail. I may not agree with the method they’ve adopted for these sessions, but I can’t find fault with how she’s conducting herself – she is clearly experienced and very professional.

Kathy Spangler, Mic Passer and Diocesan Communications Director: Kathy greeted me at the end of the St. Mark’s event when she came outside to retrieve the “Media” signage and I was on the sidewalk speaking with someone. Since Kathy had introduced herself to me at the St. Greg’s session, I didn’t expect her to come over to me again, but she did. I saw compassion in her eyes and heard sincerity in her voice both times, which I want to acknowledge publicly. I may disagree almost totally with the Communications/PR approach and actions of the Diocese, but I believe Kathy is a sincere person. If she’s not genuine and was faking the compassion I sensed, then we need to get her on a plane to LA stat because Hollywood is missing out on a skilled actress. Again, this is not to say that I haven’t been royally frustrated with Diocesan statements and decisions. But I have to remind myself that as the spokeswoman, Kathy is the conduit from Bishop Malone to the public. The statements she releases are ones that Bishop Malone and Bishop Connors have worked on for hours… or at least that’s how it was last summer. How often did I witness them taking hours to “carefully craft” a brief statement that was the height of absurdity? It’s amazing how lengthy a process legalistic self-protection is. In any event, Kathy seems sincere and genuine and for that I thank her. I also encourage her to practice self-care as best she can. The Bishop will be away for 3 weeks next month and I hope she can take some much-needed downtime to relax and decompress.

And lastly… a big thank you to the hospitality teams at all of these listening sessions! Thank you for setting up, taking down, preparing the refreshments, manning the tables, and helping to welcome everyone to your parish or school. Your generosity of spirit was noticed and appreciated!

Bishop Malone is driving to Cape Cod today. He’ll be on retreat this coming week and then on vacation until the 22nd. Safe travels, Bishop.

cape escape.jpeg

Listening Session Recap: Part 1 of 7

It’s been over twelve hours since the Bishop’s first listening session concluded and I’m still processing it. Despite the fact that this was a gorgeously sunny Saturday in Buffalo, I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically melancholy all day. The listening session was a very unsettling experience for me. Here is the best recap I can muster:

  • The event was MC’ed and led by Stephanie Argentine, the lead facilitator for the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT). As she expressed it, “we thought I’d just continue the facilitating I’ve been doing.” She explained the general purpose of the MRT and noted that they have 150 active members while 400 people have attended the sessions they’ve held with over 1,000 following their work.
  • From the start, Stephanie made it clear that this was “not an open mic or town hall type meeting.” Instead, the format was as follows:
    • Each table was asked to discuss among themselves their concerns, their suggestions for Bishop Malone and diocesan leadership (“how can Bishop Malone in particular best help or assist us collectively with this crisis?”), and their hopes for the future. After a roughly 25-minute period of “table dialogue and discussion,” each table was to select a representative to “report out” to the entire group. The table reps were given 2 minutes to present their table’s thoughts. There was a “red, yellow and green” time tracker that Stephanie used at the podium.
time tracker.jpg
Amazon advertises this as a tool to “keep kids on task”
    • After the table presentations, the mic was passed by Kathy Spangler to roughly 10 people who raised their hands when the opportunity to speak individually was provided. This was not a scheduled part of the event. After the first round of tables “reporting out,” we were supposed to do a second or even third such round. We just got through the first round at 11:05 with the event set to conclude at 11:30. I believe the random, unscheduled “individual comments” segment was thrown in to give the Bishop time to prepare his remarks and so that he would not have to speak for longer than the 10 minutes allotted for him “to share what he’s heard.*”
    • Then Bishop Malone spoke for exactly 10 minutes. He took no questions and answered none that had been raised. He blessed the assembled and then Fr. Leon Biernat, pastor of St. Greg’s, offered a closing prayer.

 

  • The St. Greg’s Ministry Center was set up with 24 tables of 8 chairs with roughly 20 of them close to if not full. At least 75% of the group was middle-aged or certifiably vintage.
  • Bishop Malone sat at a table at the front of the room behind the microphone and podium. He was joined by a “panel” comprised of John Hurley (Canisius College President and MRT founder), Dennis Mahaney (Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Parish Life), Tom Beecher (MRT founder and personal friend of Bishop Malone), and an older gentleman whose name I am not 100% certain of so I won’t use a name. The panel contributed nothing during the entire event other than to provide the Bishop with moral support and older white men with whom to sit**.
  • Father Ryszard and Father Peter Karalus were present at the event, but did not participate formally (I noticed that Fr. Ryszard sat at a table and participated in their discussion – I assume Fr. Peter did the same, but did not see him doing so). I did not see Bishop Grosz at all and thus assume he was not present because he is not in the habit of attendance without attention.
  • There were more than a few Catholic Center staff there including Steve Halter (The FBI Guy), Kris Connell (Communications), and Rick Suchan (Foundation) among others. Rick spoke for his table, which I was a little perturbed by but had to acknowledge that as a St. Greg’s parishioner, he should be able to speak as such. I did wonder, however, whether he could effectively separate his diocesan employment from his parish membership. Another diocesan employee said nothing, but called out loudly in defense of the Bishop when someone was speaking critically of him.

 

  • The most notable element of the morning was the tremendous polarization of the assembled group:
  • Some people were pandering to the Bishop as evidenced by these verbatim quotes:
    • “Thank you for being here with us, Bishop”
    • “Thank you for what you have done for us, Bishop Malone”
    • “Pope Francis has asked bishops to smell like their sheep and that’s what you’re doing today, Bishop”
    • “We love our Bishop!”
    • “Thank you, Bishop Malone, for staying in your position and not running away, but instead staying and taking care of us.”
      • My gag reflex got a good workout during remarks such as these.
  • Other participants were respectfully yet forcefully demanding action, accountability and/or resignation from the Bishop. At one point, a speaker made a distinction between “loving comments” as opposed to “angry ones.” I’ll take righteous anger over unctuous love any day.
  • Here are some of the comments that were expressed during the “report out” segment*** – bolded comments were notable ones in case you don’t want/have time to read them all:
    • We don’t need to restore trust – that’s what got us in this mess in the first place. The problem is that we trusted too much. We need to restore accountability!
    • Abuse must be reported as crimes
    • Bishop Malone should meet in a room with survivors to listen and talk to them
    • The sexual abuse scandal was not addressed at parishes – it was too little too late or not at all
    • The Bishop has not been upfront about a lot of things
    • The cover up is the worst part – why lie when the truth will do?
    • Hard to restore trust when truth is not there
    • We feel betrayed, confused, lost, and sad
    • Power and arrogance are a bad combination in the hierarchy
    • Who determines what type of abuse “rises to the level” whereby a priest should be removed from ministry? (Referring to this recent news)
    • We wish there had been a truly open forum today – a different type of format would have showed that the Bishop really wanted us to speak out. The format of this session directs our comments in a certain way and controls how people can speak. 
    • Importance of the role of women within the Church – separating power from ordination
    • All priests should make a public pledge not to hurt people 
    • Training and formation within the Seminary needs to be examined – how are priests being formed?
    • We need to know more about the law enforcement side of things
    • The media is too negative – especially the Buffalo News and the Washington Post 
    • Catholics are embarrassed to be Catholics
    • There should be an outline of what constitutes abuse
    • The Diocese has let the news control us rather than us controlling the news
    • Where are the people under 40 today?!
    • Full disclosure has not been achieved
    • The Diocese is acting like a political party
    • There have been corporate sins of omission and a lack of transparency regarding financial information
    • Seminary education and formation needs to be renovated and the process of admission needs to be overhauled
    • We need fearlessness from the Bishop
    • Support needs to expressed for priests especially those in rural parishes with no emotional support
    • We are the Church – those are our archives!
    • Priests needs more love from Catholics in general and their parishioners specifically
    • The laity needs to be more involved in decision making for the diocese
    • Every priest is guilty until proven innocent. There have been a number of priests accused over the last year – it’s terrible that they have to go through that
    • Negativeness of the media over the last year – Diocese wasn’t prepared to defend itself and didn’t handle media attacks well
    • Think of this like a game of chess – Bishop Malone, you’ve been acting like a pawn moving one square at a time. You are the bishop – you can diagonally cross the board in one move. Is it time to listen or time for action? 
    • We confess the bad things we’ve done to priests – we need to show the same respect to them and accumulate a mountain of forgiveness
    • Do good people do bad/stupid things? Yes. The clergy deserve our forgiveness in return
    • The Church is being run like a corporation – not as the people of God
    • We are losing the youth of our Church because they don’t trust the hierarchy
    • We have not lost our love for God and the Eucharist
    • Our group was saddened when we found each table only has two minutes to speak
    • Absolute power corrupts
    • Many priests lead solitary and lonely lives – has that contributed to the abuse situation?
    • The media makes stories – we shouldn’t trust that the media is representing the truth. We need to be wary of them.
    • I’m angry and disgusted by the hierarchy. Bishop Malone – you’re the boss- do something!
    • I thank the media for exposing what’s been going on because otherwise it would still be going on
    • The Church shouldn’t be investigating itself
    • Nobody is our savior but Christ
    • I would encourage a different format for these listening sessions. Our table had people with very different opinions and it was hard to get synchronized for a two-minute table report.

Bishop Malone began his remarks by thanking Stephanie for “her gifts at effectively and graciously facilitating this type of gathering.” He thanked those gathered for their “comments, candor and courage.” He stated that in his assessment, the two general themes of the comments were 1) concern for victims and 2) tremendous love for the Church.

He noted his desire for collaboration with the laity while saying he “hears the sense of betrayal and lack of trust.” He went on to say that “the Church’s credibility has been shaken due to 50-60 years worth of this.” Bishop Malone quoted from 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” He encouraged the assembled to focus on and gain strength from their reasons for hope.

Bishop Malone also recognized the calls for transparency and highlighted his work with the MRT, which is “working independently” on these issues. The Bishop stated that he has met with 4 victims over the last 1.5 weeks and noted that this is a regular part of his ministry****. He also admitted that the Diocese needs to “do a lot better at communication.”

The Bishop acknowledged that it was “anxiety-provoking to be here,” but nonetheless he is “looking forward to listening at these gatherings.” He went on to say that “towards the end of summer, I will prepare my remarks in response to what I’ve heard at these sessions. Those remarks will be shared with my consultative bodies (Diocesan Pastoral Council, Presbyteral Council, etc.) and then we will publish and share with the media the concerns raised and my proposed response to them.”

The Bishop made a point to mention the past week’s Priests Convocation, which was “an intense but hopeful and productive” event that “focused on this reality that overwhelms us on the local, national and global level.” “Our friends from the MRT played a huge role in the whole thing” at the convocation.

His closing remarks: “I will get back to you on some of the specifics raised. Dennis has been taking detailed notes for me as I entered into truly listening. I feel your frustration and my own responsibility. I beg your prayers for me as I pray for you. Forgive me my own failures. And now I will offer a blessing…”

Then Stephanie spoke briefly and assured the assembled that the MRT would be taking “these recommendations from today into consideration” and asked anyone with additional comments to write them on the available 3×5 cards so they could be sure to “capture everyone’s input.” She also noted that the Joint Implementation Team (JIT) would be involved in responding to the listening sessions*****.

My perspective:

  • I strenuously disagree with the Bishop’s assessment of the themes of the comments presented. While concern for survivors and love for the Church was wonderfully evident, the primary themes were more along the lines of: 1) criticism of the Bishop and the Diocese and 2) criticism of anything critical of the Bishop and the Diocese.
  • More than a few times, the entire group felt like Congress during a State of the Union address – half of us would clap after one particular remark and then the other half would clap a little while later while the first group remained motionless. The polarization was palpable and deeply unsettling. I often felt physically ill upon witnessing this tangible division.
  • Likewise, the event felt very political. There were those of us who seemed fed up with the system while other folks were defending the system or at least its operators. When a few people were speaking, I wondered what their vested interest in the diocese is. Political, financial, legal, personal?
  • This was the first time I’ve heard the Bishop say something as direct as “Forgive me my own failures.” That line was so startling it made me sit up straight in my chair. This kind of humility has been sadly rare from him. May it not be the last such expression.
  • The format of this event + the media not being allowed = control. Control of what’s said and who hears it. Control is almost always the result of fear. 
    • By its very nature, the format meant that comments were being expressed rather than questions asked. Questions are scary; comments are manageable. You can “capture” comments; you have to answer questions.
    • They said the media blackout was to protect US, but it was clearly to protect THEM. Who’s afraid of the big bad media?
  • It distressed me greatly to witness the polarization of this group of engaged lay people. The members of the laity are currently engaged in a battle to save the soul of our Church. We cannot accomplish this monumental mission if we are divided as was in evidence at this listening session.
  • This was essentially a MRT planned and run event, which is really sad and disconcerting to me. I trust John Hurley as far as I can hurl him.
    • The Diocese’s Communication Director was relegated to Mic Holder while the MRT’s facilitator strode around the room when she wasn’t keeping the kids on task with her stoplight timer. It was so obvious that the MRT was in charge and the Diocese was just following their lead.
  • People still don’t want to accept the truth. They would rather believe a carefully crafted narrative and trust a silver-tongued prelate than reckon with documented truth. My soul aches.

 

Bishop Malone isn’t going anywhere.

Neither am I.

 

Dear Lord, be near to us and hear our prayers. Save us from ourselves. 

 

holy-spirit-prayer.jpg

 

* The Bishop is notorious among the priests for padding meeting agendas so that Q&A sections are as brief as possible. He will desperately seek guest speakers so that there’s only a few minutes left at the end for priests to ask questions or express their concerns. I’ve witnessed him do this multiple times for Presbyteral Council meetings and Priest Forums among others.

**Dennis Mahaney took notes so he wasn’t useless. The others literally just sat there. I thought “panels” were supposed to do something. Otherwise why are you getting preferred seating? Cause you’re wealthy and white?

***Comments stated were supposed to represent the collective opinion of each table. They cannot be attributed to any one individual. I took extensive, exact notes so these quotations are verbatim. A quote using the first person pronoun indicates it was stated during the “individual comment” section.

**** It certainly wasn’t part of the Bishop’s “regular ministry” during my three years working for him. To the best of my recollection, he met with no more than 5 or 6 victims during those three years. Two of them were related and met with him at the same time.

***** Phew, the JIT’s on the case. Problem solved. NOT.

Note: I seem to have an acute case of asteriskal snark. 

BF-1

The weather was remarkably windy – the most challenging conditions for protesters. I only managed to hold my two signs up for a few minutes as I feared losing them to the constant gusts.

me and bob for real
Bob Hoatson’s signs read: “Pierre: Fire Malone” & “And close the Seminary” while Jeff Wick of WKBW-TV keeps watch with his camera

It was nearing 4 pm and we’d been standing by the main entrance of the Seminary for more than a few hours now. We knew the Nuncio had landed at the airport, but weren’t sure when he would be arriving at the Seminary. It was 40 degrees and overcast with winds that nearly blew us over if we were standing at the wrong angle with our signs. I was glad I’d thrown my fleece in my backpack at the last minute or I would have been shivering more than is becoming for a Buffalonian in May.

We were all on the lookout for the Bishop’s black Toyota Avalon as we assumed that would be the vehicle used to transport the Nuncio. The Bishop’s Avalon is best known as “BF-1” since that is the license plate it bears. The Mayor’s license plate is BF-2 and the joke is that if the Diocese is ever negligent with vehicle registration for the Bishop, the Mayor will snag BF-1 from him!

IMG_2195

The Seminary Commencement would begin with Vespers at 4:30 so we knew the Bishop and the Nuncio would have to arrive soon. As 4 pm neared, my fellow protesters would get excited whenever a black vehicle began to approach the Seminary entrance. Each time someone exclaimed about an approaching black car, I would note that it was too high or too narrow, or had the wrong headlights or frame. I was surprised to realize just how well I knew the Bishop’s car.

But then again, I saw it pretty regularly. Not infrequently, the Bishop would have me run down to the Catholic Center garage to grab something from the passenger seat or trunk of BF-1. I would often fly down the stairwell to try and catch the Bishop and Father Ryszard before they left in BF-1. (Both of them have an endearing habit of forgetting necessary items when leaving the Chancery.) Papers, program or phone in hand, I would do my best to flag them down and make the drive-by delivery. I’ve ridden in BF-1 several times to events such as the Mayor’s State of the City Address or the Irish Civic Luncheon. And, of course, I could never forget the epic day last year when BF-1 was stolen right from the Bishop’s garage. It was eventually recovered and the Bishop’s “traveling crozier” was still in the trunk! Bishop Malone ended up getting a brand new Avalon after that, but the BF-1 license plate remained.

All of a sudden, a black vehicle crested the small hill near the Seminary entrance. “That’s it!” I shouted, “That’s them!” I recognized immediately that this car was of the proper width and height. The angle of the windshield was correct as was its grille. Suddenly they were right there – a mere arm’s length from me as I was the protester closest to the road. Father Ryszard was driving with the Bishop and the Nuncio in the left and right back seats, respectively. A hanger with clothing was hanging near the front passenger door.

BF 1 pulling in

I hadn’t prepared myself for this moment. All of a sudden it wasn’t the wind stinging my eyes – those were tears. This was the closest I’d been to the Bishop since August 21st of last year. I spotted his familiar hair and glasses, but could not see his face or expression clearly. At the same time, I saw my former coworker, Father Ryszard, resolutely driving past protesters and signs to enter his Seminary, which did nothing to protect him from or support him after sexual abuse by a priest. I saw the Nuncio too, but although my sign addressed him directly, he was not my priority in those fleeting seconds. I was focused solely on my former boss and colleague.

How incredibly strange it was to be literally on the outside looking in. I couldn’t help but think of how often I’d called or received a call from the Bishop and Father Ryszard while they were driving in BF-1. “Father Ryszard here” was the familiar, cheerful greeting I would hear followed by: “I’ve got you on speaker so we can both talk to you.” Next I would hear the Bishop’s resonant voice: “Siobhan, we’re just leaving now. Can you call the Cafeteria and ask them to save some lunch for us? We’ll be too late to go through the line.” Then the Bishop and Father Ryszard would begin determining their specific time of arrival. The two of them enjoyed predicting the exact moment: 10:39 am or 2:17 pm, for example. I would laugh at their hilarious precision and tell them I’d be expecting them at 1:42 pm – not a minute before or after. After hanging up, I’d run downstairs to get their usual lunch choices, which I’d bring up to the small conference room for them. I genuinely loved helping both of them and have many fond memories such as this. No matter what came after, we were a fantastic team for several wonderful albeit rose-colored years.

me and bf 1

And now here I was, staring into the windows of BF-1 while holding a sign that read: “+Pierre: Take Malone and Grosz with you.” I was asking the Papal Nuncio to somehow intervene on behalf of our diocese so that our current episcopal leadership could be removed. As much as I believed wholeheartedly in what my sign said, it made my heart and stomach ache to hold it as I did. This was my very first time protesting in Buffalo since all of this began. I protested in Baltimore last November, but have no idea if Bishop Malone ever saw me – the bishops entered and exited the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott in Suburbans with highly tinted windows… we had no clue which bishops were in there and whether they looked our way or avoided us and our signs.

4 of us .png
Jim Faluszczak’s sign read: “Where are our zero tolerance sanctions, Archbishop Pierre?”

But now I was almost positive that Bishop Malone saw my sign – he was mere feet from me and seemed to be looking in my direction. I was purposely standing as close to the road as I could. The lead off-duty cop on patrol at the entrance had already “read us the riot act,” as my Mom would say, about not impeding the path of the Bishop’s vehicle or otherwise causing a disturbance. We had no such intention, but we did want our signs to be read. I believe they were. Bishop Malone is quite proficient in French so he would have been able to easily translate Bob Hoatson and Jim Faluszczak’s brilliant signs. I had tried to mimic a French font for my signs, but Bob and Jim had cleverly used the Nuncio’s native language itself!

Looking down after BF-1 swiftly passed us by, I smiled faintly at my blue windbreaker. I remembered how I’d bought it before the Ireland pilgrimage I went on with Bishop Malone and Father Ryszard in the fall of 2017. Given that it rained a little bit nearly every day we were there, that windbreaker was my constant sartorial companion. Many of the pilgrims commented that Father Ryszard and I both had blue jackets on all the time. They said we were such coordinated staff for the Bishop. Father and I could only laugh… we were lucky to have the essentials coordinated let alone our attire!

rysz and me at cliffs.jpg
One of my favorite photos from the Ireland pilgrimage – with Father Ryszard at the hauntingly beautiful Cliffs of Moher

The Bishop and Father Ryszard were not the only familiar faces I saw that afternoon. Many diocesan priests and former colleagues drove into the Seminary to attend the Commencement. They had to stop right at the entrance to be checked in by one of the three policemen on duty there. It was an odd procedure to witness: people being elaborately checked in in order to proceed on to the Seminary grounds. What were they so afraid of that they hired private security? I thought to myself. Concerned members of the Diocese? Courageous survivors? The truth? Reality? 

As familiar faces pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t help but notice their reactions to us protesters: a few smiled or waved at me, but the majority looked away or even shook their heads at us. No matter how awkward this is, I remember thinking, I’d rather be on the outside of this operation. I know the Diocese pretty much from the inside out… and as painful as it can be, I’d rather be on the outs than on the inside!

You may be wondering what led me to protest the Bishop and the Diocese for the first time in 10 months. The impetus was the rare visit from the Papal Nuncio to the Diocesan location that has been most on my mind and heart over the past few weeks: Christ the King Seminary. If you are not familiar with the recent and ongoing plight of our Seminarians, you can read about it by clicking on this hyperlink. I wanted to stand in support with our Seminarians – especially the ones who blew the whistle on the recent Pizza Party from Hell at a local parish rectory. I am concerned for those whistle blowers, who were subjected to interrogations as the Seminary and Diocese focused more on who leaked documents than on what those documents revealed. Nothing has changed since this exact same thing occurred last August!

Our Seminarians deserve so much more than they are receiving at Christ the King Seminary. At the very least, they deserve to be treated with respect rather than interrogated. I hope to say more about their plight in the coming weeks. For now, please join me in prayer for the Seminarians here in Buffalo and throughout the world. The global Seminary system needs a major overhaul.

Let me close by noting that no matter how difficult it may have been for me to protest this particular event, I recognize that it is infinitely harder for survivors of clerical sexual abuse to protest in any capacity. I share my protesting perspective as a way to reflect on what this experience was like for me. It still surprises me how emotional this whole situation continues to be. I’ve talked to three new victim-survivors during the past week alone. They are always my priority – it is for and with them that I protest… through bracing wind, startling tears and dispiriting memories.

 


All screen grabs taken from this video by WKBW-TV courtesy of Charlie Specht and Jeff Wick. My sincere gratitude to both of them for being there with us on Friday.

Holy Thursday: Not Immune to Scandal

In Matthew’s Gospel, the first Mass begins with a rather chilling revelation: “Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover. Before he took the bread and broke it, Jesus warned them that His betrayer was in their midst. Upon hearing this, the disciples were greatly distressed and began to cry out “Surely it is not I, Lord!” According to Luke’s Gospel, this disturbing announcement is following by a debate among the disciples as to “which of them should be regarded as the greatest.” They’ve just been told that one of them will betray their Lord and next thing you know – they’re arguing over who’s the most important! Jesus has to remind them to follow His example as “the one who serves.”

Jesus proceeds to give them another reality check: “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.'” When Peter tells Jesus that his faith will never be shaken, Jesus replies with that memorable warning: “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Not just once will Peter deny, but three times!

Yet despite this full knowledge of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, Jesus institutes two sacraments: the Eucharist and Holy Orders. He tells them to “do this in commemoration of me” and with these words his apostles now became his first priests partaking in the first Mass. This understanding of the institution of the priesthood was made very clear at the Council of Trent: “If anyone shall say that by the words ‘Do this in commemoration of me’ Christ did not institute the apostles priests, or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer his body and blood: let him be anathema.” The Council Fathers did not mince words on this crucial point!

Of course, these two sacraments are spiritually and practically intertwined so it is fitting that they would be instituted at the same time. Without priests to celebrate Mass and consecrate hosts, there would be no Holy Eucharist. Yet it is fascinating to realize that Jesus instituted these two sacraments at the same time that he predicted the betrayals and denials of the men who were now his priests as well as his disciples.

Not all of the disciples betrayed or denied so dramatically as Judas and Peter. Most of them neither denied nor acknowledged him – they weren’t there to do either. Andrew, James and Matthew, for example, were not questioned by the high priest’s maid as Peter was. Peter “followed at a distance” as Jesus was led to the high priest’s house, which is how he came to be questioned in the courtyard. The other apostles had simply scattered after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. We don’t know where they went. The shepherd had been struck and the sheep of the flock had indeed dispersed.

We can learn much from pondering the sources of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. All four Gospels point to greed as the primary motive for Judas’ actions. He is a complex character with likely multiple motives, but greed for those infamous 30 pieces of silver is generally understood as the origin of his betrayal. It is also likely that Judas did not or could not accept that the “kingdom of God,” of which Jesus so frequently spoke, would not be an earthly, powerful kingdom. Judas sought a political – not a peaceful – messiah.  (I could write a post on this topic alone, so I will have to stop myself here.)

As for Peter, his denials were caused by a lack of moral courage. The Catholic dictionary defines courage as: the virtue of bravery in facing difficulties, especially in overcoming the fear of consequences in doing good. As moral courage, it enables a person to pursue a course deemed right, through which one may incur contempt, disapproval, or opprobrium. Had Peter rejected the temptation to deny Jesus, he would have certainly faced criticism or censure from those assembled in the high priest’s courtyard. In John’s Gospel, the final person to question Peter was a relative of the high priest’s slave, whose ear Peter had cut off not that long ago. The man asked him: “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?” Now Peter is really under pressure – his questioner was in the garden and, worse, may have witnessed Peter’s violent action, which Jesus remedied with a healing. Mark’s Gospel describes Peter’s third denial in this manner: “He began to curse and to swear, ‘I do not know this man about whom you are talking.'” This was no subtle refutation – it was quite a dramatic denial. Interestingly, Peter does not use his master’s name in his response. The maidservant had used his name “You too were with the Nazarene, Jesus” when she questioned Peter. But Peter cannot bring himself to say that name and simply denies knowing “this man.” The memorable rooster would crow soon thereafter.

peter and the rooster

Reflections such as these automatically make me think of the current leadership of our Church – the bishops who are the direct descendants of the apostles. As we are sadly aware, the hierarchy of our Church is frequently motivated by greed or at least an undue focus on financial matters. They often are more focused on the externals – optics, PR, reputation, titles, etc. – as though their diocese were their kingdom and they must maintain their power and influence over it. Likewise, many of our bishops and cardinals greatly lack the moral courage that is so much needed in these difficult times. And in my experience at the Chancery, the name of Jesus is not heard nearly as much as you would expect. We were all working there because of “this man,” but how little did I hear His Holy Name.

Judas and Peter were two of Christ’s closest companions. They lived with him throughout his three years of public ministry. They witnessed his healings, his miracles, his preaching. They were there the day He multiplied the loaves and fish with enough left over to open a fish sandwich shop. They were there the day He raised Lazarus from the dead. They saw and heard and experienced it all. And still they betrayed and denied while the others scattered in fear. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “it is a mistake to think that the great privilege of living in company with Jesus is enough to make a person holy.” Judas and Peter prove that point very poignantly. They also teach us an important lesson for our modern times: “great privilege” in the Church does not automatically lead to personal holiness. In fact, it can often lead in the opposite direction.

But then there’s John, who I have intentionally neglected to mention until now. John is generally considered the youngest of the apostles and was described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” John was the only apostle who did not abandon Jesus during His Passion. He stood faithfully at the foot of the cross while Jesus suffered and died. Jesus addressed him directly from the cross with those beautiful words, “Behold, your mother.” From that day forward, John cared for Mary as though he were her son. John offers us a vivid example of love for the Lord, faithfulness in the face of fear, and devotion to our Blessed Mother.

Just as young John must have been a source of great consolation for Jesus during his Passion and death, the young priests of our Church are a source of hope and consolation for us. They are so often filled with great love for the Lord and His Mother. From what I have witnessed or been told, they are remaining faithful to their vows to God and their commitment to His people. They are dedicated to being the “ones who serve” instead of striving for great privilege, lofty titles or plush appointments. This June, eight men will be ordained priests for the Diocese of Buffalo. That is the largest number of ordinands since the year I was born – 1983. What a great sign of hope for our Church!

This Holy Thursday, our Church remains embroiled in a massive scandal related to clerical sexual abuse. But Holy Thursday itself was not immune to scandal. One of Jesus’ longtime followers would betray him in a garden. The apostle who would eventually lead His Church would deny Him three times in a courtyard. The rest of His apostles – save one – would desert Jesus out of fear and weakness. Had there been a Church already present at the time, can you imagine what a scandal this would have been?! Judas was essentially the treasurer for the apostles – the keeper of their collective funds. “Follow the money,” I imagine people would have said. “I knew that Judas guy was shady.” You might have heard people exclaiming: “Peter’s going to be Pope after he denied Jesus three times? What kind of leadership is this?!”

On this Holy Thursday, let us pray for our priests, who give us the gift of Jesus through the Holy Eucharist. Let us pray for our young priests, our seminarians and those about to be ordained. Let us pray for our Church’s leaders – who were priests long before they were prelates. As difficult as it may be, let us pray for abusive priests, whose ordinations imprinted an indelible sacramental character on their souls. Their immortal, priestly souls are in danger. Let us pray for mercy while we work for justice.

Abusive priests have betrayed their God, their vows and their people.

Complicit bishops have denied the abuse, the cover-ups and the relocations.

But unlike most of Jesus’ disciples that Holy Thursday night, we will not scatter. We are His disciples too and we will remain faithful! In the midst of this painful scandal, we will not abandon Jesus despite the sins and failings of some of His ministers. We must stand strong in support of the good priests who far outnumber the bad ones. We must stand in solidarity with each other as we demand moral courage from our Church leadership. And we must be willing to stand at the foot of the cross with the victims of clerical sexual abuse. We must be committed to helping them obtain the help and healing they need to come back from the death of their innocence.

 

A Prayer for Priests by St. Charles Borromeo

O Holy Mother of God, pray for the priests your Son has chosen to serve the Church. Help them, by your intercession, to be holy, zealous and chaste. Make them models of virtue in the service of God’s people. Help them be pious in meditation, efficacious in preaching, and zealous in the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Help them administer the Sacraments with love and joy. Amen.

Stephanie’s Letter

For several reasons, it is not hard for me to recall April 17th, 2018. I remember the snowy, 30-degree weather as I hurried into the Catholic Center that Tuesday morning. Such weather in April is not unfamiliar to Buffalonians, who are accustomed to Second Winter replacing Spring. But that morning, the chilly temps were more notable because I was returning from a visit to a warmer clime. Given the scandal swirling within the Diocese at the time, I had been tempted to postpone or cancel my long-scheduled trip to San Francisco and Yosemite. In the end, I had decided that a 4-day weekend to a beautiful area might be just what I needed.

plane-pic.jpg

By the early hours of Tuesday the 17th, I was beginning to doubt that decision. My flight home had been delayed due to weather, which meant I didn’t make it into Buffalo until 2 am. Due at the Chancery by 8:30 at the latest, I began to mentally prepare myself to return to the Catholic Center running on empty. The Wednesday prior, I had prepared the office for the Bishop’s return from Easter vacation. As these photos indicate, he was greeted by a full counter and a plethora of mail to process. I wondered what would greet me upon my return a week later.

It was now 11:40 am. The preceding 3 hours had been a dizzying blur of emails, voice mails and requests. Grateful that the Bishop was now otherwise occupied, I took a moment to catch my breath at my desk. Father Ryszard must have been waiting for this opportunity because he immediately approached my cubicle. I figured he was going to update me on what had transpired during my absence, but he had only one thing to say: “You should read this.” His expressive eyes told me all I needed to know: the letter he had given me pertained to the abuse scandal and it was going to be a painful read.

I have never been so viscerally affected by the written word. While reading Stephanie McIntyre’s 7-page letter to Bishop Malone, I had to stop multiple times. At least three times to brush away tears, which were blurring my vision and preventing me from reading further. Once to bend over and hope I didn’t throw up on the anti-fatigue mat upon which I stood. By the time I reached the letter’s end, I was sobbing with sorrow for Stephanie while my blood boiled at the thought of her abuser, Fabian Maryanski. Just writing these words brings me back to that seismic moment. It was as though I had survived an earthquake that only I had felt.

Around 12:20 pm, I realized that I needed to explain my crying fit to my nearest co-worker. Close to me both figuratively and literally, she could see and hear me crying. She was accustomed to my tears during and after speaking with survivors on the phone, but would have had no idea what brought on the waterworks this time. I could not trust myself to speak about Stephanie’s letter yet, which is why I resorted to email. Our email exchange can be found below:

When reading this email thread,

please begin at the bottom of the second image and read up. 

top-email-pic.png

bottom-email-pic.png

This is the first time that I’m sharing the background of my “burn this place down” remark, which was made public during 60 Minutes Overtime last October. How vividly do I recall the moment when Bill Whitaker startled me by reading that line and asking for my comment on it! As the blood rushed to my cheeks, I thought of Stephanie and the intense anger I had felt upon reading her letter. Reviewing this email thread a year later, I winced at the burning and skinning I wrote about a year ago. Those lines make me sound angry and violent. And yet that is how I felt after I read Stephanie’s letter: enraged and wanting to somehow release that rage, which affected me so powerfully. I fear fire and can hardly skin grapes, so I’m no threat as an arsonist or otherwise. But how I burned with anger after reading what had happened to this innocent young girl! Her entire life was traumatically and permanently impacted by a priest’s repeated abuse in every imaginable category: sexual, physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.

steph-photo.jpg

Stephanie’s story impacted me at a deep level for many reasons, but especially because I could relate to her story as a woman. Hers was one of the first female survivor stories I encountered and certainly the most disturbing in its detail. A few of the events she described made my skin crawl because I could not fathom having physically experienced what she had been made to endure. Other elements of her story resonated with me on personal levels of a different nature. For example, Stephanie described how she rode her bike to Mass to meet her new pastor, Maryanski. Later on, he would give her a new bike among other special, expensive gifts. This mention of bicycles reminded me of how as a kid, I used to ride my bike around my neighborhood so much that an elderly man at the end of the street called me “the bike girl.” Stephanie was Maryanski’s “bike girl”– an innocent young lady who would never be the same after that fateful bike ride to meet her new pastor.

To make matters somehow even worse, I knew that Maryanski had friends in particularly high places:

  • He was a classmate and personal friend of Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz
  • He was a golfing buddy of Msgr. Paul Litwin – longtime Chancellor for the Diocese of Buffalo, who had just recently left to become pastor of a wealthy parish
  • He was also a “Thursday night dinner” friend of Msgr. Litwin, who gathered with a tight group of classmates and friends every Thursday evening for cocktails & dinner

I wondered if Stephanie knew this information about her abuser and how his high-ranking friends (and a grossly negligent* Bishop Malone) had protected him all these years.

Although I was highly distressed by Stephanie’s letter, I was grateful to Fr. Ryszard for showing it to me.** I remember asking him these questions about Stephanie’s letter: “When did Bishop Malone read this?” and “What did he do about it it?” His answers were simple: “When it arrived on Friday the 13th” and “He sent it on to Terry and Lawlor.” I knew the Bishop would have read the letter himself – he always did so with correspondence labeled “Personal” and/or “Confidential.” It was important to know that he had read it the same day it arrived. While not surprised to hear that her letter was sent directly to the lawyers, I was extremely disheartened nonetheless. This letter requires a pastoral, personal response – not a legal one! I thought to myself. Here we go again with Bishop Connors and Most Reverend Quinlan. 

stphe-pic.png

It was indeed a legalistic response that Stephanie received in early June. I remember being shocked by just how brief, cold and impersonal it was. Drafted by the lawyers and approved and signed by Bishop Malone, the letter merely mentioned his “sadness” regarding Stephanie’s “history with Fr. Maryanski” and emphasized that Bishop Malone was not in Buffalo at the time. The words “abuse” and “crime” were, of course, never used. There was no personal expression of sympathy or pastoral support. No indication that the Bishop wanted justice for 15-year old Stephanie or appropriate consequences for her abuser’s abhorrent offenses. The letter closed with a stern request that Stephanie cooperate with the Diocese’s investigator.

I was appalled. As I formatted the ugly little paragraph on the Bishop’s letterhead, I thought to myself: How can we possibly send such an awful thing to this brave woman? I remember thinking that this was the worst thing I’d ever cut and pasted onto that familiar cream and green stationery. I was so tempted to humanize those heartless words, but stopped myself as I remembered my recently adopted rule — no more making the Bishop look better than he was. As I folded the letter and prepared to stick it in the envelope, I thought about adding a post-it note that simply read: Someone in this Chancery cares about you and is sorry that you are receiving such a miserable missive. How I wish I had.

Bishop Malone may not have appreciated or respected Stephanie’s courageous testimony, but the people of Buffalo and beyond surely did. Stephanie’s story would be compellingly told by Jay Tokasz of the Buffalo News in a May 6th front page article. The next day, Monday the 7th, I witnessed two unbelievable reactions from Maryanski’s close friends.

It was after 10 am and Bishop Malone and his Senior Staff were in the fourth floor’s large conference room for their regular Monday morning meeting. Next thing I knew, Msgr. Litwin waltzed through the Chancery’s oak doors. He had started at Christ the King Parish about a month before… just a few days after Easter. Monsignor was holding the Buffalo News Sunday edition in his hand and his face was filled with consternation. I could only assume he was distressed by the Maryanski cover story. He was, but not for the reason I expected. This is what he exclaimed to me: “You won’t believe this! My winning golf score is listed in the Sunday paper, but now I can’t ask people ‘Did you see what was in yesterday’s paper?’ because they’ll think I’m talking about the cover story!” Then he opened the paper to show me this mention of his name and score:

golf.png

At this, I was bereft of speech. I have no idea what my facial response looked like, but it was of little consequence since Monsignor paid me no heed while he proceeded to collect his mail and then exit the Chancery. I never uttered a syllable in response to him, but oh the things I said upon his departure!!

After it was determined that Maryanski would be summoned to the Chancery that afternoon and put on Administrative Leave, Bishop Grosz worked with me to prepare the appropriate documentation. I was becoming sadly familiar with these documents, but Bishop Grosz always made sure I had all of the details accurately noted. He was visibly crestfallen as he finalized these documents. At one point he starting shaking his head as he expressed the following sentiments:

“Oh poor Fabe, this will be so hard on him!” 

Again, I was speechless. ‘Poor Fabe?’ Are you freaking kidding me?!!!!! It SHOULD be hard on him – finally!! He got away with this for long enough! Not once had either bishop lamented the damage done to “poor Stephanie.” Not once had they expressed distress over the abuse she had endured or the trauma she suffers to this day. But now “poor Fabe” had to face mild consequences for his crimes and it was suddenly a dark day at 795 Main Street. Bishop Grosz was in quite a frenetic state as he prepared for his friend’s visit to the Chancery. I wondered what Bishop Grosz had done in the past to prevent this very thing from occurring. Now he could no longer save his beloved buddy.

Stephanie’s story went on to become the heart and soul of Charlie’s third report as well as the 60 Minutes report that followed. Without her courageous testimony, we would not have known the full story behind Maryanski, whose infamous entry on the Bishop’s draft list reads as follows: “We did not remove him from ministry despite full knowledge of the case, and so including him on list might require explanation.” Yes, it does require explanation, Bishop Malone, and we are still waiting for that explanation.

I must admit that it has been challenging to write this post. Reliving these specific days last year was more emotional than I expected. Reviewing the emails included above, I recall so vividly how it felt to be “in the pits of despair” at the Chancery. I often felt trapped in my cubicle as if it were a cell… wondering if the air quality in the Chancery had always been this bad or if my inability to take a deep breath was due to psychological factors rather than environmental ones. Wishing that I could do something – anything – to help survivors such as Stephanie.

Eventually I realized there was something that could be done to assist them in their quest for truth and justice. In the process, I was able to “meet” Stephanie via social media. Her gentle demeanor, courageous spirit and deep faith are a tremendous example to us all. I keep trying to express just what Stephanie means to me, but all of my words fall short. She is an indescribably incredible woman. 

Stephanie: ever since April 17th, 2018 you have been a hero of mine. I believe you, I respect you and I admire you. May God reward you – in this life and the one to come – for your strength, your faith and your courage.

superman s.png

 

__________________________________________

 

*By “gross negligence” I mean that Bishop Malone was made aware of Maryanski’s history a month after being installed as bishop in 2012 and never properly addressed the allegations against him (and many other abusive priests) or initiated the process of having such cases adjudicated by Rome as canon law clearly mandates.

**Father Ryszard broke no Chancery protocol by sharing Stephanie’s letter with me. We were both authorized to process Bishop Malone’s mail and often saw “Personal/Confidential” correspondence after the Bishop read it. We would be the ones scanning things to the lawyers or otherwise forwarding/handling such letters. Father was sharing the letter with me because I had missed its arrival and he wanted me to be aware of it.

Cover image: A Girl Writing by Henriette Browne – chosen because I imagine young Stephanie encouraging current Stephanie as she wrote her powerful letter to Bishop Malone.

The Saint of the Day

PART ONE

Today is Bishop Malone’s first name feast day. April 3rd is the feast of St. Richard of Chichester, an English saint who takes his title from the diocese of which he was bishop during the first half of the 13th century. Please join me in saying a prayer for Bishop Malone on his special feast.

st. richard.jpg

Bishop Malone told me about his patron early on in my Chancery tenure. Before he left for his annual July vacation that summer of 2015, he showed me a small booklet entitled St. Richard of Chichester by Reverend Henry E. Dunn. The booklet was first published in 1907 and Bishop Malone’s copy seemed to have been printed not long after. It was mostly legible, but no longer bound. The pages fell limp inside the light blue cover. Bishop Malone asked if I might be able to copy the pages and assemble them into a new booklet. There was an altar boy named Richard who served at the Cathedral and Bishop Malone wanted to share this biography of their mutual patron with him.

Looking at the booklet after Bishop Malone departed for the Cape, I immediately noted that the pages were not going to copy well if at all. At 32 pages, the relatively small booklet would be better re-typed than copied. Thus I began typing three or four pages a day during the weeks the Bishop was gone. Before he returned, I printed the new booklet with a cardstock cover that included a color image of the saint. I still remember Bishop Malone’s expression of delighted surprise when I showed him the finished product. I was thrilled to have helped him in this way. (I say this not to praise myself, but to demonstrate how much Bishop Malone loves his patron saint and how eager I was to do anything I could for the Bishop.)

One happy result of typing up a saint’s life story is that you are not likely to forget it! Here are some highlights of St. Richard’s life:

  • He was a gifted scholar and canon lawyer
  • As bishop, he personally visited the sick, attended to the poor and buried the dead. At one point his steward voiced concern that the bishop’s almsgiving was greater than his means. To this St. Richard replied by telling the man to sell some of his (St. Richard’s) belongings including his horse.
  • According to legend, he once accidentally knocked over the chalice while celebrating Mass. However, not a drop of the Precious Blood was spilled, which is why a chalice is one of the symbols associated with this saint.
  • He foretold his own death

All of these are noteworthy, but it is this description of St. Richard that is most incredible to me:

“In maintaining discipline St. Richard was inflexible, especially in chastising crimes in the clergy: no intercession of the king, archbishop, and several other prelates could prevail with him to mitigate the punishment of a priest who had sinned against chastity.”*

Wow. You canNOT make this stuff up, my friends.

This element of Saint Richard’s life reminds us of an important point: clerical sins against chastity are not a modern phenomenon. St. Richard lived from 1197-1253… a reminder that sins of this kind are nothing new. While St. Richard would be familiar with the sins that we are sadly aware of in the Church today, he would not relate to the cover up and conspiracy that have surrounded these sinful actions. St. Richard himself would never have stood for such a response to clerical misconduct of this nature. Neither would the pope who reigned during much of St. Richard’s lifetime.

innocent III.jpg

Pope Innocent III was a brilliant pontiff who “conquered heresies, clarified Church doctrines, corrected clerical abuses,” and sanctioned St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic to continue their respective reforms and ministries. In St. Francis and St. Dominic, Pope Innocent saw a powerful antidote to the vices which were plaguing the clergy at that time. During his 18-year reign, Pope Innocent authorized his papal legates to “deprive all unworthy clergy of their benefices [revenues due from their ecclesiastical offices] and there was no right of appeal.”*

How greatly does our Church need bishops such as St. Richard and a pope of Pope Innocent III’s caliber! Their moral discipline, moral courage and moral clarity plus their ability to effectively reform are sorely lacking at this time. On this feast of St. Richard, let us pray that God might inspire all of our bishops – especially Bishop Richard Malone – to act with the fortitude and conviction which marked every aspect of St. Richard’s life but especially clerical reform.

The following prayer of St. Richard of Chichester was made popular by the play Godspell where the words can be found in a song called “Day by Day.” 

Thanks be to thee, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which thou hast given us,
for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
may we know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly.    Amen.

_______________________________________________

PART TWO

Thinking about the “saint of the day” brings back many fond memories from my time at the Chancery. One of my regular duties there was to create and type the Bishop’s agenda for each day he was in the office. As I became accustomed to creating the agenda, I began adding “the Saint of the Day, pray for us” underneath each day’s date. This was a natural instinct of mine due to my upbringing. My wonderful Mom began every day of homeschooling with the appropriate reading from Saints for Young People for Everyday of the Year, a two-part series by the Daughters of Saint Paul. My siblings and I loved learning about our heavenly friends whose stories were filled with such fascinating details, heroic achievements and compelling holiness. We eventually branched out into Butler’s Lives of the Saints, which is considered the authoritative work on the subject, and many full biographies of individual saints.

Thus it surprised me when my “saint of the day” practice became such a remarked-upon addition to the Chancery routine. At least once a week, one of the Chancery bishops or priests would comment about a saint’s name. Usually they expressed surprise as they hadn’t heard of that particular saint. Sometimes they even questioned whether the saint was real or not! Well do I recall my debate with Monsignor Litwin as to whether St. Lidwina was a legitimate historical figure. (She most certainly is and she’s awesome!) When I told Bishop Malone the saga of St. Dymphna’s life, he was staggered by it and immediately called across the room to Bishop Grosz and Monsignor Slubecky: “Ed, David- you’ve got to hear this story!”

Bishop Malone frequently commented on my saintly selections and more than once noted that I was “giving the Chancery a lesson in hagiography.” I began to have a little fun with the practice and started to include some truly unusual saints when there was no “standard” saint assigned to a date. I particularly recall Sts. Ewald the Dark and Ewald the Fair whose feast is in early October. These two missionary martyrs shared the same name and were thus distinguished by the color of their hair. I can still hear Monsignor Slubecky’s robust laugh when I explained the saints of the day to him!

I don’t have many pictures of the Chancery because it never occurred to me to take photos of my workplace while I was actually working there. How I wish I’d taken a photo of the infamous vacuum closet wherein I discovered the notorious black binder! But I did take a photo of the final agenda I created. It was dated August 9th. My last official day was Friday the 10th, but I didn’t create an agenda that day because the Bishop took off on Fridays.*

last agenda.png[I maintained the name of the individual who had the first appointment that day since that person was my eventual replacement, Patricia. I remember how happy I was when her interview with Bishop Malone was successful and he determined that she would be the one to take the position. As it was my next-to-last day there, I was quite relieved!]

A wave of nostalgia came over me that morning as I surveyed the Bishop’s counter, which was attached to my cubicle. Bishop Malone did most of his work while standing at this counter. He would peruse the mail, jot notes to staff, review various materials, check his calendar, and collect any items he needed for evening events. When I think of Bishop Malone, I imagine him standing at this counter where I interacted with him countless times over the years.

Looking at this familiar counter for the final time in an official capacity, I took a photo of it:

last day counter.jpg

Here’s what the Bishop’s counter looked like that last day… and every day beforehand. There’s the Bishop’s mail at the far end of the counter. Beyond the wooden mail tray are the Diocesan coat of arms flags, which I had prepared for the Bishop’s new residence. They’re the white items wrapped in plastic.

The traffic signal colored folders contained the materials the Bishop would need for the various meetings on his agenda that day. The red folder next to the agenda contained information pertaining to the letters to Cardinals Dolan and O’Malley, which were my last drafting assignment from Bishop Malone. The oft-used “To Be Signed” blue folder contained the final versions of those letters for his signature. At the forefront of the photo, you can see part of the “office toolbox” I set up for the Bishop’s use… letter opener, paper clips, stapler, white out, post-it notes of all sizes. The bright pink post-it notes you see contained the names of Bishop Malone’s key staff. We designed them so that all he had to do was check a name and attach the post-it to a document, which I would then send off through inter-office mail.

The silver base of my standing desk is visible on the lefthand side of this photo and shows just how closely Bishop Malone and I worked. We were literally within an arm’s length of each other!

There are also the plastic bins that you can see peeking out from under the counter. I used them to store items which needed to be filed. I learned pretty early on that it wasn’t a good idea to file items too quickly because oftentimes the Bishop or other Chancery staff would need to review a document more than once and it was helpful to have such items near at hand. Always one to attach significance to colors, I designated the bins as follows:

~ The blue one contained all documents pertaining to the priests and deacons for blue is Mary’s color. I prayed that our Blessed Mother might intercede for the men who had generously devoted their lives to ministry within her Son’s Church.

~ The green one was for “people, places and things” because green is my favorite color and also the color of hope and harmony the latter of which I always strove to achieve in responses related to disgruntled people, challenging places or hapless things.

~ The orange one was for the Archives because orange is my least favorite color and I hated the Archives… for obvious reasons.

And there you have it – the memories that come back to me when I think of my “saint of the day” experiences in the Chancery. Despite all that has occurred since my last day there, these memories bring a smile to my face. It even makes me laugh to recall how often Monsignor Slubecky would emerge from his office waving an agenda and exclaiming something along the lines of: “St. Gosbert’s feast day is finally here – I’ve been waiting for it!”

God rest your soul, Monsignor.

God help our diocese.

May the saints of all the days intercede for us! 

 

 

*In case you can’t quite believe that quotation about St. Richard, you can read the online biography from which it was pulled.

*In fairness to Bishop Malone, I should note that his weekends were almost always filled with several Masses and other events. Thus he did not have Saturdays and Sundays off as people usually do and his taking Fridays off was an appropriate practice.

*Quotations in this paragraph were taken from this article.