Canon Law: Degrees & Seals

At Saturday’s listening session, one of the table “report outs” included this comment:

“We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.”

In response, Bishop Malone said the following:

“I should note in response to a comment this morning that Msgr. Slubecky did not have a doctorate in canon law – he had another sort of degree. Msgr. Sal Manganello does have a degree in canon law. And you’ll be interested to know that a young woman with a degree in canon law will be joining our tribunal team next month.”

As soon as I heard Bishop Malone’s response, I was bothered by it. He clearly avoided the primary point of the table’s comment: our current Vicar General has no canon law degree (regardless of the specific title of it) and this lack of experience may impact current cases within the Diocese.

Fr. Peter Karalus has no training, experience or expertise in canon law. If he did, such a thing would have been noted in the WNY Catholic article that marked his appointment as Vicar General. But it did not:

Karalus text from WNYC

In contrast, let’s look at Msgr. David Slubecky, who was Vicar General from 2005-2018. Here is what is obituary – published in the WNY Catholic and available to read here – indicated about his canon law education:

“In September of 1983, he returned to Rome to obtain a graduate degree in Canon Law. ”

So Monsignor Slubecky did not have a “doctorate” in canon law, but he did have a graduate degree – known as a J.C.L. Incidentally, this J.C.L. is the same degree that Msgr. Sal Manganello possesses. Fr. Bob Zilliox has one too.

J. C. L. stands for juris canonici licentiata, which means “licentiate of canon law.” It is an advanced graduate degree within canon law. You obtain such a degree through study at a pontifical university. In Msgr. Slubecky’s case, he received his degree from the Gregorian University in Rome.

There is a doctorate in canon law and if you reach that level of study, you can put J.C.D. after your name. That suffix stands for juris canonici doctor or “doctor of canon law.” To my knowledge, the only priest of our diocese who possesses this doctorate is Msgr. Jerry Sullivan, a retired priest who serves on the Diocesan Review Board and is a Promoter of Justice in the Tribunal.

In Msgr. Slubecky’s case, his full title was as follows: Rev. Msgr. David S. Slubecky, S.T.L., J.C.L. That S.T.L. suffix refers to a licentiate in Sacred Theology, which is an ecclesiastical degree in advanced theological study. Msgr. Slubecky received that degree from the Angelicum University in Rome.

Now let’s look at what qualifies a priest to be the vicar general of a diocese:

Canon 478 §1: The Vicar general is to be a priest of not less than thirty years of age, with a doctorate or licentiate in canon law or theology, or at least well versed in these disciplines. He is to be known for his sound doctrine, integrity, prudence and practical experience.

As we can see, Msgr. Slubecky was qualified by virtue of his licentiates in canon law and theology. No, he did not have a doctorate, but he did have two licentiates in the proper fields of study.

Being the Vicar General of a diocese is a very significant role as canon law makes clear:

Can. 479 §1: In virtue of his office, the Vicar general has the same executive power throughout the whole diocese as that which belongs by law to the diocesan Bishop: that is, he can perform all administrative acts, with the exception however of those which the Bishop has reserved to himself, or which by law require a special mandate of the Bishop.

The Vicar General is the highest-ranking official in a diocese after the bishop. It is a huge responsibility and a very demanding job.

I hope you can see why the point raised by that listening session table was a very valid one: “We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.”

But instead of speaking to their concern about a lack of canon law experience in our current Vicar General and how that absence impacts current cases, Bishop Malone chose to instead point out that Msgr. Slubecky didn’t have a doctorate. That wasn’t the point, Bishop Malone, and you know it! A lay person doesn’t need to know the distinctions between a doctorate and a licentiate in canon law. I believe the table that raised this point meant that Msgr. Slubecky had a degree in canon law – discussing the fine points of that degree is a tactic to avoid the greater question. This is typical Malonese… pointing out someone’s error (he loves doing that) while avoiding a challenging question.

Based on their reference to “the Nowak case,” the question raised by that table seems to have been prompted by this recent Charlie report. In this report, a Seminarian for the Diocese of Buffalo alleges that Fr. Jeff Nowak “broke the seal of confession and has used information obtained from within the confessional to my detriment.”

Canon law is VERY clear about the inviolability of the seal of confession. Canon 983 states: It is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion. Canon 984 goes on to say: The confessor is wholly forbidden to use knowledge acquired in confession to the detriment of the penitent.

The penalty for violating the seal of confession is appropriately severe:

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

Back to Latin… latae sententiae means “the sentence has already passed” so we can call this automatic excommunication. This is contrasted with a ferendae sententiae excommunication, which occurs after a canonical trial has taken place. A latae sententiae excommunication does not require such a trial because the individual essentially brings this excommunication upon himself due to the severity of the offense he has committed.

(Please note that excommunications can be lifted if an individual admits to what he/she has done and atones for their offense.)

I don’t want the point of this post to be lost in Latin and suffixes and details such as those. The point is that Bishop Malone referred to an important question but instead of actually addressing it, he nitpicked about the type of degree in question. 

Bishop Malone: your Vicar General does not have any experience in canon law other than a few courses at the Seminary, which every priest of our diocese has to take. Who is advising you on matters of canon law? Is canon law being considered and consulted when it comes to the Nowak case? For the sake of everyone involved, the serious allegations raised by the Seminarian need to be carefully examined and investigated according to canon law. Civil law needs to be considered as well due to the harassment and stalking allegations, but canon law cannot be forgotten or neglected.

 

 

Listening Session #6

Yesterday’s listening session, which was held at Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park, was one of the more contentious sessions of the five I’ve attended so far. In terms of contentiousness, I would rate them as follows (noting that I missed the 2nd one in Niagara Falls due to illness):

  1. St. Mark’s, Buffalo
  2. Nativity, Orchard Park
  3. St. Greg’s, Williamsville
  4. Archbishop Walsh, Olean
  5. Ascension, Batavia

Maybe it was because of the recent revelations brought to light by Charlie’s investigations, which you can read about here and here. Maybe it was the continued fallout from ABC’s recent Nightline report. Maybe people are just getting tired of this charade

This sixth listening session was attended by approximately 85 people in the parish hall at Nativity. The group was middle to upper aged, as usual, but there were at least 10 of us who did not appear to be 40 yet. That was quite a pleasant surprise!*

Stephanie gave her usual introduction, which included the standard reminder to be “open, kind and gentle with our words.” She also introduced Bishop Malone, Dennis Mahaney and Dr. Nancy Nielsen, MRT member and member of Nativity parish.

When the table report outs began, here is what people had to say:

  • Lack of trust in Church leadership  – diocesan, national and global
  • Training and supporting priests – preventative measures
  • How does Bishop Malone regain his credibility?
  • Lack of action from Bishop Malone – “no comment” is an answer
  • Lack of judgment from Bishop Malone – Fr. Joe Gatto, etc.
  • Culture at the Seminary has been known for years – how did Bishop Malone not know about it?
  • Culture of blackmail within the diocese and among the priests
  • Concerns about bankruptcy – what would happen to our donations if the Diocese goes bankrupt?
  • Restoration of the faith is needed
  • Lack of trust in the system
  • How is the Bishop accountable to the Diocese? Things have been hidden under the rug for years!
  • Structure of the Seminary – no lay people involved in formation of new priests
  • People are leaving the Church due to the issues in the Church
  • We are embarrassed and angry – not sure how the Church can survive
  • We are hurting for the victims and for the good priests, but we are also tired of the hiding
  • We are concerned about the time frame for action and the lack of procedure
  • We have a problem and the Church needs to acknowledge this. We need to ask for forgiveness while acknowledging the problem.
  • The listening being done is forced and is not accurate to what we want to say
  • We need to acknowledge the part played by the media in sensationalizing the matter
  • There has been inconsistency from the Diocese – it often seems that they are reacting to the media reports. There is a lack of procedure being followed. For instance, the difference in the way the Hamburg priests were treated versus the Nowak case, which was publicized this week. Those two cases were handled very differently.
  • There is a lack of family prayer
  • Can’t fix the abuse problem if you don’t know about it
  • We need a specialist in canon law – the previous Vicar General had a doctorate in canon law, but our current Vicar does not have any such training or experience. With the Nowak case, there is the matter of the seal of the confessional – the Diocese needs to ask a canon lawyer about that.
  • The Diocese is weaponizing psychological evaluations and using them as a disciplinary measure.
  • There needs to be sincere apologies for the abuse that occurred. The Bishop should visit parishes, apologize for the abuse and get to know the people and the parishes.
  • The accused priests should give an apology too
  • We are disappointed and distressed – our children are walking away from the Church and not wanting to be affiliated with it
  • The Church’s actions are not acceptable
  • We need to support victims
  • The organization of the Church is focused on the bishop and the clergy – the laity are on a sub level, but we need to be involved to check their power and assure transparency
  • We’d like to know more about the 2 federal probes of the Diocese – especially regarding the ages and genders of the victims
  • The WNY Catholic doesn’t have relevant features on this topic (abuse scandal)
  • We are experiencing disillusionment and frustration
  • We are very concerned for the future of our Church
  • Why is there continued recycling of priests who committed criminal or other bad acts with young people? This has not been remedied at all!
  • We need to be holding the priesthood to a higher standard
  • Hope springs eternal, but I have my doubts about the future of the Church
  • It appears that the Church is doing damage control on the situation and doing the minimal amount to get by. There hasn’t been any tangible action or a moral course of action. What would Jesus do to solve these problems and address the wrongdoing of the past?
  • Better screening of priests/applicants is needed
  • Diocese is fobbing off responsibility for religious order priests, but we believe the Diocese has a responsibility over the religious priests operating in the Diocese
  • The Church needs to not provide window dressing, but actually address the problem – not just do damage control.
  • The Church is in crisis – we need to focus on Jesus
  • The people are never asked if a Church is to be sold or closed – the people involved have no say – mergers and closures should be discussed with the people
  • The presence of the Bishop here is a good start
  • Priests are human so there are good ones and bad ones. Those who are wrongfully accused are found guilty by the public. As soon as their name is published, they are guilty and they are gone.
  • There should be frequent parish sessions that get people involved so that would hopefully bring our children back
  • In God we trust
  • Overwhelming negative opinion that has been formed by the secular media. We must have balance in what we listen to. The Church has been targeted. The mission of the Church is to spread the truth of Christ. There is a lack of adequate presentation of how the abuse came about – it is a matter of Church control and silence. Who is to speak the truth? The lay people. We need a balanced approach to the problem. I recommend that you go to the Catholic League – they have a lot of information on the limits and the status of the problem. The facts are not reflected in what you all have said here. Boys and young men are very effeminate in our culture.
    • At this point, Stephanie cut this older gentleman off as she expressed concern that he was expressing his own opinion rather than reporting for his table
  • At. St. Mark’s, you said that you know there are homosexual priests in Buffalo – you know they are here, but they are not acting out homosexually. How do you know this? Do you follow them around? Do they tell you in the confessional? This is an injustice against children – little boys and girls. How do you know they’re not acting out as homosexuals? Homosexuality makes people distrustful about their integrity. Priests have private homes in the country and cabins on the lake. Men should be mature sexually, psychiatrically and emotionally before they become priests. The good ol’ boys club needs to be destroyed. Good priests are demoralized. Satan destroys from inside the Church. Why haven’t you resigned, Bishop Malone, because of the cover-up?
    • At this point, Stephanie moved on to another table and Steve Halter went over to talk to the woman who had been speaking
  • Signs of hope are the recent graduates from the Seminary
  • The Restore Hope (sic) lay movement is a positive sign
  • More aspects of this need to be made public so we’re not finding out about things on TV
  • We are in the dark about the investigating that goes on – who is doing it and what it entails. The Diocese’s investigating was challenged on national TV – this puts doubt about our Diocesan investigations
  • Tell the truth! The Diocese needs to be more truthful – not glossing over things
  • Confusion as to what happens to priests – do they go to rehab? What is the whole process of that?
  • Movement to Restore Trust? How can you trust if things are still being hidden?
  • Thank God the media brings up the truth – it took the media for you to finally ACT!
  • Bishop Malone is kind of like a politician – the Church has become a political institution – it is huge and rich.
  • The people of the Church are fractured just like the politics in our nation. Listen to us arguing here this morning!
  • We must move forward and that means getting it all out in the open
  • Stop hiding and doing damage control – get it out there
  • Bishop Malone has a playbook – you are told what to do. Rome knows all about it – they cover it up and preserve their power
  • If we’re going to “restore the face of the earth” as we prayed earlier, someone needs to step up and call the Bishop out and clean this up!
  • At our table, we expressed extreme disappointment about all that is going on and the way things are being handled
  • The culture doesn’t support religion so it’s tough to be a Catholic anyway, but how much more difficult it is for us now!
  • But history shows us that it has been hard before like with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Our Lord said to St. Francis “Rebuild my Church” – but he wasn’t talking about the buildings, but about the people.
  • This a low moment for our Church. It is a perfect institution run by imperfect people.
  • We need catechesis so that people know the Church and its teachings then they won’t leave because they know the truth
  • The Bishop is doing the best job he can – we need to be supportive and let him lead the way
  • The media is trying to bring us Catholics down and the Bishop down too. When he stays quiet, it is probably because everything he says gets twisted by the media.
  • Lots of things there were revealed shouldn’t have been. This was probably hard for the victims too. People suffered on all sorts of ends because things were revealed. Let the Bishop run the Diocese – let’s be behind his leadership!
  • After 70 years, I am embarrassed to be Catholic
  • Do the priests have a chance to defend themselves against the accusations they face?
  • How does the investigation run?
  • How the Church handled cases was disgraceful
  • Fr. Bialkowski was the poster child for the Diocese. I know him personally and I don’t see the things that he is said to have done. They are false accusations. He was a conservative priest – did this bad thing happen to him because of that?
  • We never hear the results of the investigations. Priests don’t get to defend themselves – they just get dumped. What happens to their souls?
  • How are priests being formed?
  • Thank you, Bishop Malone, for hosting these listening sessions and letting us air our concerns
  • We are hurt and disillusioned, yet hopeful
  • The entire Church hierarchy is corrupted. There was criminal behavior by the priests and the hierarchy were criminal accessories due to the cover-up.
  • We believe in mercy, but justice also
  • There needs to be zero tolerance towards abuse. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. There must be accountability and punishment. Yes, investigate to protect the innocent – it should be fair and thorough through law enforcement.
  • Where are the homilies about abortion, contraception or the dangers of modernism? 1 out of 5 Catholics doesn’t believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Stop worrying about offending people. Stop bowing to political and societal pressures. Stop worrying about Church wealth and power and position. We should focus on traditional Catholic teaching, which has stood the test of time.
  • Laicize offending clergy or send them to a monastery. You can’t cure sexual predation. These predators are wolves among the flock.
  • There needs to be an immediate change in how cases are handled.
  • There should be an apology on the part of former bishops for their lack of accountability and transparency
  • The culture of times past contributed to the problem as did the fact that for us older folks, we thought priests could do no wrong.
  • Lots of prayer is needed
    • Stephanie: Every room has a different feel to it – this one has a definite feel. The challenge of listening to others. We have 5-10 minutes for additional sharing. Please share your comments, but do not get loud. It is harder to hear and take in what someone is saying when they’re speaking so loudly.
  • Older gentleman who had spoken before and was cut off by Stephanie: I am very angry about cover-up – not within the Church, but within each of our own hearts. My father was a Baker Boy and my Mother was Father Baker’s secretary. I was at his funeral 83 years ago because my Mom was pregnant with me. When Humane Vitae came out, there was an $8,000 ad put out rejecting the teachings of HV. My heart was torn apart then. Ecumenism has been distorted. The Church doesn’t teach morals. The faith includes morals. We need kerygma (the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ). In the ’80’s, I enrolled in the Seminary and was in a pastoral care class. The teaching was objectively wrong – I addressed it. There are internal problems in the Church, but I am impressed with the Bishop in the past who were doing the best they could with the technology available to them. Bishop Malone – we are very proud of you – keep up the faith and answering questions you face.
  • The structure of the Church allowed the abuse to happen from the Diocese of Buffalo all the way up to Rome. There are also major financial issues in the Vatican.
  • The Church survives at the parish level – the laity ends up doing all of the heavy lifting
  • We have a duty to be responsible, active Catholics
  • If the structure doesn’t change, our kids and grandkids are going to be sitting in auditoriums in the future discussing how to solve the latest problem facing the Church
  • A checks and balances systems is needed in the Church. The clergy are best suited for matters of the faith and morals; the laity are better suited for the administrative work of the Church. We need to change the structure so that we are all doing what we are best at.
  • You speak of trust and transparency, Bishop Malone, but this week we learned that you handled the Nowak case exactly the same as you handled the Yetter case a year ago! I would like to know why you did that. I am a member of Yetter’s former parish and I ran into him recently. I asked him directly about the allegations against him and he replied, “I only did it twice!” Then I asked him if he has these feelings, why was he in the priesthood? He had no answer to that question. I left that conversation with tears streaming down my face. Bishop Malone – you are not helping me to cope with this and I am not so sure you are helping other people either. How do we cope with this? I don’t know how. When is it going to stop and when will we have true transparency?
    • At this point (and a few other times), the lady who had spoken at St. Mark’s and another older lady began arguing with each other as they were seated at adjacent tables. The older lady could be heard referring to our need to be “loving and forgiving” and that those without sin “should throw the first stones.” Stephanie addressed both of them and noted that it is difficult to mediate between two “sweet older ladies who could be her grandmother.”
  • I’ve been involved with the Boy Scouts for many years so I can explain their investigative procedure (couldn’t write it all down because my left hand was about to go on strike). Bottom line is that the Boy Scouts are not doing their own investigations.
  • The family is broken – that is party of the problem in our society today
  • I am not angry or embarrassed so I suppose that makes me strange. I love going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist – I lift it all to Him. No one is perfect at the helm of any institution. We need to get our boots out of the mud and move forward!

 

At this time, Stephanie ended the table comments and noted that someone had pointed out to her that she had not given a full introduction to Nancy Nielsen. Stephanie invited Nancy to come forward to offer some comments on the MRT before the Bishop spoke. Nancy began by reminding everyone of this saying: We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind. She explained that the MRT was started by people who were “devastated just like you and looking for a way forward.” She explained the general mission and organization of the MRT and also talked about the JIT (Joint Implementation Team between the MRT and the DOB) and asked everyone to “think of those words – Joint Implementation Team – it’s not a taskforce or another committee – it’s a team.” She then had the room applaud Stephanie for being “an amazing moderator.” Nancy also noted, importantly, that “We have asked the Bishop not to do a tit for tat and answer everything that has been raised this morning.” At this, the Bishop took the microphone.

  • My sincere thanks to you all for coming here today. You have made your emotions perfectly clear – anger, dismay, embarrassment, disillusionment – and believe me, I feel the same way.
  • I know that I’m part of the cause but not the whole cause.
  • About a month ago, a lady stopped me on the way out of church and said, “You have admitted your errors in judgment, but you should not make yourself the lighting rod for things that happened 50 years ago.”
  • 7 years ago this morning, I was being installed as the Bishop of Buffalo. Little did I know what the future would hold and how I would be dealing with all of these cases from the past.
  • In 2001, a motu proprio was issued by Pope John Paul II that outlined the procedural norms that were to be followed in cases of abuse. Priests are not defrocked – that is no such term in our Catholic language – but they can be dismissed from the clerical state – that is the proper term to use. Or if a priest is quite old, they might be sent to a monastery to live a life of prayer and penance.
  • For whatever reason, these norms were not followed here in Buffalo as they were all around the country.
  • But we have been working on these cases and now 9-10 of them have gone to Rome. They are in the midst of the adjudication process and the results of that process will be shared publicly.
  • But until now, that process with sending cases to the Vatican never happened.
  • Bad priests weren’t recycled – they were pulled, but the process of reporting to the Vatican never happened.
  • Also, I should note in response to a comment this morning that Msgr. Slubecky did not have a doctorate in canon law – he had another sort of degree. Msgr. Sal Manganello does have a degree in canon law. And you’ll be interested to know that a young woman with a degree in canon law will be joining our tribunal team next month.
  • It would be easy for me to say to Pope Francis, “I can’t take it anymore.” But I feel an obligation to stay here in Buffalo.
  • I apologize for my mistakes and the terrible actions of some of my brother priests from 50-60 years in the past. It is a good thing that this is all coming to light. It is painful yet good so that it does not fester.
  • I can tell you that no priest ordained in the Diocese of Buffalo in the last 30 years has been found guilty of abusing a minor. He may have done other things, but no abuse of a child.
  • This shows that the Charter, which was put into place in 2002, is working! Our VIRTUS program is working! We have a 100% clean audit every year.
  • There are lots of problems we still face, but most of them are historical and in the past.
  • There was a delayed reaction here in Buffalo due to the Vatican process not being followed as it should have been.
  • But I should note a good development in our Diocese – the hiring of Steve Halter, a 28-year veteran of the FBI with lots of experiencing investigating things. He heads up the Office of Professional Responsibility, which I established last fall. We also are going to have one or two more female investigators working with us.
  • Everyone agrees and the accused priests especially say that the process takes too long.
  • The process here in the Diocese begins when a survivor calls Jackie Joy, our Victim Assistance Coordinator, who immediately offers counseling and other support. The survivor is also told to contact law enforcement.
  • When cases come in, there is an initial inquiry where it is asked, “Does it look like this has a semblance of truth? Could this possibly have happened?” If the case is not false or frivolous, it moves to a fuller investigation. This takes time as it is done meticulously.
  • Sometimes key witnesses refuse to be interviewed or their lawyer won’t let them interview. When we can’t get the full story, this holds up the process. Remember that all of the investigators are members of the laity – not clergy.
  • Then the Diocesan Review Board – which is comprised of all lay men and women including a doctor trained in dealing with sexual trauma – receives the report and discusses it thoroughly. Sometimes they say to the investigator, “We need to hear more from this person” or “You need to track these people down.” It is a very thorough process.
  • The Diocesan Review Board has one priest on it – Msgr. Jerry Sullivan – but otherwise it is all lay men and women.
  • After lengthy discussion and debates, which I listen to as I am not a member of the Board, they take a vote and make a recommendation to me as to whether the case is substantiated or not. If it is substantiated, the case goes to the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in the Vatican and all of the documentation is sent there.
  • There is a lot of impatience and frustration with how long the Vatican takes to adjudicate these cases. Ask any bishop in the country and they’ll tell you the same thing! The cases are done meticulously – the Vatican process is very, very, very slow.
  • Lives are hanging in the balance – both the accuser and the accused.
  • Bishops cannot laicize priests – only the Pope can. I have the authority to remove a priest from ministry, but not to laicize him.
  • No priest in the Diocese of Buffalo with a substantiated accusation against him is in ministry in our diocese.
  • The Diocese of Buffalo also has a very good relationship with law enforcement and an agreement with all of the DA’s here.
  • I hear and feel in my gut the angry and dismay you expressed today. Some of that anger is directed at me and some are angry at the situation we have all inherited.
  • I want to work with you. Are we wounded? Yes. Am I wounded? Yes. But it is my responsibility to walk with you. The involvement of the laity with the MRT is a movement of the Holy Spirit and I am glad to partner with them. Mine is a post Vatican II priesthood – I used to teach Vatican II. There is a great hope I have with the MRT.
  • I apologize for the ways I have caused errors and your dismay and concerns. But we cannot neglect the larger mission of the Church – faith formation, youth ministry, evangelization, etc.
  • Do I go home bruised from some of these things? Yes. But I can handle that. You can imagine how vulnerable I feel coming into these things. But we will do another round of these listening sessions – probably next year – because they are good things.
  • I did want to answer one question from those raised today – accused priests do not come before the Review Board, but they due speak to the investigator extensively. Whenever an accusation is brought against a priest, he is immediately advised to retain both legal and canonical counsel. We can recommend that counsel to them or they choose it themselves.

It 11:30 when the Bishop finished his remarks, so Stephanie closed up quickly and we sang the “Our Father” as a formal end to the event.

Afterwards, I spoke with the woman who had presented her tables comments on the absence of canon law counsel regarding the seal of confession, which had really struck me when she was speaking. Here are some of her additional comments:

  • No one in the Chancery has any expertise in canon law. The Diocese can’t punish priests with therapy – counseling can’t be punitive. You can’t say that a priest was sent for evaluation – you have to wait for the evaluation to be returned. Kathy Spangler is constantly putting out statements that are in violation of canon law. For instance, the misuse of “suspended” – you have to use canonical terminology and follow canonical process. There is a gross inconsistency in how things have been handled – the Hamburg priest situation for example.

As I was walking to my car, I said hello to a man and woman who greeted me. The man asked, “Was that just a waste of my time?” The woman said, “I wanted it to be ‘tit for tat’ – we need and deserve to have our questions answered!” I expressed my wholehearted agreement with their sentiments. It is always encouraging to talk to people who “get it!”

The 7th and final (scheduled**) listening session will be next Saturday in Dunkirk. Given the recent attention placed on Fr. Riter, who is a pastor in Dunkirk, I expect that final session to be the most contentious of them all. Stay tuned!

*Hopefully it goes without saying that I love vintage humans as much as (or more than) my peers. In this case, it was encouraging to see some younger folks in attendance because there has been little to nonesuch presence at previous sessions.

**Stephanie and the Bishop have noted that there will be a listening session for college students sometime this fall when they have returned to their campuses

August the Tenth

August 10th – one of the most significant days of the calendar year for me.

Today marks…

  • the 10th anniversary of my entrance into the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation (aka the Nashville Dominicans)…
  • the 7th anniversary of Bishop Malone’s installation as Bishop of Buffalo…
  • and the first anniversary of my last day working for Bishop Malone.

I remember when I did the calendar math last July and realized that my last official day at the Catholic Center would be the Bishop’s anniversary. “Yikes,” I thought, “What a day to go out!” Then I realized that since August 10th was a Friday, the Bishop wouldn’t be in the office for my final day. That helped to make it less awkward that I was raining on his anniversary parade, but it was still weird to be making my exit on that date. I couldn’t help but remember the surprise party I’d thrown for him the year prior when he celebrated his 5th anniversary of installment.

 

RJM anniversary

rjm cake
The confectionery wizards at Muscoreil’s made this cake magic happen
cake 2
I’m not much of a photographer for events because I’m usually otherwise occupied, but I remember being impressed by this piping and wanting to get a photo of it!

It was fun to surprise the Bishop that August afternoon when he entered the break room expecting the usual monthly birthday routine only to discover the cake had his name on it! I’m a great lover of a good surprise and it made my heart happy to know that we’d been able to celebrate the Bishop as he marked his 5th anniversary.

In addition to those 2017 memories, I also remembered back to 2012 when I arranged to be off work to watch the “new Bishop’s” installation Mass and homily. I didn’t much care about the pomp and circumstance of the event or the civil and religious dignitaries in attendance, but that’s not to say an episcopal installation isn’t an impressive event. The photos* above capture (I just realized I hate that verb now because of the MRT’s incessant use of it at listening sessions) some key moments from that event very well.

My desire to watch the installation Mass was primarily centered on hearing Bishop Malone speak to his new flock during his homily. At the conclusion of his remarks, I gave him very high marks. I appreciated his diction and his demeanor while I admired his sense of humor and his intelligence. My Mom and I were watching it together and I turned and said to her, “This is great – it seems like we’ve been given a good bishop!” Oh Siobhan of 2012 – I’m glad you didn’t know what was coming as you sat in your favorite chair in Mom and Dad’s family room and thought such positive thoughts about your diocese’s new bishop.

It makes me tear up to remember that afternoon… coming home early from work to be sure I didn’t miss the first public appearance and address of our new shepherd. I wanted to admire and respect Bishop Malone and, at first, I very much did. 3 years later, I would join his Chancery team with a joyful, grateful heart. One of the first things Bishop Malone gave me at that time was a prayer card/bookmark that had been distributed as a favor of sorts to those attending his installation Mass. It contained his coat of arms and the following prayer:

Prayer of Abandonment
This is not what the prayer card looked like – I thought I took the bookmark with me when I left, but I couldn’t find it in the box of dox just now. Perhaps it didn’t want to be in there anymore and made an escape. 

This is an equally beautiful and powerful prayer. I remember the Bishop cautioning me to “pray it at your own risk” because of the depth of abandonment expressed therein. I recall how impressed I was by the prayer and the Bishop’s use of it. I’d heard and seen this prayer before, but it wasn’t until the Bishop’s Office that I began to pray it regularly. In fact, I hung it on one of my cubicle walls so that I could see it and pray it with frequency. 

Bishop Malone and I obviously have very different ideas about how we’re letting God’s will be done in us.

On this date that marks Bishop Malone’s 7th anniversary of installation, I earnestly pray that he will soon resign.

On this date that marks my 10th anniversary of convent entrance, I’m sure Bishop Malone dearly wishes that I had stayed in Nashville and never left.

But a year after my last official day at the Chancery, I have no regrets or doubts about what I did last August. As much as I could be, I was “ready for all” and “accepted all” through God’s grace and guidance. I still ask Our Lord to do with me as He wills and I offer all of this to Him with “all the love of my heart.”

My heart is fatigued, my mind is frustrated, and my faith is fragile, but my soul is in my Father’s hands.

I love you, Lord… on August 10th and every day of the year.

—–

*Photo credits (left, top right and bottom right) are as follows:  WBFO photo by Eileen Buckley; Sharon Cantillon of the Buffalo News

 

Back on the Listening Circuit

It’s Sunday evening. A year ago I was still working for Bishop Malone – albeit less than two weeks from my last day – and would have been going through my normal Sunday night routine: reviewing the week to come and what Bishop Malone would need each day. He’d often be doing the same thing at the same time and would send me a flurry of emails so that I knew what his priorities and projects were for the week. Mondays were always wildly busy at the Chancery so although these Sunday night prep sessions gave me the blues sometimes, I knew they’d help Monday to run more smoothly.

Now I’m sitting here typing up my notes from Bishop Malone’s latest listening session and experiencing a wholly different version of the Sunday night blues. The blues of knowing that although much has changed since last August, so much has remained the same. Same bishop. Same strategies. Same posturing and prevaricating. Same old same old. Ugh.

On Saturday in Batavia, it was the same old listening session structure we’ve come to know and loathe. Stephanie led us through the standard introductions which included the usual suspects of Malone and Mahaney plus special guest John Hurley, President of Canisius College and member of the organizing committee for the MRT. His wife, Maureen, sat at one of the 20 tables set up around the room. Each table had 8 seats and at least 7 of the tables were completely empty. I’d estimate there were roughly 60 people present in total. It was a distinctly middle to elder aged crowd… if there were 3 of us 30-somethings, that’s a generous estimate.

My table mates were very sweet people who swiftly proceeded to sour my mood enormously. The first thing stated by one of my table mates was: “I don’t watch Channel 7- they’re against the Church.” And thus began 25 minutes of near blood-producing tongue biting on my part. My table mates talked about how the press is “inaccurate” and “not to be trusted.” They also questioned why “these people” are “coming up” with abuse stories “so many years later” and “why are we giving them money instead of giving them counseling?” I was slack-jawed at their innocent ignorance. These were clearly good, faithful people – two of the couples at the table will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries soon. What magnificent milestones and such testimonies to devoted, courageous love! But they were clearly blind to the reality of this situation.

However, they did listen respectfully when I spoke up in defense of “these people,” who are my friends and heroes – the survivors. My table mates were legitimately surprised when I told them about how much counseling costs over the course of decades and how survivors are not looking to make it rain, but to make it. To get through it. To find peace and healing – not make millions. Survivors know better than anyone that money can’t make it all better, but it can help to make a better life for them. And they deserve every bit of a better life that they can obtain after all they’ve endured throughout their lives.

In the end, our table was able to compile a somewhat balanced list of items for the “table report out” segment of the morning. I had been given the role of “scribe” for the table since they’d noticed I was already in copious note-taking mode. Here is what we came up with:

  1. The Church is being adversely judged by the public and the media
  2. The press is way too focused on the Church scandal – they’ve got a target on Catholics
  3. Abuse has occurred in other areas – Boy Scouts, schools, other churches but they only focus on our Church
  4. The media is very much at fault
  5. Why is it not explained that settlement money for survivors is used for counseling?
  6. There is a lack of accountability/punishment for abusive priests
  7. We are losing young people from the Church
  8. Catholic priests should be allowed to marry – this would reduce the problems
  9. If someone is accused of anything, it should go through the proper system of law
  10. Why were priests reassigned with a chance to continue to abuse?

Thankfully, someone else volunteered to read these comments as I could not have read the first 5 statements without choking on the words. Our table was the first to “report out” and the woman who spoke for us did a great job. It is hard to disagree with people so strenuously while at the same time admiring them immensely.

Here’s what the other tables had to say:

  • Parishioners are discouraged by the situation in the Diocese and it is affecting their their financial obligation to their parish as well as Upon This Rock and Catholic Charities. Volunteerism at parishes is decreasing as well.
  • Where does the money come from to settle these court cases that will be filed in the middle of this month?
  • Whatever is said by the Diocese is questioned by people as to the reliability of what’s said
  • Priest accountability – why were so many reassigned?
  • Obligation to our schools – this abuse situation is a financial drain on the Diocese and we are worried about necessary resources for our schools
  • We need to refocus ourselves, but there are serious trust issues and we worry for the future.
  • We need resources for the youth and young people especially in the city and rural parishes. We have to keep parishes that are hanging by a thread afloat
  • Court cases have everyone’s attention – we need to focus on other things
  • Priests in the past were treated differently than ordinary citizens and we hope that this has been corrected
  • What is the role of the Pope in assessing these diocesan situations?
  • Many people have financial concerns especially about Upon This Rock and are afraid those funds will be used to satisfy legal claims
  • It is important for the Bishop to provide transparency of where he is coming from for decisions and court case settlements
  • It is wonderful that the MRT was established to have the laity involved
  • Good to have parishes have active parish and financial councils
  • Important for Bishop Malone to continue to reach out to other areas beyond Buffalo and be present in those areas because there is a fear that outlying areas will take the hit more than the Buffalo area will
  • Offer of money is drawing additional claims to be made – emphasis should be off the financial element
  • We are concerned about the Lord’s Prayer and hope that the recent language changes in France and Italy will not come to the US
  • Young people are leaving in droves
  • We need spiritual strengthening
  • We have to put things in the past
  • The abuse has changed everything
  • It is hard to go to confession if you’re worried or wondering if the priest was just looking at porn before he entered the confessional to hear your confession
  • Our Batavia church is made up of 2 parishes that function very differently. 13 years ago, the parishes conducted a study and discussed various issues, but no one listened. St. Mary’s School closed and now St. Joseph’s School is regional and not under the Diocese.
  • We lack spiritual development here in Batavia
  • The Diocese should build us up – combine the 2 parishes because the census suggestions there are people in both parishes but they’re not coming to Mass at either parish. The Church in Batavia is very much aging.
  • The Bishop is doing the exact right thing by being here in an outlying area listening to us
  • People have great faith to be here this morning – wish there were more people though
  • Media is exploiting this and blowing it up far beyond what it is. They have an agenda and these stories are helping their agendas along. Other groups have abuse problems and they haven’t had their abusers pictures in the paper
  • We want to hear the truth – good or bad – fully discussed
  • What is the Diocese’s commitment to Catholic education? Schools are the future of the Church.
  • The shortage of priests is a distinct problem – priests we do have are spread far too thin
  • Need for flexibility of Mass times for sake of the priests
  • Financial and parish councils are also important for priests – help to take some of the burden of the day-to-day work off of them
  • Older people are all the churches – not getting any youth to come and stay. There needs to be better youth engagement – having a youth member on the parish council and a youth Mass once a week.
  • There needs to be more trust between the Bishop, priests and parishioners
  • There must be a deep structural change in the Church – there is a disconnect between what we are all feeling and what comes from up high in the diocese and the Church
  • Regarding the media, when we bring a problem upon ourselves, it is difficult when people emphasize it or blow it out of proportion. But the only way to truly fix it is to grab the problem by the throat.
  • Letters to the Bishop about priests’ conduct are never responded to
  • There is no simply solution to this problem
  • We have to accept the fact that there’s a target on our back from the media and the people on the street
  • We need to have a structure for the future especially regarding the youth
  • Somehow the Diocese of Buffalo and the Church have to train priests for evangelization and not bureaucracy.
  • This scandal has been going on over 50 years – it is financial, sexual, etc.
  • We have to address the administration of the Church and we cannot “PR it”
  • The clergy has been silent on how they reflect on issues in our society particularly regarding same-sex marriage nationally and in NYS, and the NYS abortion law. There was no response from the Church. The clergy are so silent on these issues.
  • There is a problem with the clergy and their sexual practices so they won’t speak out about it. It’s a popularity contest.
  • Thank God the media has come forward – sunlight is the best disinfectant
  • The corporal works of mercy are talked about and practiced all the time, but the clergy is not speaking about or demonstrating the spiritual acts of mercy
  • The clergy is complacent and are not providing good moral teaching
  • Getting youth and young families back to the Church must be a priority so they’ll bring themselves and their kids to Church
  • I am not blaming Bishop Malone for the issues going on
  • There is anxiety among priests about engaging with youth because of abuse issues. They are afraid to be around them.
  • We are worried that parish money going to the Diocese of Buffalo will be given to the abuse survivors. Victims should seek counseling and support.
    • Stephanie interjected here to note that at least one US diocese has established a fund for settlements for survivors so that members of the diocese could contribute directly to that fund if they wished.
  • This is a terrible struggle we’ve gone through this long while
  • There is a feeling of betrayal and a struggle to forgive
  • We must be a hopeful Church – we can and will be stronger after going through personal struggle of forgiving
  • Practical application – better screening of applicants involved in Church ministry
  • Next generation – there must be greater involvement of youth because they are the future
  • Faith formation needs to be family oriented
  • Catechesis programs need to involve and integrate families and youth
  • Young people are involved in technology so we need to use different instruments to share the faith
  • When faith formation is family-centric, we see the positivity from those kinds of programs
  • Revisiting the Batavia study that was done 13 years ago – all churches should be unified at one site. Unity is crucial for passing on the faith to the next generation. Hard choices may have to be made.
  • It is up to the Diocese to clean up these issues and get back to the basics of Catholicism such as the rosary and catechesis
  • Prayer groups are important too along with Bible studies and parish groups
  • We should find out if priests need support – often volunteers are needed
  • Parish groups focus on negative things – they should be building up the parish and focusing on parish issues. The Diocese should handle the negative elements.
  • Many young people are not well trained in the Catechism and have no appreciation of the history, tradition and liturgy of the Church. We parents have not been passing it on so it’s not just on the priests and teachers.
  • Abuse issue has distracted one member (of the table) from their goal of heaven. It has taken their concentration off of her primary goal to reach heaven.
  • Upon This Rock – some people believe that monies were shifted from one place to another such as from the schools and now that money is being used for the abuse pay outs
  • Parishioners are voting with their feet and wallets
  • Parishes are cutting ministries because of the limits and assessments the Diocese has imposed on them
  • We need to re-educate ourselves in the importance of the liturgy and morality
  • The MRT literature is very well done and expresses a lot of what has been said this morning
  • Parish transparency – parish and financial council should provide annual reports to parishioners
  • Faith formation for the entire family – kid and adults gathering on Sunday afternoons
  • I am disgusted by the Catholic Church and the abuse of the clergy’s power. I wanted to offer a prayer during the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass and the priest said I couldn’t. The abuse is being swept under the rug all the time. This is disgusting. No Pope or bishops talked about the abortion law in Albany this year. Then there was the USCCB wait from November to February. Then nothing got done. They’re a disgusting bunch of bureaucrats. The youth know what the Church is and they don’t want it. (This was all from one individual who spoke out but did not appear to represent a table – only himself.)
  • It is tough to see the Bishop selling his home to settle claims
  • The structure of the Diocese needs to change in terms of how things are done
  • We get our priests from Christ the King Seminary – maybe they need to have tougher classes for priests to go through on these topics
  • In baseball, if you violate the rules, you’re out – there’s no reforming the violators here
  • I know John Hurley is here, so Go Bonas! (A light-hearted close to the table “report outs!”)

Stephanie then invited John Hurley to the podium to talk about the MRT:

  • We knew the MRT needed to be in every corner of the Diocese of Buffalo
  • The issues discussed have to make their way into parish and diocesan life
  • Last week, we released our major, 68-page report which is the combined work of our 6 working groups comprised of 150 lay people
  • Many of the same issues that are in this report surfaced here this morning
  • The Joint Implementation Team (JIT) was implemented by Bishop Malone to increase the collaboration between the MRT and the DOB. The JIT meetings have been very productive.
  • It is important that we remain independent and be critical in the good sense
  • To his credit, Bishop Malone has embraced this process to rebuild the Church
  • There are severe consequences for victims of abuse – that was the initial inspiration for the MRT – the pain and suffering of people because of people in the Church
  • The IRCP claims and lawsuits are being filed now but there will be ongoing outreach to victims
  • There needs to be parish and diocesan involvement
  • It is so good to hear your comments today because it tells us that this MRT report reflects what you are concerned about
    • Maureen Hurley interrupted John here to ask him to review the 6 topics that the working groups focused on:
      1. Transparency around the nature and scale of the abuse in the diocese and financial and spiritual reparations for victims/survivors
      2.  Transparency about all diocesan operations
      3.  Accountability for bishops
      4.  Selecting and monitoring bishops
      5.  Greater involvement by women and laity in the Church
      6.  Improvements in the formation of priests & priestly life
  • There is additional work to be done – you can register on the MRT website to get involved and stay informed

At this time, Bishop Malone took the podium and made the following remarks:

  • Thank you for your helpful, significant and challenging comments, which reflect what has been said at other sessions and what has been on my mind and heart
  • I hear your passion for our Church and compassion for victims, who were the launching pad for this whole thing
  • When I got here, I discovered that abuse cases for 50-60 years had not been dealt with and sent to Rome. We now have 9 or 10 cases that are already at the Vatican, which makes the final decision as to whether a priest is laicized
  • We need to have justice, compassion and healing for victims
  • All of us have experienced betrayal – I too have felt that
  • Locally, nationally and globally, this abuse has been a profound cancer but that can be healed
  • The MRT is a movement of the Holy Spirit as I’ve said many times to John and others. Their call to accountability is a challenging one, but I am willing to accept it.
  • The trusting atmosphere of these sessions is very important. Whenever I meet with anyone, I always say that we must be respectful of each other and candid. If we aren’t candid, it won’t be productive.
  • Of course, the point now is not for me to respond to specific questions, but I have taken notes and so has Dennis Mahaney
  • Along with your concern for victims, I also heard your concerns regarding the financial element of all this
  • The credibility of the Diocese is wounded and so is mine
  • I must tell you that nothing from the Diocese of Buffalo or Upon This Rock is used for the settlements
  • The NYS Bishops supported the CVA once it finally included other institutions
  • Are we concerned about financial matters? Yes we are
  • $18 million from diocesan reserves was used for the IRCP settlements. Remember that the IRCP was independent from the Diocese – the claims went to the judges* and they decided the amount and we paid those amounts
  • So our reserves are going down, but we have more reserves to draw on. And there is also the sale of properties.
  • We are also in dialogue with our insurance carriers regarding coverage – some of it will cover tragic sexual abuse but not others. I’ve learned a new term – insurance archaeology – where people are researching what’s there and if it is covered by insurance, we want to use that
  • Please trust me that no money from Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities is being used for the settlements
  • It is tragic that Catholic Charities did not meet their goal this year due to the negativity of the whole story that’s out there, but of course the negativity is there because bad things happened.
  • I hear your discouragement and your dismay, but I also hear that you believe the Church is the Lord’s Church. I do too or I’d be a veterinarian.
  • Laity involvement – the MRT is a powerful manifestation of what Vatican II called us to be
  • I am committed to a new way of being Church together, but our credibility has been deeply bruised by this whole thing
  • I know my mistakes in how I dealt with two priests with misconduct with adults. We don’t have a zero tolerance policy yet with those things, but we are preparing a strong new protocol for the abuse of adults. That protocol is now being reviewed and discussed by my priest council. It was developed by the lay task force that was formed earlier this year.
  • A woman came up to me after Mass recently and said, “You know Bishop, you shouldn’t make yourself the lightning rod for all those things from 50-60 years ago.” That was consoling for me to hear.
  • Right now, the CLI group of youth is concluding their week at the Seminary. It is not all fun and games – it is about discipleship so that the youth come to know Christ.
  • We also have a whole new faith formation curriculum for the diocese that is totally family-focused.
    • At this, the Bishop asked how many in the room have heard of this new curriculum. 1/3 of the room (by his vocal estimation) raised their hands. He noted that this means they have work to do in further implementing the curriculum.
  • I want to accent that I heard your concerns about youth and family, which is a very important point that was raised today. I am fully in agreement with you on that.
  • The mistakes that were made 50-60 years ago represent a different era. There are changes now especially with the Charter and VIRTUS. There are graphs I could show you. There is a whole new mindset now. We are training both adults and kids. And every year, the Diocese is audited for safe environment to be sure we are backgrounding and training people properly and every single year, we get a 100% clean audit.
  • The theme of young people is an obsession of mine – engaging youth and young adults is vital.
  • There is no simple solution – this is very complex and there is no easy fix.
  • We are all concerned about the past and the terrible things done to victims and how things were handled.
  • At the same time, the larger mission of the Church has to go forward – parish life, support for the poor, refugees and migrants, etc.
  • One good thing is that the media has brought this cancer to light.
  • People ask me, “Bishop, how do you stay standing strong?” I tell them is it is due first to God’s grace, then to my own conscience – I know what I will accept responsibility for and what I won’t, and then to the good people around me – the MRT included. They challenge me more than any other group.
  • I want to read to you from today’s office of readings – from a letter from St. Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp:
    • Work together in harmony, struggle together, run together, suffer together, rest together, rise up together, as stewards, ministers and advisors of God. Let none of you prove a deserter.** Let your baptism be your armor, your faith your helmet, and your charity your sword.

Thus concluded the 5th Listening Session in the year of Our Lord 2019.

*The IRCP program was set up so that all claims came to the Catholic Center at 795 Main Street. That was the address on all ICRP correspondence and mailings. I know this because I saw it – stacks and stacks of claims arriving to the Chancery especially as the June 1, 2018 deadline approached. The claims were scanned onto a flash drive and then the flash drive and the hard copy claims were delivered to Randy White at the diocesan lawyers’ office. From there, they must have eventually been given to the IRCP judges, but I do not know if their format or content was altered by the lawyers. It was certainly not a survivor-to-judge kind of process – Chancery staff (particularly Bishop Grosz and Steve Timmel) and the diocesan legal staff (particularly Randy White and Lawlor Quinlan) were the established, constant intermediaries. Again, I know this because I saw it throughout all of March, April, May, June and early July of last year.

**Someone commented to me that perhaps this deserter quotation was intended by the Bishop for me. That may be the case, but it does not bother me. It is no longer hard for me to accept that he must think of me as a traitor and a deserter. To his mind, I am. But he does not know the freedom of conscience I now have or the deep, enduring, powerful peace I have in my soul. I could not betray my soul or desert my conscience.

SNAP 2019

This is a recording of my presentation at the SNAP (Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests) Conference last weekend. Speaking before an audience of survivors was both an incredible gift and an immense responsibility. I asked Jesus to help me put into words what is in my heart. My thanks to the SNAP leadership team for inviting me and offering me a chance to speak to a room full of my heroes. And thank you, Jesus, for giving me the words.

Special shout out to Stephanie McIntyre, whose abuser I mention by name during this presentation, and to Michael Whalen, who will forever be the person I think of when I say “Buffalo survivor.” My life changed forever when he came forward last March and I began to hear the voices of so many survivors soon thereafter. Those voices and the harrowing stories they told will never leave me. I will always be grateful for the survivors’ strength and the grace of God.

Photo credit to Trish Hill

Take A Number

The national spotlight has once again focused on our beleaguered Buffalo diocese. This Nightline piece aired just after midnight today and contains Bishop Malone’s first national interview. I remember being shocked when I learned that Bishop Malone had agreed to do an interview with ABC’s David Wright since the Bishop has resolutely refused interview requests unless they’re of the softball (WBEN, WGRZ) or airball (hello Don Postles) variety.

For me, the most challenging part of the Bishop’s interview was when he’s shown a clip from my own interview with ABC’s David Wright. I drew a sharp breath when I realized that the Bishop was watching my response to a very difficult question.

During my interview last December, David asked me outright if Bishop Malone should go to jail. I was startled by that question as I had never considered it before. By that time, I had publicly called for the Bishop to resign, but I had never thought of jail time for him. It just wasn’t on my radar. Considering him unfit to lead our diocese, I wanted him to resign and figured he’d go back to the Cape – not to a cell.

That question from David is the first media question so far that I’ve hesitated before answering. I stumbled a bit as I tried to answer him. Then David followed up by asking me if I would testify against the Bishop. “Yes, I would” was my immediate answer. I remember wondering, If I testify against the Bishop, could that testimony lead to his being sentenced? I suppose that’s a distinct possibility.

We are in such uncharted waters and unfamiliar territory. The FBI and AG are actively investigating our diocese. What will these investigations yield? What will be the ramifications of their investigations? Could jail time for Bishop Malone be one of those repercussions? I don’t know.

But I do know one thing: if Bishop Malone does go to jail, he should not go alone.

First in the jail line should be the abusive priests, who for decades have resided in condos, cabins and cottages instead of cells. Many of them were serial abusers with literally dozens of victims. They absolutely must pay for their crimes – in this life or the next. Bishop Malone himself has stated that if it weren’t for the statute of limitations, many of our Buffalo priests would have gone to jail. For far too long, these abusive priests have avoided the consequences that any of us would have received if we had committed similar crimes.

I also believe that Bishop Malone’s complicit advisors – legal and diocesan – should keep him company in jail. They would have plenty of time to talk about “carefully crafted criteria” and other questionable decisions they made together.

The PA Grand Jury report makes it clear that Bishop Malone would not be the only bishop in jail. For example, Bishop Trautman of Erie, PA should definitely be there too. There are other NY bishops (for starters) who should join them in what they’d probably start calling the Bishop’s Wing of this hypothetical jail.

So when it comes to the possibility of jail, there would be a line. Bishop Malone would have to take a number because he wouldn’t be first in that long line.

It pains my heart to even be writing about such things. Dear God, how have we come to this?! Growing up a joyful Catholic, I could never have dreamed that one day I would be seriously reflecting on whether bishops should go to jail. It breaks my heart.

But you know what breaks my heart even more? The suffering and sorrow of the survivors. They are strong and resilient, but that doesn’t mean they are not still in pain or struggling to overcome their trauma. They deserve every bit of justice they can receive. If that justice eventually includes bishops in jail, I can only say sincerely that I would visit Bishop Malone in jail.

God is all just and ever merciful. We humans have always struggled to find a balance between the two. For now, all we can do is pray and work for human justice while trusting in Divine Mercy.

Jesus, I trust in you and I love you.

My thanks to ABC – particularly David Wright and Pete Madden – for their commitment to our story and their appreciation of Charlie Specht’s excellent work on our diocesan debacle.

Return to the Catholic Center

When it comes to nouns, I like them the older the better: vintage people, historic places and antique things. I’m particularly fond of old buildings, which is lucky for me because Buffalo is chock-full of them. Among the Queen City’s many jewels, her architecture shines brightly. (There is a wonderful video at the top of the website linked in the previous sentence… if you have time to watch it, you won’t be disappointed… and you may want to come visit if you’re not from here!) We are blessed with an abundance of amazing buildings throughout our city. Many of them were designed by such notable architects as Frank Lloyd Wright – the legend himself, Louis Henry Sullivan – the father of skyscrapers, and Louise Blanchard Bethune – the first female in that field.

As a lover of historic buildings, I truly cherished working in the Catholic Center. Every time I’ve passed it, seen it or stood across from it since last August, I’ve been reminded of just what a special place it is. Just recently, I started really missing working there… not the work, which became toxic, but the “there.” I missed running up a fire stairwell that was more ornate than any modern, main ones would be. I would fondly recall the “basement of the Diocese” with its metal tracks from when the building housed a newspaper company and carts moved heavy equipment to and fro. I would close my eyes and recall the resplendence of the main lobby and its stunning art deco elements. These were bittersweet remembrances, but I would also remind myself how fortunate I was to have worked in that historic building in the first place.

This past Tuesday morning, I reflexively checked my email during a break at a work training. This absentminded exercise was suddenly electrified when I saw the following message from Explore Buffalo, which offers tours of Buffalo:

Ad for tour.jpg

Can I even do that??!!! was my first thought. I don’t see why not was the answer I gave myself. Sure, I’ll pay $25 to revisit the building I’ve been missing so much lately. And this time, I thought, I can take pictures to show people what it looks like since I never took pictures when I actually worked there! 

And so it happened that earlier this evening, I took an official tour of the first and second floors of the building I used to consider my second home.

Here is a brief history of the building for those who are interested:

“This Classic Art Deco building opened in 1930 as the home of the daily Buffalo Courier-Express, which ceased publication in 1982. As of 1985, it has housed the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. It is unusual in its incorporation of a newspaper motif in both the exterior and interior design.

Stretching across the front of the building are these words from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: “Congress Shall Make No Law Abridging the Freedom of Speech or of the Press.” People involved in the principal stages of the newspaper business are shown in eight terracotta relief sculptures across the Main Street facade: editor, linotyper, compositor, diemaker, stereotyper, pressman, shipper and reader.

A focal point of the two-story lobby is a 200 square-foot mural by local artist, Rev. Thomas Ribits, OSFS, representing the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the Buffalo area. The mural replaced one of similar size that graced the lobby during the Courier-Express era. That one, painted by Charles Chase Bigelow and Ernest Davenport, depicted the contemporaneous growth of the City and the newspaper. From 1869 to 1871, Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain) was editor and part owner of the Buffalo Express, which merged with the Buffalo Courier in 1926.

The firm of Monks & Johnson served as the building’s architects, with Henri D. A. Ganteaume, who is noted for his design of newspaper buildings.”

What an odd sensation it was to walk through those familiar doors again! I half expected an alarm to go off when I crossed the threshold, but it was a peaceful re-entry into a world I used to know so well. And once inside the lobby, I was just grateful to see it again. It is truly splendid as these photos hopefully illustrate for you:

Mural half of lobby.jpg
Mural half of the Lobby
Other half of lobby.jpg
The other half – these photos are taken from the cut-out on the second floor
Floor VS
Historic printers’ markers are the focal point of the tiled floors
Full mural.jpg
Fr. Tom Ribits’ incredible mural – detailed close-ups to follow
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A new addition – the Diocesan prayer for healing and the purple candle that is being displayed in various spots throughout the Diocese. Watched over by St. Joseph, our Diocesan patron.

Here is the view as you look up through the cut-out to the second floor:

From the lobby.jpg

Brass close up.jpg
The balustrade is stunningly gorgeous in its detail
Ceiling
Close-up of the second floor ceiling and the Art Deco chandelier

Even the elevators are gorgeous!

Elevator doors

Close up of elevator doors
Close-up of the historic printers’ marks etched into the elevator doors

Our capable tour guide was Rick Suchan, Director of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, who oversaw the Upon This Rock campaign a few years ago and continues to manage the Foundation during this difficult time. For Rick, giving a tour at 6 pm on a Thursday would not be a matter of staying late after work… he was likely working up to the minute the tour started and went back to work right after. I admire the man’s dedication to the cause even if I no longer fully admire the cause itself.

When we got up to the second floor, I made a request of Rick: could I please make a visit to the Chapel just opposite the balustrade? He graciously granted my request for which I am very grateful. It would have been a pity to be so close to the Most Important Room in the Catholic Center without stopping in to say hello to Our Lord.

Tabernacle with seats.jpg

What a wave of emotions came crashing over me when I entered that small chapel! I dropped to my knees as so many memories came flooding back… the private Masses with Bishop Malone during my first year until (happily) he began inviting the building to attend, setting up the altar for the Bishop before each Mass and securing a lector and Eucharistic Minister for him, the quick visits before a day I knew would be hard, the longer conversations after one of those tough days, the hurried visits during days when I knew that “some Jesus time” was the only thing that would get me through. How often did I almost literally run down to Jesus, present in this super 80’s tabernacle, to beg Him for the help only He can give. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have ugly cried more in front of this tabernacle than any other. I used to dim the lights and hope no one would hear or see me as they walked from the elevator to the cafeteria down the hall. It was a tremendous comfort to have Him there in the Blessed Sacrament every day, but especially on the darkest days. I tried never to take that gift for granted. Tonight, all I could do was to thank Him… for helping me through the darkness, for guiding me into the light, and for the abiding gift of His love and His peace.

Altar.jpg

St. Joseph and candle in Chapel
This was a new addition – similar to the one in the lobby
Testimony.jpg
These guys’ signatures are on a lot of things in the Secret Archives that you wouldn’t want your signature to be on… at least this document doesn’t present any concerns

And now for a few pictures that capture random spots (that were part of the tour) that are memorable to me…

The stairwell I used all the time and found to be so elegant and beautifully crafted:

 

This is one of the fire hose boxes that I used as mirrors on my way up to the 4th floor especially when I biked to work. I’d check for signs of “helmet hair” as I bounded up the steps two at a time… there were three of these boxes on my way up and I’d always laugh at the last one and say, “Well, that’s as good as it’s gonna get!”

Fire Glass.jpg

Old windows.jpg
The cool old windows at the lowest level of the stairwell

And now for some close-ups of the amazing mural in the lobby:

Malone in mural.jpg
Whenever a new bishop is installed, Fr. Tom comes back to add his face into St. Joseph’s Cathedral on the mural. Hopefully Father will have to do this again very soon!
Head
I’m pretty sure that’s Bishop Head at the top there… two other bishops are visible towards the bottom of this picture. The Catholic Center itself can be seen behind the Cathedral.
Basilica near Falls.jpg
Our Lady of Victory Basilica rising up at the back with the Falls in the foreground
Locks and biker.jpg
One of my favorite sections – an Erie Canal packet boat at the “Flight of Five” locks in Lockport
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“The bike kid,” as I always called him, next to portraits of Buffalo’s three presidents: Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt, who was inaugurated here after McKinley’s assassination during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 [Fun fact: Grover Cleveland is the only US president to serve two non-consecutive terms: 1885-1889 and 1893-1897]
Baker Timon Neumann.jpg
Rev. Msgr. Nelson Baker, a “Venerable” and Buffalo’s beloved saint-to-be; Bishop John Timon, first Bishop of Buffalo; and Saint John Neumann, CSSR, who was a missionary to Western New York and later Bishop of Philadelphia. (The shield is that of Catholic Charities – the Latin verse translates to “Love Never Fails”)
Close up of lace.jpg
Close up of Bishop Timon so you can see the actual lace that Fr. Tom used to adorn his vestments. Other elements are incorporated into the acrylic mural including antique photographic prints, newspapers, hymnals, textbooks, fabric, sand from Lake Erie, and twenty-three carat gold leaf! The priest saying Mass here is Fr. Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan missionary, who celebrated his first Mass in what is now Lewiston, NY and published one of if not the first book on Niagara Falls in 1683.
St. Joseph in Mural.jpg
St. Joseph watching over the diocese of which he is patron. The lines you see running through this section denote the 8 counties of Western New York that are part of the Diocese of Buffalo: Niagara, Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming and Allegany. Scenes from all three seasons are also visible… I always loved the wintry one best! The stars at the top of this section and throughout the upper portion of the mural represent the 300 parishes that were present within the Diocese at the time the mural was created.
Crest close up.jpg
The Coat of Arms of the Diocese flanked below by the personal coats of arms of Bishop Head, who commissioned the mural, and of Saint John Paul II, who was Pope at the time of the mural’s creation

 

Above are four of the terracotta relief sculptures that grace the front of the building

First Amendment.jpg

If you zoom in on the image above, you’ll see the First Amendment carved into the building’s terracotta facade… here is a close up so you see what I mean:

Freedom of Speech close up

Imagine, if you will, how odd it was for me last summer as I contemplated providing confidential diocesan documents to the media while working in a diocesan building that used to house a newspaper and had the First Amendment emblazoned on its facade. At that time, Bishop Malone was frequently referring to various members of the media – or the media as a whole – as “sharks circling the waters” or “sharks looking for blood in the water.” (The lawyers were vultures.) I’m guessing the First Amendment is not Bishop Malone’s favorite.

When the 60 Minutes crew was here last October to film the episode on our diocese, one of the photographers was particularly stunned by the presence of the First Amendment on the building. “Wow,” he said while looking at the Catholic Center, “If anything about this is made for a movie, it’s those words carved into that building.” Later that month, during my press conference across from the Catholic Center, I vaguely alluded to his comments when I said something about how the situation was “made for a movie.” It was awkwardly stated and out of context, which I’ve regretted ever since. A lot of people rightly gave me flack for the comment and accused me of “being in this for a movie deal.” I’m glad to have this chance to set the record straight: I don’t want to be in or part of any movie. I definitely did not have a movie (or book) deal in mind last year and I still don’t to this day. When I made that lame comment, I was making some preliminary remarks to the media that I didn’t know were being recorded and, on some stations, broadcast live. I was trying to emphasize the significance of these words on the building’s facade while I encouraged the media to continue pursuing the truth.

I will end our picture tour with this lovely statue of Our Lady, which is located near the stairwell door by the second floor balustrade, and an excerpt from a prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church:

Our Lady.jpg

O Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church to you we recommend ourselves and the entire Church. Mother of the Church! Enlighten the People of God along the paths of faith, hope and love! You were given to us as a mother by your Divine Son at the moment of his redeeming death. Remember us your children, support our prayers to God.
Preserve our Faith, strengthen our Hope, increase our Charity.

Immaculate Heart! Help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today.

From nuclear war, from incalculable self-destruction, and from every kind of war, deliver us.
From sins against human life from its very beginning, deliver us.
From every kind of injustice in the life of society, deliver us.
From readiness to trample on the commandments of God, deliver us.
From attempts to stifle the very truth of God, deliver us.
From the loss of awareness of good and evil, deliver us.
From sins against the Holy Spirit, deliver us.

O Mary, conceived without sin, we place ourselves under your special protection.

We resolve to walk in your footsteps and to imitate your virtues.

Obtain for us, O tender Mother, the grace of being faithful to this promise.

Amen!

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:

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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. 

 

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* 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.