The October edition of the Western New York Catholic was published online yesterday and can be viewed via this link. The first thing I looked for was Bishop Malone’s calendar of meetings and public events, which is a standard feature of our diocesan newspaper. I scrolled directly to the first few pages, which are always devoted to the “Ministry of the Bishop” and contain the Bishop’s calendar and photos of his ministry around the diocese. But this month? The calendar and photos are not to be found.
Now I can’t say that I was totally shocked by the absence of the calendar. There are two primary reasons why I believe it was eliminated this month: 1) a desire to prevent public protests, which require advance notice of where the Bishop will be and when; 2) the fact that his calendar may be in a substantial amount of flux these days.
For example, last night was the St. Therese feast day Mass at the Carmelite Monastery. It is a longstanding tradition for the bishop of the diocese to celebrate that Mass. But Bishop Malone wasn’t there last night. Either he decided not to attend or he was asked not to be there. This is just the latest in a growing list of events the Bishop has not attended for scandal-related reason.
October means the autumn Confirmation season begins in earnest. Although the fall Confirmation schedule is never as full as its spring counterpart, it still includes many stops on the “chrism trail,” as Bishop Malone used to refer to it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard from quite a few parents who do not want Bishop Malone to confirm their confirmand(s). And they’re not happy with the idea that Bishop Grosz or Father Peter Karalus (the other designated diocesan confirmer) would be the replacement for Bishop Malone. I don’t know how this is playing out at parishes where Bishop Malone intended to confirm, but I’m sure there have been discussions about it. Perhaps the Bishop’s Confirmation schedule was still in flux when the October issue went to print. (We always had to have the Bishop’s calendar and column ready about 1 week before the paper was printed.)
The greater surprise for me in this month’s edition was the shocking absence of Bishop Malone’s face and name amidst its pages. This is the first time I know of when Bishop Malone does not appear in any photo in the publication. I remember how Msgr. Litwin used to go through the paper every month and count how many times Bishop Malone’s image appeared within its pages. Sometimes he would have us guess how many times – the average was usually around 5. Many times, the Bishop figured prominently on the cover itself! By contrast, this month’s issue contains 0 photos of him and only 7 mentions of his name – most in standard usage (his appointment of priests, for example). By contrast, the Bishop’s name appeared 28 times in the August edition of the paper with two photos of him on his “picture page.”
I have myriad memories of working on the Bishop’s public and private calendars with Fr. Ryszard and Bishop Malone. When I first started at the Chancery, I realized that calendar-related questions and decisions would be a major part of my job. There were so many calendar requests and clarifications to discuss that I asked Bishop Malone if we could meet regularly to go over the calendar. When the Bishop acquiesced, I began referring to “Calendar Club Meetings” on his daily agenda and the name stuck. I even started using this Calendar Club logo on our meeting agendas! We would joke around that it was a very exclusive Club with membership limited to the three of us. Our Chancery colleagues would laugh and say they weren’t jealous – who would want to handle all the details of the Bishop’s calendar?
But you know who loved calendar work? Bishop Malone! Whenever I’d mention that I had a calendar question for him, his eyes would light up and he’d eagerly pull his “black book” (his trusty Day-Timer) out of his jacket pocket. He genuinely enjoyed the puzzle work of the calendar and never tired of taking questions about it. On the rare occasions when he left his black book at home, he would quip that he felt “incomplete” without it. And even when our Club agendas were 4 or 5 pages long, the Bishop was not distressed. He would tell other staff about those long agendas and seemed proud that we had so much calendar work to accomplish.
We sure have come a long way since those rosy Calendar Club days. Now the Bishop’s public calendar is not available to the public… at least for this month. This calendar concealment will curtail our peaceful protesting for a few weeks, but it won’t cease our efforts to call for Bishop Malone to resign.
Bishop Malone has disappeared from the Western New York Catholic.
Is the Diocese of Buffalo (DOB) going to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy? That’s a question on many minds here in Western New York.
Last Wednesday, DOB credit card holders received a memo informing them that the diocese’s current (HSBC) credit card account is being closed. It also informed them that they would be updated soon regarding the replacement card program. A WGRZ reporter immediately took this as a sign of an impending bankruptcy announcement as this story makes clear.
As for me, I don’t believe the credit card situation is as pertinent as is being suggested. For one thing, I know that the diocese has had issues with their HSBC credit cards for at least a few years now. Well do I recall the time that Father Ryszard’s card got hacked and someone ordered hundreds of dollars worth of food via UberEats somewhere in California. I remember that it was a hassle for Father (and the Accounts Payable staff member) to work it out with HSBC. We did have a good laugh over it though… especially because of the time difference, which suggested that someone was ordering large amounts of food well into the night!
So I’m aware that the diocese has been planning a credit card switch for a while now. I’ve confirmed with an inside source that over a month ago, DOB officials were making arrangements to switch from HSBC to another bank for their credit cards. In other words, this credit card switch is most likely an independent occurrence that is being given greater importance than it merits due to the timing of the announcement. It seems to me that it was an unrelated situation that became significant to those looking for clues as to impending bankruptcy.
The Diocese of Rochester surprised everyone when they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on September 12th. No one saw that coming especially since Rochester has far fewer CVA claims than Buffalo does. Yet the Rochester diocese decided to pursue Chapter 11 in order to protect itself against the financial fallout of those legal claims.
When Bishop Malone’s interview with WGRZ was released on September 18th, it was no surprise that he was asked about bankruptcy. The interviewer noted that the Diocese of Rochester had become the 20th US diocese to file for bankruptcy and asked whether the DOB was heading in the same direction. To this, Bishop Malone answered: “To be honest with you, we’re trying to figure that out now and that’s the honest to God truth.” When asked about the time frame for such a decision, Bishop Malone said: “There’s a debate going on among the experts [we’re conferring with] as to whether we should litigate – or try to litigate – or file chapter 11. That is an ongoing debate.” I’ve been curious on that point… just who is debating whom? We’ll return to this question in a paragraph or two.
Since that interview with WGRZ, the Bishop has met with two important groups – the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council. Both meetings occurred on the same day – Tuesday, September 24th. The College of Consultors is the most important of the “canonically-defined diocesan consultative bodies,” as the USCCB refers to them. The College of Consultors “assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese in accord with the provisions of Church law. For particular exercises of ecclesiastical governance, canon law requires that the diocesan bishop consult the college, and even obtain its consent. The college is comprised of no less than six priests, and no more than twelve, who are members of the presbyteral council.”
To my knowledge, the last time the College of Consultors was convened was in the spring of 2018 when Bishop Malone was deciding to sell the residence on Oakland Place. He called a meeting of the College to obtain their acceptance of his decision to put the residence on the market. I believe they had to sign their names to their acceptance of the decision to sell. I definitely remember that it was a big deal that the College was convened as it happened so infrequently.
As for the Presbyteral Council meeting on the 24th, I’ve learned that it was a “highly controlled” meeting, as usual, and focused largely on the bankruptcy question. The priests were told that the DOB is still weighing its options on the matter and Bishop Malone did not give any hint as to which way they were leaning. He had to leave the meeting early to catch a flight to NYC for the NYS Board of Bishops meeting on the 25th.
This was a regular meeting of the bishops of New York State – not one called for an urgent or unusual purpose. Were the bishops talking about bankruptcy at their meeting? I can only imagine that they were. Buffalo can’t be the only diocese that is contemplating or at least considering that legal move. The Diocese of Brooklyn, for instance, has many more lawsuits against it than Rochester does. As the chart below makes indicates, no diocese has had more lawsuits filed against it than Buffalo. This is due to the tragic number of perpetrators and thus victims in our area, but also because of the restrictive nature of the DOB’s IRCP program. More applicants were ineligible than were accepted, as this article makes clear. Because the DOB’s IRCP program rejected so many applicants, many more survivors ended up filing lawsuits under the CVA.
So we know the DOB is considering filing for bankruptcy. Bishop Malone has confirmed it while also referencing a “debate” among the “experts” he is consulting on the matter.
According to inside sources, this debate seems to be primarily between two entities:
Bishop Malone’s General Counsel and his Defense Attorney.
As his website proudly proclaims, Joe Stoeckl has served as General Counsel for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and its related and affiliated entities for 40 years. He and his colleagues are in favor of a bankruptcy filing. (I should note that I greatly enjoyed working with Joe and always felt he was a genuinely good man. If he turns out to be corrupt, I’ll pierce my ears.)
Terry Connors has been defending the DOB for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. He does not want the DOB to file for bankruptcy. Why?
Yes, you read that right. If the DOB files for bankruptcy, it would eliminate many, many billable hours for Terry and his firm. The CVA lawsuits would involve all sorts of legal counsel and legal work. Terry’s firm would charge “an arm and a leg” (source quote) for their work on each of the CVA cases. Terry Connors and his firm would lose millions of dollars if the DOB goes for bankruptcy. Please note that Terry and his firm have already received many, many millions of dollars from the DOB over the decades. Bishop Malone was asked about this very point during his recent WGRZ interview:
Question: “Why can’t parishioners know what’s being spent on legal advice – it’s the money they give to you… shouldn’t they know how much is spent on lawyers?”
Bishop Malone’s response: “We have had a longstanding policy that prevents us from giving that kind of information out about our vendors. It’s up to those vendors if they wish to give that information out. It’s a worthwhile question to be pursued, but the point at which the response finds itself right now is we don’t feel that’s an appropriate way to go.”
Of course they don’t feel it’s an appropriate way to go! The people of the Diocese of Buffalo and the WNY community in general would be shocked at the amount of money given to Terry Connors and his crew each year. And as if Terry would ever “wish to give that information out.” Yeah right.
Any discussion of bankruptcy must necessarily include the question of insurance. At the Bishop’s final listening session on August 17th, he shared the following information regarding the insurance element of the bankruptcy question:
“I’ll just tell you this – a new term I’ve learned in this whole process by working with an expert attorney from New York who is doing what’s called ‘insurance archaeology.’ It means digging deep into the dioceses and parishes to find every single insurance policy that has ever existed to see what’s covered for these kind of cases and what isn’t. Sometimes parishes in the past had their own insurance policy and so the archaeology term is appropriate because sometimes they have to go down into old files and boxes in the basement of the rectory and they’ll say ‘Aha! Here’s the policy that covers the 1980’s.’ We have periods of time when many of these abuse cases happened when we had insurance for these kinds of offenses. They’ll be some gaps though. So that’s all going on right now. So there’s a lot of work behind the scenes and there’s no decision at this point about which way we’re going to go with that.”
It appears that the insurance archaeologists have done their work for I have learned from a trusted source that “except for two years, the Diocese is covered by insurance for all settlements and litigation.” According to this insider source, bankruptcy should not be necessary for the Diocese of Buffalo. Terry Connors must have been thrilled to receive the insurance information.
Will the DOB file for bankruptcy? It shouldn’t need to.
A bankruptcy filing would mean that survivors go from being claimants in front of a jury to creditors in front of a bankruptcy court. The vital discovery process – a primary goal for survivors – would be eliminated by bankruptcy.
In my opinion, it will all come down to the money. Will Terry Connors get his way… and his millions?
It’s deeply saddening to realize that Bishop Malone is more likely to consider what’s best for Terry than what’s best for survivors.
It was a late morning sometime in MarchAprilMay of 2018. Those dark months have melded together in my mind to such an extent that I think of them as one dreadful month that seemed never to end.
After making sure Bishop Malone had whatever he needed for his latest meeting, I made a swift retreat from the Chancery. Walk-running with my head down, I sped down two flights of stairs to the one spot in the Catholic Center that brought me any consolation: the Chapel. Sitting in front of the tabernacle, I let the tears fall and poured my aching heart out to Jesus. Sobbing silently with my eyes closed, I became aware that someone else had entered the Chapel. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least I don’t have to explain why I’m crying. Anyone in this building won’t have to guess.” But this unknown person had chosen the seat right next to me! Opening my tear-gilded eyes, I saw my closest colleague- Father Ryszard, who had tears in his own eyes. He smiled sympathetically and whispered, “I’m having a hard day too.” I smiled back at him as tears tumbled down my cheeks. We sat there in front of Our Lord for as long as we could enjoying the peace of His presence. There was great consolation in knowing we were not alone in human or divine terms.
I was vividly reminded of this Catholic Center Chapel experience last night when I was at Christ the King’s Chapel for my weekly Adoration hour. Overcome with emotion and exhaustion, I began to cry in a way that I haven’t in a very long time. I realized that I was doing the same kind of crying I’d perfected last year in the Catholic Center Chapel: silent, shaking sobbing. Praying to Jesus for consolation, I also reflected as to what brought on these tears. Not all tears are an evil, as Tolkien put it so beautifully, and they are rarely present without cause. The following is the reflection that my tears generated.
The past week has been the most challenging one since all of this began over a year ago. When Father Ryszard’s story was broadcast last Wednesday and Thursday, I was filled with gratitude, admiration and relief. How proud I was of my former colleague for his courage in blowing the whistle and then coming forward with his story of survivorhood! How wonderful it was to hear references to “whistle blowers” with that delightful pluralization. How relieved I was that Father was no longer required to cater to the whims of the bishop who had revictimized and retraumatized him multiple times.
But almost immediately, I began to realize that the same thing was going to happen to him that had happened to me last year: people were going to question his motives, doubt his sincerity and attack him personally. And I learned that it is exponentially harder to have this happen to a loved one than it is to bear it yourself. I’m no longer bothered by anything people say to me and I’ve learned to quickly spot constructive criticism, which I value, amidst the sea of ever-swirling critiques. But now people were saying things about Father Ryszard and oh I couldn’t abide by it! So I devoted myself to defending him at every opportunity.
And what an experience that has been! Because of my defense of Father Ryszard, I’ve been told that I’ve lost my credibility, lost my focus, lost it altogether. I’ve been told that my defense of him is “not a good strategy” as if I’ve ever had a strategy unless you call Telling the Truth a strategy. I’ve been warned that I’ll regret my support for him. I have lost followers and friends (of both the real and Facebook variety). But you know what I haven’t lost? Peace in my heart and in my soul.
I know Father Ryszard. I know that he is honest and that lies are antithetical to his very being. He does not have to prove his honesty or sincerity to me – I saw it in action day in and day out. He never hesitated, equivocated or prevaricated no matter the circumstances. In fact, he can be brutally honest in a way that I often needed! I know that he is faithful. His “office sermons” helped me to maintain my faith during the darkest days of my life. When he celebrates Mass, he raises his hands to heaven as though he is reaching right up to Jesus in love and gratitude. His devotion to Jesus and his example of faith in action inspired me to not give up on the God and the faith I’ve always loved. I know that Father is good because I witnessed his goodness every day for three years: cheerful charity, selfless service, and an energetic eagerness to help anyone and everyone he could.
Father Ryszard once said to me, “You understand without words.” What he meant was that he doesn’t have to explain the details of an interaction with the Bishop or the circumstances of his actions or inactions, his words or his silence. Having been with Father Ryszard on the Chancery battlefield for so long, I understand circumstances and details with no explanation necessary. Likewise, I don’t have to question Father Ryszard’s motives because I understand them without words too.
Lest you think that there have been no words between Father Ryszard and me, I can tell you that we have spoken about the matters at hand. His answers to my questions were immediate and guileless. He has been open and honest with me as always. He has been reasonable and rational as I’ve always known him to be. During one of these conversations, there were tears in both of our eyes because what we spoke about was so serious and intense. Never far from the surface is the reminder of his own abuse by a priest, the subsequent threats from our auxiliary bishop, and the callous complicity of our bishop.
Father has never given me reason to doubt his words, his motives or his actions. My loyalty to him is not blind – it is informed. This is not a loyalty based on naivete or niceness. It is not simply a matter of one whistle blower defending another because she’s so grateful for company in the weird world of whistle blowing. Rather, it is the loyalty between friends and comrades who have never had a reason to doubt each other and who understand each other without words.
It is appropriate that the anniversary of September 11th occurred during this past week. That will always be a day of sorrowful remembrance for our country. The terrorist acts of 9/11 were beyond despicable, but in their wake we witnessed unity and charity on a tremendous scale. This country came together in a manner I’ve never seen before or since. People showed their love for each other in ways large and small. In the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy, we emerged as a people grounded in unity and charity.
The Diocese of Buffalo is currently dealing with a tragedy of a vastly different nature, but one that also requires unity and charity in order to be overcome. Sadly, this past week has been filled with division and animosity in so many ways and so many areas. I’ve witnessed the corrosive effect of gossip, slander and rumor, which have been running rampant throughout the diocese. I’ve observed conflict and dissension among people who were previously friends and allies. I’ve raised my eyebrows in alarm at a “mob mentality” that has seemed to take over various discussions or threads. I’ve had people contact me out of concern that all of this division will detract from our mission.
What is that mission? My primary mission is to obtain healing for survivors and for our diocese. Healing for survivors is multi-faceted: justice, empowerment, support, resources, closure and community. For the diocese, that mission is a little simpler: let’s get through this with as much unity and charity as we can. We will eventually be a Post Malone diocese whether it’s in two weeks or two years. We have to move toward healing and that can only occur if we’re united and loving. There are no separate teams here – we are the team – Team DOB! There will be things we disagree on and areas where we don’t see eye-to-eye, but we can’t let that drag us down and distract us.
Bishop Malone has tried to distract us and deflect our attention away from him. This is the same bishop who regularly used a “divide and conquer” strategy when dealing with his priests.
We know that the Devil loves nothing more than to divide good people so as to limit or level their effectiveness. He is a divider, but we know that he is never the conqueror.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he prays: “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’d say that’s a pretty good motto to guide us in our mission! We certainly can’t achieve any semblance of harmony without God’s grace, mercy and guidance.
The word harmony ultimately comes to us from the Greek word for “joint” – harmos. If our joints don’t work in harmony, we won’t get very far. If we didn’t have joints, we’d be rigid and inflexible. Of course, we’ve all experienced varying levels of creakiness and/or soreness in our joints. Things do get out of joint sometimes! But just as our joints work in harmony with their anatomical neighbors, we need to work in harmony with each other. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I believe it will be necessary.
This is meant as a reflection to be shared – not a sermon to be delivered. I need to listen to my own words as much or more than anyone! All week, I’ve been feeling very much out of joint. Peaceful though my mind and heart have been, my mind has been troubled and my spirit has been deflated. I’m going to try and take a break from it all this weekend. I will attempt to heed this additional advice from St. Paul: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… and the God of peace will be with you.”
Peace be with you, my friends. Please pray for me as I will for thee.
Trigger Warning for Survivors: This post contains a graphic reference to clerical sexual abuse and the testimony of a survivor who was retraumatized by a member of the clergy. A general theme is the cover up of clerical sexual abuse. Please read at your discretion.
Bishop Malone is rightfully our primary focus here in Buffalo because he is the primary leader of our diocese. But he is not the only member of diocesan leadership who has contributed to this debacle. The focus of this post will be on two such leaders: Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz and Msgr. David G. LiPuma, who was the priest secretary for Bishops Mansell and Kmiec and worked for one year with Bishop Malone.
As this diocesan protocol indicates, Auxiliary Bishop Grosz was given the responsibility of “undertaking the preliminary inquiry regarding the allegation,” contacting all victims who reached out to the Diocese (through the IRCP or otherwise), and “offering an apology.” He was also the one who contacted and met personally with all of the accused priests when a new allegation surfaced. He would meet regularly with the men known as “the unassignable priests” or “the unsassignables.” You would think he’d be “good cop” with the survivors and “bad cop” with the accused priests, but it was entirely the opposite as the story below will demonstrate.
Over the course of several months last spring, I read or heard many victim testimonies in one form or another. They were all compelling. They were all heartbreaking. They were all unforgettable. Many of these powerful testimonies are ones that can’t be shared due to the descriptions or references they contain. However there is one that I can share with you due to the nature of the letter and the generosity and conviction of its author.
The author’s name and any identifying elements have been redacted. I can only tell you that the author is a victim of a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo. He wrote this letter to Bishop Grosz last year after receiving a phone call from the Auxiliary Bishop. This remarkable man, whom I will call Brian, offers us a window into the survivor’s world – what they experience as victims and how they are treated by the Diocese in the person of Bishop Grosz.
Brian begins with this haunting description of the enduring trauma survivors experience:
I want to tell you what happens to a sexual abuse victim. The best analogy I have heard is to think of a little glass marble and what happens to it when you throw it very hard at the sidewalk or a concrete wall. It typically doesn’t break, but the shock is absorbed by a crack at the core. This is what happens to sex abuse victims; there is an interior brokenness and intense guilt and self-loathing that manifests in negative behaviors and attitudes as well as additions to sex, alcohol, food, sugars, drugs, gambling, shopping, working out, shoplifting, you name it. These behaviors are repeated and become a destructive pattern with the sole purpose to change and mask the way you feel. The negative actions create more guilt, more interior negativity and the cycle continues until your problems pile up and become incredibly difficult to address. A sexual abuse victim ends up with a hole in their soul.
This is one of the best descriptions of sexual abuse that I’ve ever read or heard of. That last line is heartbreaking. Brian’s concept of the “little glass marble” is incredibly insightful and powerful. After his introductory remarks, Brian then proceeds to explain the primary purpose of his letter – to make Bishop Grosz aware of the negative impact of his phone call to Brian:
Now with respect to our phone call. I was at first hesitant, but then told your social worker that I would like a call with an apology not realizing it would be your highly subjective view of the entire clergy abuse dilemma as well as a new cross-examination regarding the sexual abuse I experienced. I naively expected our call to be a short and contrite apology. This is the number one thing I would suggest to you. Make it a quick call and simply say the church is sorry for what happened and offer the counseling services, etc.
To out of the blue start asking me if (my abuser) entered me anally without first asking permission to discuss what I reported was very crass and insensitive. You asked me if I made this report because of what I saw in the paper. The implication is that I’m just piling on with a bunch of others and looking for a pay check. When you said, “This isn’t a big deal because it happens everywhere,” I really wanted to either start screaming or just hang up on you. But I promised my wife I would be decent if you ever called.
The truth is, and you can verify with your social worker, what happened to me earlier this year was plunging me into a deep depression for about 2 months as I felt bombarded with messages about abuse by priests. [Experts] are sure this is a post-traumatic stress response and I clearly see that point. Sex abuse has been a topic I have not wanted to read or hear about over the years. The reason I am making this request is to try to stand up for ‘little Brian.’ That is also why I am writing this letter.
[A priest I talked to over 10 years ago] was very kind and understanding with me even sending me a note of encouragement and support and I very much appreciate the embodiment of Christian love he extended to me. I think that is what you need to do on these calls. Keep it short, be loving, be apologetic, offer help within the confines of the programs you have established, but don’t try to explain how you see things or share your opinions. It’s just not a good approach.
It was gut-wrenching to read about Bishop Grosz’s call to Brian. I was utterly appalled. I’d already heard from multiple victims that they had not benefited from their phone call with Bishop Grosz, but I had no idea just what he was saying to them. Several survivors told me that they didn’t want Bishop Grosz to know their name, but that he would not accept their telephonic anonymity and insisted on calling them “Joe” despite their protests. One of them became very upset at being called that incorrect name repeatedly. Still others would get very upset if I even mentioned that Bishop Grosz was willing to speak with them: “Oh no, no! Please don’t transfer me to him! I don’t ever want to talk to that man again! Please don’t do that! You’re not going to transfer me to him, right? Because I don’t even want to hear his voice!” These were all comments that I heard from survivors last spring. I was always startled by the tone of their voice – some sounded truly panicked at the thought of speaking with Bishop Grosz.
After reading Brian’s letter, I understood their distress in a much more vivid way. I am deeply grateful to Brian for allowing me to share his letter with you so that you might gain a better understanding of Bishop Grosz’s horrible treatment of survivors.
To this day, Bishop Grosz continues to be directly involved with the abuse scandal response within our diocese. He is the bishop survivors hear from and we know how that goes. Meanwhile, Bishop Malone publicly lauds himself for reaching out to survivors while hardly ever meeting with them. So very many survivors came forward to the diocese last year in response to Bishop Malone’s public call for them to do so. But Bishop Malone has met with 4 or 5 of them over the past year. Instead, he has Bishop Grosz take care of such “outreach.” Based on Brian’s testimony, it’s no surprise that very few survivors have anything even remotely positive to say about Bishop Grosz.
In recent days, Father Ryszard has shared the unbelievable story of how Bishop Grosz harassed, threatened, bullied and silenced him regarding Father Ryszard’s abuse by Father Art Smith. Bishop Grosz’s actions seem criminal and are certainly morally reprehensible. What he did to Father Ryszard is unthinkably cruel and calculating.
It is important to remember that Father Art Smith is one of Bishop Grosz’ classmates. It has been well known for years – especially among the priests – that Bishop Grosz covers for and protects his classmates and other select priests. These select priests are usually Polish Americans since Grosz is Polish American well. Yet Bishop Grosz does not protect an actually Polish seminarian who has been abused!!
Of the 15 members of Bishop Grosz’s 1971 seminary class, 5 of them have been publicly accused of sexual abuse and misconduct. Leising and Riter were reinstated, Maryanski was kept safe for decades, Nogaro was recently named in a CVA suit and thus suspended, and Father Art Smith was given a $1,300 a month condo for years (on the diocese’s dime) along with a host of other very special treatments.
Bishop Grosz is not fit for any kind of leadership let alone serving as Auxiliary Bishop of a diocese. The fact that he’s been in that position in our diocese for nearly 30 years is appalling. (He was consecrated on 2/2/1990). Next February 16th, he will turn 75. He has made it abundantly clear for several years now that he wants to retire as soon as possible upon reaching that magic number when bishops must submit their resignations. He is literally counting down the weeks.
Bishop Grosz should not be allowed to ride off into a rosy sunset as Yetter and others have tried to do. Bishop Grosz must be held accountable for his appalling actions, multiple cover-ups, and utterly complicit behavior. We cannot permit him to get away with what he has done over the course of three decades and to victims like Ryszard and Brian. Bishop Grosz has hidden away and avoided public scrutiny for long enough. He cannot get away with it any longer!
The photo above captures Bishop Malone with his former and current priest secretaries – Msgr. David G. LiPuma and Father Ryszard Biernat. This photo was taken in October of 2013, which was less than 4 months after Father Ryszard took over for Msgr. LiPuma as Secretary to the Bishop. But it was nearly 10 years after Father Ryszard was abused by Father Art Smith, as he describes in this heartrending video.
Guess who knew about Father Ryszard’s abuse as soon as it was reported to the Diocese? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who did absolutely nothing to help Seminarian Ryszard? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who assisted in the ongoing cover up of Father Art Smith’s crime against Seminarian Ryszard? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who knew that Seminarian Ryszard’s case was not properly processed and never even sent to the diocesan lawyers yet did nothing about it? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who was Bishop Kmiec’s right-hand man when he suspended Father Art Smith’s ministry in the spring of 2012? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who was Bishop Malone’s right-hand man when he reinstated Father Art Smith to ministry at the Brothers of Mercy in November of 2012? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who personally called and arranged with the Brothers of Mercy for Father Art Smith to minister at their campus without warning the Brothers of Mercy about Father Art’s history of abuse? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who was informed of two allegations of sexual misconduct by Father Art Smith at the Brothers of Mercy but did nothing to hold Father Art Smith accountable or inform proper authorities? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who communicated regularly with Father Art Smith and conveyed his requests and concerns to Bishop Malone as this detailed, handwritten memo indicates? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who was continuously solicitous and attentive to a priest with multiple allegations against him while ignoring the plight of a seminarian who was abused by this very priest? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who unscrupulously handed off his significant Chancery role of Secretary to the Bishop and Vice-Chancellor to the young Polish priest who he knew was abused as a Seminarian? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who is the current Chairman of the Presbyteral Council (priest advisors) for our Diocese? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who spearheaded the “Year of Healing” initiative within the Diocese of Buffalo? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who Bishop Malone appointed Rector of Our Lady of Victory Basilica, the crown jewel of our diocese, this past June? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who was appointed by Bishop Malone to the Movement to Restore Trust’s Join Implementation Team as a diocesan representative? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who stifled a survivor’s attempt to publicly speak about their experience as a survivor and a Catholic? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess which priest “plays the game better than anyone else,” according to more than a few of his brother priests? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who has long been considered the favorite (of Mansell, Kmiec and Malone) to be named a bishop himself? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Guess who will become a bishop over my dead body? Monsignor David LiPuma.
Monsignor David LiPuma is a high-ranking, card-carrying member of the Good Old Boys Club. He is a significant, long-term part of the corrupt, corporate culture that exists within our Diocese. He has covered up crimes. He has shown much more concern for an accused priest than for an abused seminarian. Yet he has been routinely promoted and regularly lauded by Bishop Malone, who considers him a personal friend.
There needs to be a total house cleaning at the Chancery*. As soon as I can, I will write a piece about Sister Regina Murphy, Chancellor, and Steve Halter, Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility. But for now, I want to focus your attention on Bishop Grosz and Msgr. LiPuma.
Malone must go. Grosz and LiPuma need to follow him out the door. They cannot remain in leadership in our diocese.
I have been receiving many comments/messages/texts about the infamous letter. I am sure many of you are hearing about it as well. The following are my final comments on the matter.
The letter in question is only part of this story because a priest and confessor betrayed his parishioner and penitent by illicitly obtaining* the letter and sharing it. The letter is a personal correspondence and should have remained so.
I do not believe it is a love letter. I genuinely believe that it was a letter of friendship, which is a form of love and a very important one at that. Have we forgotten that love is a multi-faceted term? The Greeks distinguished four types of love:
Storge: affection – the love between family Philia: friendship – the love between friends Eros: passion – the love between lovers Agape: unconditional love – the love of God
People are spreading this letter around our diocese (and beyond) along with their erotic interpretation of it. Salacious rumors are running rampant and people are using their erotic interpretation as “proof” of their claims. It disgusts and disappoints me in equal measure. These are good, faithful people I have respected in the past and want to still respect now and in the future. We are being divided – at a time when we most need unity!! – over personal interpretations of a letter none of us should ever have seen in the first place. Talk about compounding a tragedy!
Bishop Malone wants us to focus on this letter – that’s why he referenced it so much during this press conference on Wednesday! He wants this letter (and its author, recipient and thief) to deflect attention away from himself. We know how horribly he has treated Father Ryszard in the past – as this story makes heartrendingly clear – so it should not surprise us to realize that he is doing it again. Don’t let Bishop Malone get away with this pathetic diversionary tactic!
One of the most beautiful lines from The Little Prince is this one:
“One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
Eros is so very visible in our society. We are surrounded by it in many forms.
Let us not allow our eyes and hearts to be blinded to the essential reality of philia.
And for the love of God – agape – stop spreading slander!
I will entertain no further comments or questions on this matter. Please join me in prayer for all involved. Thank you!
*Yes, I am fully aware that I “illicitly obtained” documents from Bishop Malone. They were of an obviously different nature and import.
The Bishop’s public calendar for this week is quite interesting. Yesterday, he met with the “Independent” Review Board. Wonder what “independent” decisions they’ll be publishing soon.
Today at 1 pm, Bishop Malone is scheduled to meet with the Joint Implementation Team that he created as a bridge between the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT – click for their website) and the Diocese. I am fervently praying that the JIT members will have the strength to forego any joint implementing in favor of demanding Bishop Malone’s resignation.
But just look at this JIT group photo! You’ve got Msgr. LiPuma there on the far left – a priest secretary to THREE bishops who DID and SAID NOTHING for decades. Then there’s Fr. Peter Karalus and Sr. Regina Murphy, who are members of the Bishop’s Senior Staff and were well aware of the Nowak situation and DID NOTHING. John and Maureen Hurley are there – will they value influence and power over truth and justice? This week we will learn their final answer to that vital question.
At 4:30 pm on Thursday, the Bishop will gather with his Council for the Laity – a group of influential, wealthy Catholics including such well known names as Don Postles and Terry Connors. (Yes, you read that right – Terry Connors is on the BCL.) Will these folks be cheerleaders for the Bishop or will they finally take a stand?
Bishop Malone listens to influential, wealthy people MUCH more than he does ordinary Catholics. He doesn’t listen to anybody, really, but certainly not the likes of us. If someone is prestigious, powerful or prosperous, he will at least listen to them and might be influenced by them. Let us pray for all of these men and women that they might act with faithful fortitude and demand the Bishop’s resignation.
Please God, help these people to use their power for good!
not because she labors, but because she labors for others.
~ Saint John Chrysostom
My first statement to the media last year ended with these words: “My heart is heavy, but my soul is at peace.” There were many reasons for that heaviness of heart, but one of the foremost was that I felt as though I’d left a comrade on the battlefield. Father Ryszard, my colleague of three years and hopefully a forever friend, was still working closely with and for Bishop Malone. Last autumn, I was so desperate to get Father Ryszard out of there that I practically staged an intervention. Fortunately, it did not occur as planned and Father had the stamina to persevere in his role as Secretary to the Bishop. Without his strength, we would not have The Malone Recordings.
As I noted in a statement to the media, none of the information revealed in the Malone Recordings is shocking to me. It simply confirms what I came to learn about Bishop Malone – that he is an arrogant, cowardly and self-centered prelate who is incapable of effective, pastoral leadership. He must resign immediately.
The real story of the Malone Recordings is the heroic courage and quiet strength of Father Ryszard Biernat. He is an immigrant, a missionary, a survivor and a priest. It was appalling to learn about and then witness how the Diocese and Bishop Malone treated Father Ryszard. They revictimized and retraumatized him repeatedly. If this is how they treat a survivor priest who was a member of Senior Staff, no wonder they treat other survivors so deplorably! All last year, I desperately hoped that Bishop Malone would be the man I had thought him to be. At every turn, he dashed those hopes. Father Ryszard, on the contrary, became even more the man I thought he was – a man of God devoted to the good of His people.
Before he became a whistle blower priest, Father Ryszard was best known as the beekeeper priest. His affinity for bees began in the 5th grade and has only grown stronger since then. I used to love it when Father Ryszard would stop by the Chancery in his bee suit on his way to the bees. I don’t have a picture of that ensemble, sad to say, but I do have a photo of his “bee truck” parked in the Catholic Center lot:
Father Ryszard was always filled with such tangible joy when he was heading out to see his bees. I used to laugh and say that I was one of his millions of co-workers since he had so many bees in his hives! Father is very well suited to the craft of beekeeping as it requires a love for animals and nature, a curious and resourceful mind, a resilient and humble spirit, great trust in God and a calm demeanor in the face of potential stings! Father devoted so much time, effort and energy to caring for his bees and cultivating their golden gift so as to share it with others. It was clear that Father cherished his time with the bees as an opportunity to reconnect with nature and rejuvenate his spirit.
In addition to creating his renowned Holy Honey, Father Ryszard used his beekeeping experience to enrich his homilies and talks. In a 2014 interview, he explained that “honey bees in Eastern and Central Europe are a symbol of the Christian religion because they work together and sacrifice. Their instinct is to protect the hive. Hives are a living organism with different bees taking the role of collecting water, nectar, pollen, feeding the young and cleaning the hive. They take many roles with one goal – producing something good. [Hence] the parallels between the hive and the Church.”
Father Ryszard lived out this hive symbolism in his person and in his priesthood. He was the ultimate team player: helpful, hard-working and humble. Never once – not once in three years! – did I ever ask him for help without receiving an immediate, affirmative response. He would almost literally drop what he was doing to help someone in need whether they requested a bus pass, a Bible or a blessing. He did many good deeds in quiet, unassuming ways. Father likely never realized that I noticed his humble acts of service or generosity. He was not doing good for accolades or applause – as Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz are wont to do – but to serve God and His people. I often thought that in so many ways, Father Ryszard embodied this description of Jesus from the Acts of the Apostles: “He went about doing good.”
Father was always seeking out or responding to opportunities to minister to the people of God in WNY. Gifted with tremendous empathy, he was often at the bedside of the dying or consoling those who grieved their loss. A humorous and holy preacher, he was constantly being asked to say Mass, lead a mission or give a talk. Naturally comfortable with people of all ages, he was beloved by children and revered by adults. More than a few times, people would find out where I worked and say, “Oooh, you get to work with Father Ryszard every day??!!!” Usually this query came from a parishioner at one of the parishes where Father Ryszard was stationed before he was assigned to the Chancery. “Father Ryszard used to be at our parish and we just loved him and we miss him so much” were words that I heard frequently. I remember one little girl telling me just how lucky I was to work with Father Ryszard. She was so very right.
In addition to his generous ministry, Father Ryszard lived out the hive symbolism through his many sacrifices for the Church of Buffalo, as he always referred to our diocese. He came to Buffalo as a young Polish man who barely spoke English and was still acclimating to our U.S. culture. Sexually abused by a priest when he was a seminarian, he would be revictimized by Bishop Grosz and retraumatized by Bishop Malone. Yet Father persevered through it all and was ordained here in 2009. He has generously served the people of our diocese since then. Like the bee, as St. John Chrysostom said, Father has labored for others. He even accepted the hardest assignment of them all: Secretary to Bishop Malone.
Some of the priests seemed to think that Father Ryszard was living on easy street with his Chancery assignment. No, he was living on servitude street. You want to know the first thing that tipped me off that Bishop Malone was not the man I thought he was? His treatment of Father Ryszard. Bishop Malone was mercurial in the worst way. One day he was treating Ryszard like a beloved nephew — the next day Father would be on his black list for some unknown (and likely asinine) reason. No matter how the Bishop was treating him, Father Ryszard continued to do the following with admirable grace and good cheer: drive him every where, share most meals with him, attend almost all of the same meetings, coordinate and direct all of his liturgies, arrange for all of his travel, and listen to him day in and day out. In Father Ryszard I witnessed heroic charity in the face of hubristic cattiness. So often last year I braced myself for 5-6 hours of Bishop Malone only to realize that Father Ryszard routinely spent every waking hour with him. Such realizations always made me cringe… and left me in awe of Father.
There is much that can and will be said regarding the content and context of the Malone Recordings. It is not the purpose of this post to dwell on those specifics although I am familiar with such matters. Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to speak to you about Father Ryszard and the good man of God that he is. Like his bees, Father Ryszard has continuously worked and sacrificed to “produce something good.” He is as honest as he is genuine. He sincerely strives for holiness. And he always seeks to do good.
At the end of the aforementioned interview, Father Ryszard was asked what makes him happy (other than working with bees and kids – albeit not simultaneously). His response is pure and beautiful: “Celebrating the Eucharist behind the altar – I feel as if I belong there. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as comfortable; it’s like a puzzle piece that just fits. There is a great affirmation – like drinking satisfies thirst; for me, celebrating the Eucharist affirms my calling. I can’t picture myself any happier than I am right now, doing what’s right and following the Lord.”
I believe that Father Ryszard has done what is right and is following the Lord. Father is making the truth known and bringing light into our ongoing diocesan darkness. It is hard to express both my pride in him and my loyalty toward him.
Father Ryszard used to be my trusted colleague. Now, he is a fellow whistle blower. But most of all – he is my good friend. He has my heartfelt gratitude, admiration and support.
I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to each and every person who attended the DOB Laity Protest yesterday. It takes a great deal of conviction and zeal to commit several hours to protesting of this nature not to mention the time it took to make their signs. I am grateful to my fellow lay people for making those time commitments. Very special thanks to the survivors who joined us as their strength continues to inspire us.
With that being said, I want to publicly note that there were signs present at yesterday’s protest that troubled me greatly. Two signs particularly distressed me as they cast aspersions upon two sets of priests (one of them Bishop Malone) and suggested inappropriate relationships between them. Anyone who has followed me over the last year knows that I am not afraid to call out priests and/or prelates for actions that are morally wrong, corrupt or complicit. But I cannot support efforts to publicly attack or smear anyone based on assumptions or speculation. There are enough fact-based allegations against Bishop Malone to fill up quite a few signs for quite some time!
There were several other signs yesterday that I felt detracted from the overall message of our protest. At this challenging time, we must be as united as possible in fighting the corruption in our diocese. We must avoid anything that distracts or detracts from that central focus. Michael Whalen, my first survivor hero, gave us a perfect example of going straightforward and strong – not to mention big and bold – with his message:
Thank you, Mike, for being there and for creating the most epic protest sign I’ve ever seen! And thank you for keeping your message clear and direct. In so many ways, we protesters need to emulate Mike and another survivor who was present with us – Deacon Paul Emerson. Both of them were peaceful and amiable while also being filled with zealous courage. Special thanks to Deacon Paul for protesting with us when he could have been picnic-ing with the Bishop and his fellow deacons and the priests!
Of course, I am aware that everyone at the protest yesterday was utilizing their first amendment rights. They also may be coming from perspectives and places that have been very challenging and/or damaging. I respect every single person who was there yesterday even if I may disagree with their message or method. The very fact that I do respect them makes this all the harder.
Despite our differences, we were able to get through the afternoon without any internal incidents. I desperately wanted to avoid arguments among us as that would be the worst possible visual especially with so many priests and deacons passing us by and members of the media present. Thank you to the media for being there yesterday to document our protest and to help our voices to be heard beyond the front lawn of Christ the King Seminary.
Some of us stayed there until around 7:30 last night in the hopes that Bishop Malone might make an appearance. Knowing his prowess for sneaky escapes, I decided to get going in case he had tunneled his way out or Kathy Spangler had arranged for a Mercy Flight for him. After jumping in my car, I drove to the place I most wanted to be: one of our diocese’s Adoration Chapels. I poured out my heart to Jesus asking Him to help me navigate these turbulent times and challenging situations. That time of prayer and reflection was so restorative. It not only helped me to overcome any sadness about the day’s protest, but also inspired me to start planning the next one. Thank you, Lord, for Your guidance and grace!
As the poster below indicates, the next DOB Laity Protest will be distinctly different from the one held yesterday. For starters, I added “prayerful” before protest and have planned an hour of prayer to start us off. There will also be a moment of prayerful silence for those survivors who are no longer with us. The rosary will be offered for all survivors. Also notable is the fact that no personal signs will be permitted. I am working to have signs printed for this event – thank you to those who are assisting me in this endeavor. These signs will focus on the primary point that I believe we can all agree on and which we need to emphasize above all else: the corrupt leadership in our diocese must cease for the sake of survivors, lay people and the future of the Diocese of Buffalo.
I appeal to you, bethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10
If you are local and able to attend next week’s prayerful protest, I encourage you to do so. I believe it is essential that we, the lay people of the diocese, continue to publicly call for the leadership change that this long-suffering flock so desperately needs. It is my prayer that we will be able to accomplish this with as much unity, charity and dignity as possible.
For those who are not close by, thank you for being with us in spirit and for joining your prayers to ours. That prayer support is most important of all.
Thank you for reading this post. It was not an easy or enjoyable piece to write, but I felt it was a necessary one.
A year ago today, Bishop Malone held a press conference in the chapel of the former convent that would later become his residence.
It was a Sunday last year. Charlie’s Smith and Yetter stories had broken just a few days prior and this press conference would be the Bishop’s response. Many people – including Deacon Paul Snyder and various government officials – were calling for Bishop Malone to resign. Strange as it is to say now, I did not immediately echo those calls. Wait, I thought to myself. I should let the Bishop respond and listen to what he says and how he reacts.
Was I hopeful? Not exactly. Skeptical? Not entirely. I was concerned by the diocese’s immediate response to Charlie’s stories: the Fort Knoxing of the Chancery and a myopic obsession with “finding the leak.” Yet I felt that I owed it to my former boss to let him respond personally before I made any decisions about whether he should resign or not. This was an opportunity for him to finally right his course. I had witnessed him pass up multiple such opportunities throughout 2018, but I tried not to be cynical because of it.
Even before the Bishop said a word, I had a strong feeling that he wouldn’t be resigning that afternoon. The location of the press conference – his future residence – was a statement in itself. Why would he host this media event there if he planned to resign and leave the diocese? It was highly unlikely. And why would he hold the press conference in the chapel? It was an unseemly backdrop for such an event. Yet I still wanted to hear from him – how would he respond in word and action?
Watching Bishop Malone waiting in the doorway about to enter the chapel, I was overcome with emotion. The last time I’d seen the Bishop, he’d given me a hug and told me how much he already missed me. Now he was carrying a familiar USCCB folder into a press conference to address allegations that were brought against him because of my actions. Normally I would have typed up the remarks that would have gone into that folder. I frequently reviewed his remarks with him as he adapted and fine tuned them. I so often knew exactly what he was about to say.
His first words and actions left me shaking my head. He walked brusquely across the chapel as though it were a conference room while holding that USCCB folder and a beverage container. Holding up the container, he remarked:
This is my iced tea, I’m not sure the Felician nuns who lived here forever would be happy I brought it in the chapel, but here it is.
If the iced tea remark was supposed to break the ice, it epically failed. I remember being shocked at his seeming indifference to his surroundings. The red tabernacle light was not lit, so I assumed Our Lord was not present sacramentally in that room. But even so, his demeanor was not what you’d expect from a bishop in a chapel.
Within his first few sentences, we knew he wasn’t going anywhere:
You are the first group to come into what is soon to be the official residence of the Bishop of Buffalo. There is a little bit more work to be done to make it ready for that, since most of this floor will be for events. So we’re happy to have you. And I thank you very much.
He went on to thank the “good people” of our diocese for staying “steadfastly focused on Jesus.” He reminded us of the good work of the diocese and the Church while acknowledging people’s concerns as to whether “we are adequately equipped to meet the heart-wrenching, persistent challenge of clergy sexual abuse.”
We. A disconcerting use of that plural pronoun. I thought to myself: We’re not worried about our collective response to this challenge, Bishop Malone, we are worried about yours. Singular. Very singular.
Eventually, he got to the heart of it:
With the benefit of hindsight, other, more recent allegations, which at the time, may have seemed hazy or difficult to substantiate, warranted more firm, more swift action.
Let me be clear: My handling of recent claims from some of our parishioners concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard to which you hold us, and to which we hold ourselves. We can do better, we will do better.
We? We can do better? We will do better?Wait a second, I thought. You just acknowledged that you fell short of the standard and now you’re employing the royal we again?
As my blood pressure continued to rise, he started talking about one of his favorite things – the Charter for the Protection of Children and People. He talked about it being the “guiding mandate” for all bishops and his “personal charge.” He went on to note:
However, reflecting on my handing of recent allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, I fear that in seeking to uphold the charter to the letter — and remember the charter is for young people — I may have lost sight of the charter’s spirit, which applies to people of all ages. All of God’s children deserve the same protection from sexual harassment or contact, including adults.
That last sentence stunned me. He spoke those words as though they were a new concept, a bright idea, a revelation. Having witnessed his repeated disregard for young adult victims of clerical sexual abuse (including seminarians at his own diocesan seminary), I was not surprised to hear him hiding behind the Charter as though it were a shield. But the way he threw in that “including adults” line made my stomach turn. It also brought me to my knees.
Yes, I dropped to my knees and started to pray. I prayed that the Bishop would put down his prepared remarks, look us straight in the eye and be genuine with us. No more royal we-ing and charter-ing and the like. I prayed that he would be sincere and honest, remorseful and contrite. This was the time for a heart-to-heart conversation with his hurting people. Instead, we were hearing a carefully crafted, legally approved address.
The Bishop went on to address the calls of “some within our Catholic community” for him to resign. He had prayed about it, he told us, and received guidance and support from “colleagues, friends, brothers and sisters in ministry.”
This is what happens when you surround yourself almost entirely with cheerleaders and brown nosers. How grateful I was to no longer be among his “sisters in ministry.”
His next line was essentially the thesis statement of his address:
And I stand before you today recommitted to my calling to serve as Bishop of Buffalo.
But it was the next one that brought stinging tears to my eyes:
The shepherd does not desert the flock at a difficult time.
But you DID desert us, Bishop Malone. Time and time again!
You deserted us when you hid a 300-page black binder in your vacuum closet instead of dealing with the darkness it contained.
You deserted us when you rolled out an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that focused on protecting the diocese’s assets while leaving survivors confused and vulnerable, unanswered and unheard.
You deserted us when you wrote multiple letters of good standing for Fr. Art Smith despite knowing of the multiple, serious allegations against him.
You deserted us when you offered Fr. Robert Yetter public praise and an easy retirement while ignoring all recommendations to pull him from ministry due to abuse allegations.
You deserted us when you made other significant, unwise decisions or allowed indifferent staff to make such decisions for you. (I have to be vague here.)
You deserted us when you lied to a victim by telling him “you’re the only one” despite the fact that you had read the accounts of multiple other victims that very morning.
You deserted us when you lied to us by saying that there were only 42 priests in our diocese who had been accused of sexual abuse when you KNEW the number was more than double that published figure.
You deserted us when you did not respond to letters from survivors or their family members, but instead forwarded them to Lawlor Quinlan for a terse, legal reply.
You deserted us when you left for the Cape every single chance you got – especially when things became difficult here in the diocese.
You deserted us when you traveled to all sorts of committee meetings and administrative meetings that you didn’t need to attend – rightfully gaining the “airport bishop” title you so loathed – in order to avoid the hard work of leading our diocese.
You deserted us when you failed to provide paternal and pastoral leadership to our priests – stating at times that you would “divide and conquer” any priests who dared to challenge or question your decisions.
You deserted us when parishes would contact the Chancery seeking help after priests were pulled from ministry leaving their parish family devastated. You would offer them absolutely no support or guidance. When St. Mary’s in Swormville reached out for help after the Yetter story rocked their parish, they were told you were “emotionally distraught” and would not have anything to do with them.
I thought to myself: You’ve already deserted us so many times and in so many ways, Bishop. Don’t talk about shepherding your flock when you’ve failed to do so so many times.
After talking about his “moral compass,” which made me roll my teary eyes, the Bishop told us that “now is the time for action.” He went on to make “a few promises:”
The establishment of a “task force to examine the diocese’s procedures for handling claims of inappropriate conduct with adults and to recommend methods for honoring all victims in a manner consistent with our protection of children.”
We have been told that this task force has been formed, but exactly a year later, we have yet to see anything produced by or decided by this entity. It is a figureheadof the ghost ship Captain Malone is sailing.
The establishment of a new Office of Professional Responsibility “whose mission will be enforcement of our diocesan code of ethics.”
Steve Halter got this job. I do not believe he is independent. I do not trust his judgment. I need to write a blog post about him sometime soon.
The diocese’s cooperation with “any investigation initiated by the New York State Attorney General or District Attorney.”
The Bishop closed with an apology and a request for prayers:
Most importantly, to the victims of clerical abuse of all ages, children and adults, I am profoundly sorry for the pain this has caused you. While nothing I can say to you could heal the hurt of this tragic breach of trust, as bishop of this diocese I do extend my most heartfelt apologies. I want you to know that we will do all we can to restore your faith, to help you heal and to help you begin to move forward.
Please join me in praying first for victims of abuse everywhere.
And please find it in your heart, if you can, to pray also for me, and for all those who are trying to overcome the darkness of this sin, and bring back the true light of what the church should be for everyone.
I was saddened that the Bishop was still reading his remarks when he issued that apology to survivors. Put down those papers, Bishop, I wanted to scream at the television, The survivors deserve so much better than a scripted apology from you!
But there would be no heartfelt, genuine apology that afternoon. Neither would there be questions:
As you know, I usually do Q and A, but not today. Today is a day simply for this statement. At other times of course in the future, I’ll be available to entertain those.
As we know, the Bishop did not entertain questions until November 5th so he really was talking about “the future.” And even when he did take questions that autumn afternoon, he relied heavily on his legal team while doing so.
After he was done, Bishop Malone took his folder and headed toward the side door from which he’d come. This time, he paused to bow reverently before the altar and tabernacle. It was an odd sight given how he strode into the room not ten minutes before without a glance at the tabernacle. It was almost amusing to note that he’d forgotten his darn iced tea by the podium where he put it.
This press conference marked the official end of my lingering hope that Bishop Malone might be able to lead us out of this darkness. His words were scripted, his attitude was arrogant and his demeanor was disconcerting. Not to mention that he talked much more about “we” than about “me.”
He must resign, I said that afternoon as the tears dried.
A year later, I echo those words while holding back tears. It has been a full year and what has changed in our diocese? Nothing. There is a new task force, a new officer, a now “independent” review board, but there is nothing actually new here. It is business as usual with some new names and faces thrown in as a diversion attempt. The Bishop is using the same exact tactics he was utilizing a year ago as this story makes clear. He is “listening” his way around the diocese while desperately hoping that we’ll all “move on” and get over this.
We cannot do that, Bishop Malone. This is our diocese. We live here. We love it here. We don’t escape from the diocese at the first opportunity.
We want healing and hope, truth and transparency.
A year later, we have none of these things.
We deserve better.
We demand better.
You must resign.
All screen grabs were taken from this WGRZ video, which I selected because it includes Charlie’s closing line and the Bishop’s expression as he watched Charlie:
Dunkirk. I thought that this Southern Tier town, which shares its name with the French city made famous by an epic WWII battle, would be more of a battleground last Saturday. It was decidedly not.
Dunkirk – the westernmost city in New York state – sits just below Lake Erie. (Fun fact from Google: the name Dunkirk derives from the West Flemish “dun” and “kerke,” which means “church in the dunes.”) Driving there this past Saturday morning, I recalled how Father Joe Gatto used to refer to his hometown as “the holy land.” He is a very proud Dunkirk native and is a former pastor of Holy Trinity Parish where this final public listening session was held.
After parking in the lot that morning, I headed toward what looked like the primary entrance. Just a few steps later, I was stunned to see Fr. Dennis Riter exiting his car and heading in the same direction. I had not expected him to attend and was quite at a loss for words. He looked as though he’d aged 10 years since the last time I saw him – when he came to the Chancery on Monday, March 26, 2018 to receive his decree of administrative leave following allegations of child sexual abuse being lodged against him. I felt such a wave of conflicting emotions when I saw Fr. Riter: shock, frustration, pity, and an overwhelming awkwardness – all while thoughts of his alleged victims spun through my mind. There was no way I could avoid speaking to him as we were within mere feet of each other. No matter what, I’m committed to civility and charity. Awkward? Yes? Rude? No. “Good morning, Father Riter. I am praying for you.” (This is true – I do pray for the accused priests. They are some of the hardest prayers I’ve ever said.) Father Riter responded with a faint smile and “Thank you, Siobhan.” And then we walked in the door of Holy Trinity’s school building together.
As the Riter shock began to wear off, I confronted another surprise: there were not many people in attendance. 60 or 65 at the most and that’s generous. I expected the place to be packed with people raising questions and seeking answers! Instead, it was a pretty mild group of middle to elder aged people with a few young folks mixed in for good measure. I selected an unoccupied table on the left side of the room. I usually join a table, but this time I needed a second to collect myself and thus chose an empty table. Within a few minutes, three people came over and asked to join me. Of course, I told them they were very welcome to do so.
Right then, Steve Halter (Director of the Office Professional Responsibility) came over to our table and tells me, “I watch every time to see who sits with you, Siobhan. I watch that every time!” I didn’t really respond to this other than with a weak laugh. Thanks for the update, Steve – that’s not weird at all, I thought to myself. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the fine folks who either sat at my table or let me join their tables at the listening sessions. I attended all of these listening sessions as a committed, lifelong member of our diocese – not as a leak, a mole, a rat, a thief or a traitor. Thank you, table mates, for treating me with kindness and respect. I am grateful to each of you.
The listening session got started with the standard prayer sequence and a brief welcome from Bishop Malone: “Thanks for coming here this morning. These are heavy sessions, but they are a very important opportunity for me to hear from you – your concerns and your hopes.”
Then Stephanie took over as Moderator noting that she wasn’t “on my game this morning” due to different technology (an older slide projector for her PowerPoint). She reiterated that this is “our chance to be heard and it is the chance for Bishop Malone to do the opposite – to listen.” She noted that this is “not a closed program – if the media are here, you will be able to meet with them afterwards. Kathy – are there media here?” Yes, Kathy Spangler said – media are here including ABC National. Then Stephanie said, “So the media are here. But they aren’t here in this room because we want this to be a safe space. Remember that we can all essentially be reporters these days so do not use any devices to record anything. We need to keep this a safe place.”
At this point, Maureen Hurley stood up to remind Stephanie to introduce the people at the head table. [Maureen was in the very back of the room at the MRT table along with Nancy Nielsen and another MRT member. She speaks with the authority of one who is accustomed to being heard and listened to.] Stephanie duly introduced the men at the head table: Bishop Malone, John Hurley and Dennis Mahaney. Then everyone at the tables was instructed to begin the 25-minute period of “table talk.” Since I was sitting just about opposite Fr. Riter, I did observe him periodically during the table talk segment. He appeared to be primarily listening to the 8 people at his table.
Here’s what the tables had to say:
We hope this doesn’t bankrupt the Church
A lot of us feel a sense of resignation that we just have to go through this
The Diocese of Buffalo should focus on the fact that our Church is not the only ones with these issues – teachers, doctors, etc. have been abusers, but our Church is carrying the brunt of the blame and we need to point this out to the press.
Our parish is currently working on a major church project and people are donating money to it. We hope we don’t see a for sale sign on our parish after these updates we are paying for.
We have financial concerns – want to know where our money goes
Mental health – the Church did what it was supposed to do based on mental health guidelines from 30 years ago. The Church would send the priests for treatment and they’d be told “you’re cured” so the Church thought that was right. But the mental health position has changed and now we know they aren’t cured. So we need to clarify that.
Chain of command – who is the official spokesperson for the Diocese of Buffalo? It shouldn’t be everyone speaking or a disgruntled employee – we would have gotten fired if we did that.
Punishment for priests not happening if proven to have done wrong. They need to be punished and go to jail – not be sent somewhere.
Young people are falling away from the Church and our parishes are diminishing
How can I ever respect a priest? I’m having a hard time and wondering where my religion is going. (An older lady was reporting this for her table – it was heartbreaking to hear her sweet, vintage voice say these words)
At our table, we had a series of questions:
What is going to happen to the Catholic Church without major changes taking place?
What are the changes that need to take place?
Does canon law still work in 2019?
Do the precepts of canon law still apply in practice?
Do the vows priests make when ordained goa against human nature?
Should there still be a vow of celibacy? Perhaps there should be a worldwide look at the celibacy vow.
MRT – from what I understand, there are 2 issues being promoted by the MRT:
Permit female deacons and priests
Eliminate the papal appointment of bishops and leave it to a group of lay individuals at local levels
Who’s responsible to answer these questions because we’d like some answers
At this final question, faint applause could be heard building throughout the room. Stephanie interjected and said that there was to be no clapping because at past sessions, that has “set up division in the room.” So there was to be “no clapping in agreement or support.”
We feel the need for closer community for the Church – for it to be more social and like a family as it was years ago
We are concerned because 10 or 15 years ago, we participated in the Journey in Faith and Grace and met every week. But nothing was done about it. Back then, we were talking about the same question prompts as are on this sheet (hopes and concerns for the Church spiritually and practically) and we have not moved forward at all.
Young people think the Church is being hypocritical and are using that as an excuse to not go to Church
It also feels hypocritical to go to Confession – to confess sins to the priest who is a sinner
We hope the Church can have more transparency
We can’t put our hope in a priest or a bishop or the Pope – our hope is deep in our souls
This is a cleansing and purging of our Church
We are missing the opportunity to pray – the Bishop and priests should be encouraging fasting, the rosary, prayer, etc. There is no evening Mass in our county for people who are working during the day. We need to emphasize prayer.
Mental health issues need to be addressed during priest training
We feel a great deal of anger and frustration and betrayal – can’t get beyond the betrayal
The strong foundation of the Church is shaken and we have doubts and worry for the future
The process has been more legal and less diocesan
We need a statistical analysis of the impact of this scandal on our Church
This is a purification for our Church, but it is sad that the Church was forced into it instead of it coming about through a recognition of the problem and the necessity for this purification
We are waiting for a feeling of hope, but don’t have it yet
Justice is needed for all
This is an opportunity for women to be more involved in the Church – perhaps women priests can be considered
We need accountability and the Bishop has to take a strong lead here. This is a major crisis of faith and a Church crisis. In order to restore trust, this cannot be a public relations exercise. It has to change from the bottom to the top. Our faith is in Jesus Christ – not the hierarchy of the Church – that is where the issues are.
There needs to be an immediate response to allegations. Instead of leadership from the Bishop, he is pushing it off to committees.
If the Church had handled this up front, we would not have this issue
The Church, the Bishop and the Diocese have to accept responsibility now so we can move forward.
We need leadership from the Bishop and we are not getting it. He is pushing the responsibility off to committees and the Diocesan Review Board. On that ABC report on national TV, a sex crimes expert said that the Diocesan Review Board has no idea what it’s doing with regard to sex crimes.
Bishop – if you’re going to be here another year and a half and you want it to go better, you have to stand up and be a leader
Financial impact – we are worried about bankruptcy and does that mean that money would be taken from Upon This Rock. Would our donations be susceptible to these lawsuits? What impact would the lawsuits have on our Catholic school subsidies?
What is the Diocese going to do to protect the future of the Church?
We have to restore the trust of young families in the Church
We are loyal to the faith and hope the Church can be more honest about the situation
We need to think about moving beyond this and drawing members back into the Church. We may have to focus on the current problem, but look ahead too.
The archaic structure of the Church is reflected in each parish. The rules are archaic – like the rules that went down with this issue
We are concerned about the number of older adults who come forward but we are appreciative of the facts that have come up
The cover up has to stop – truth, facts – we have to deal with the facts. They are black and white.
We support the Diocese of Buffalo financially and are worried about the St. Joseph Investment Fund, our pensions, Upon This Rock, etc.
Youth – we need to work on helping them – they are our future
In the past, priesthood was a place for people to hide – we hope that is not the case now
People have fallen away from the Church – how to handle that? Small parishes need to work together on this
Separate theology from the behavior – don’t leave the Church because of the sins of some people
Confessing the sins of the Church – it must admit the sins and then we can move on after a good confession from the Church
This is an opportunity for the Church to be forgiven because the Church has done things that were incorrect
For every bad story, there are probably 1,000 good stories such as how the Church has done many good things for the youth in this area.
Riter table comments:
The Church is moving in a positive manner to resolve this issue. The Church will be smaller, but stronger
There are cultural differences to be considered – it is easy for people to replace Church responsibilities and priorities with sports or other priorities. Our culture has changed
Strengthening families – parents are the ones who bring their kids to Church and parents are not bringing their kids to Mass
We are hopeful in Christ. We are moving in a positive manner – these sessions are a sign of that. People recognize that things have to change.
We have lost faith in how the Church responds to these issues
This was a deep awakening for us. Kids need to be willing and able to tell adults if something is wrong.
These issues need to be put to rest in a firm and faith-filled manner with concrete, scientific evidence – every situation needs to be proven or disproven. Who are guilty and who is not? In some cases, settlements are made before a full investigation was made.
This is disheartening for American journalism. How can we restore faith in the media in the US?
We expected this to be a different format. We thought we would hear more from the Bishop.
People are not giving to Upon This Rock or giving weekly in the collection. Instead, people are now supporting Northern Chautauqua Catholic School since NCCS is the only Catholic school in the county. We have some administrators of that Catholic school here today and we need to represent and support them
There is concern for the people of Dunkirk and the division, confusion and sorrow they have been experiencing because of the situation here (this point was raised by me at our table and spoken by our table reporter, who did a lovely job. This was the closest thing we got to an acknowledgement of the Riter case the whole morning.)
Parishioners are voting with their wallets and their feet
There is concern and fear for our Church especially with young people leaving
There is a need for support for parishes impacted by allegations
There is a lack of support for Southern Tier parishes
We need transparency – get it all out so we can heal
Seminarians are leaving because of the deep-seated culture there
There is also the struggle of priests trying to be leaders and they struggle to handle the crisis
A year later, there has been no difference in the transparency department – we still have no transparency
The Bishop walked into a cesspool – you are up to your eyeballs in it. Your response needs to be swift and strong.
Fr. Dan (Walsh, pastor of Holy Trinity) said this may be a new reformation in our Church
The faithful will remain regardless, but please give us hope that the faithful won’t have to endure this for 10, 15 or 20 more years
The Southern Tier is so far removed from the Diocese – we feel left behind
We need to get it all out there. We’re tired of seeing shocking stuff in the news – we need to get it out in black and white.
There is also the struggle of good pastors – how is the Diocese of Buffalo helping these priests? It would be beneficial for parishioners if the pastors were being helped by the Diocese.
How did we even end up here at all? We have such frustration.
The MRT seems to us like a good idea and a good avenue
Lay pay people in parishes need to step up to repair some of the damage that was done
More people need to get involved in the seminary screening process because there is a homosexual culture there
There is a bigger issue here – the Church is involved in a cultural issue. A contributor to this was poor catechesis. Now there is a conflict between doctrine and the culture.
Youth involvement is absolutely crucial. How do we bring young people back to the Church? Young people should run to the Church for help not being running from it.
Someone at our table is concerned that her voice was not heard at a previous listening session she attended
There is a great need for the Sacraments and prayer
There should be no sexual predators in positions of trust with children
Would filing for bankruptcy save the Diocese?
At this point, the table reports concluded and Stephanie offered anyone the opportunity to speak if they did not feel that their point or concern had been raised by their table. the following individual comments were made during this segment:
We need to support the priests who are committed to lead us – one said he was afraid to be seen as a priest in public, which is heartbreaking
There is a need for change, but some changes that have been proposed are against Catholic doctrine. Women in the diaconate or priesthood and abrogating Papal appointments of bishops are changes that are not in accord with Church teachings. There are not permissible changes for Catholics. If they happen, it will not be the Catholic Church any longer. The Church can change, but I will serve the Church of Rome.
My heart was broken by the stories of so many precious, innocent children’s lives being destroyed by people in positions of power and trust. Our Diocese is responsible for those lives and we have to do something for them. My heart continues to be broken.
When you were at St. Mark’s, Bishop Malone said that he personally knew several homosexual priests in Buffalo. But how does he know they are not acting out their homosexuality? I would like an answer. We love homosexuals, but how do you know they aren’t acting out. What can be done to stop heterosexual or homosexual predators? No one like that should be consecrating hosts – that would be an abomination to the Sacraments. How can you let this happen over and over again?
How do we support the priests who have been cleared? There should be a debriefing for parishes with a priest who has been removed. How can the Diocese help us to help them?
Have there been changes to the screening process for Seminarians so this situation won’t occur in the future? All aspects should be screened – not just homosexual, but mental health and other difficulties that would affect parishioners
We need a strong commitment to prayer and a Diocesan-wide consecration to Jesus through Mary. We will see change and victory through prayer.
Bishop Malone’s remarks:
This is a terrible crisis. There is the terrible trauma of victims and the trauma of the Church – I see signs of that trauma in you and I feel it too.
I’m not a masochist – I want to stay on not so I can see myself in the paper and news, but because of my responsibility and my determination to move forward with you and work with all of you and to reach out to those who were so wounded by some members of the clergy. We have to move toward renewal.
Someone mentioned that this could be a period of reformation in the Church. We must remember that during the years after the terrible time of the Reformation when it was so divided and so full of pain and anger, God’s grace got hold of people like you, and I hope like me, and said we have to stand up and keep going and be the Church together and do it right.
So I believe that’s what we can do together. I know that I’m not the one to do it alone – together is the only way.
This is why I’m so grateful for the Movement to Restore Trust. It has been and it is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, which is why I was very, very grateful to be invited to really work in partnership with the MRT.
We’re trying to really accomplish a number of things primarily to respond to the hurt of victims and improve all of the ways that we do that and all of the ways we handle these things going forward.
And secondly, in good ways that are consistent with Scripture and who we are as Catholics, to change the culture of the Church. The culture of how Church administration functions particularly by involving more and more lay women and lay men in key roles.
We’re going to be doing that – not that we don’t already have that here, but we want to enhance and strengthen it. We’ve already been doing it.
Even at the level of the Vatican, because as you know, this sadly is a global Church problem. We see it right before us here in Western New York, but it tragically runs right through the life of the Church. It’s a terrible, sinful deflection from all that we’re called to be.
You know that – that’s why you’re here today. That’s why you’re angry and feel betrayed and dismayed and all of it – I get it, believe me, I get it – I hear it. But I don’t want to abandon you. I want to work with you to move forward.
I did not know when I was assigned here by Pope Benedict just about 7 years ago, what I was going to find lurking in the darkness of this diocese. It’s a good thing that it’s come out. The only way there can be purification and healing and moving forward is that it comes out.
For your information – I think it’s important that people know this – this is a key piece of the problem that happened here. Back in 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a decree to the bishops of the whole world requiring that whenever there was a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor – substantiated meaning either proven or admitted by the cleric – that case was immediately to be sent to the Vatican for their adjudication.
That’s when you would have seen cases where the case went to Rome and the decision would have been that the Holy Father had dismissed a priest or a deacon from the clerical state. It’s what the world calls being “defrocked” – that’s not a Catholic world – that’s a media word. It’s called dismissal from the clerical state or if the priest was 95-year-old and he was guilty and he was sick and dying, they might not have gone that far– they might have said he’s on a permanent life of prayer and penance and he would never function as a priest again and all those things.
For reasons I don’t comprehend, even though that process of sending cases to the Vatican was going on elsewhere – I did it in Maine – it never happened here. And we’re doing it now. We have 7, 8 maybe 9 cases already in Rome of priests with substantiated allegations.
The difficult thing for us bishops is that it takes too darn long for the Vatican to act on these things. Te reason for that is that sadly there’s such an overwhelming number of cases from around the world that have to be funneled through that system for a final decision from the Pope. A bishop cannot dismiss a priest from the clerical state – only the Pope can do that. I can remove him from ministry and that’s what I’ve been doing, but then it has to go to the Vatican for that final decision.
So it’s important for you to know that this process never happened here, which is why when I first came here, people said to me, “We’re so blessed in Buffalo – we ducked the bullet on this one – we didn’t have all these cases.” Well, soon we found out we did. But, the key is we’ve learned from this and we rely on the Lord Jesus Christ.
When people say to me – I’ve had people in my family ask me – how can we remain Catholic with all of this going on? I say the only thing we can do is to focus on the Lord Jesus. That’s the only way we’re going to get through it and do that together.
That’s enough in general from me. We don’t have a lot of time and I have about 10 pages of notes and Dennis Mahaney has even more detailed and copious notes – thank you very much, Dennis.
But what you’ve given to us in these seven sessions is not a “one and done” thing. The reason we’re keeping all of this material is because we intend to take it all and study it all and pray over it all and consult with people – maybe some of you – and allow this to determine our path forward: what need to be the priorities in the life of the diocese so that together – out of this crucifixion – we can come to resurrection.
I’m not overly pious – if you know me, you know that – but this is a crucifixion experience, isn’t it? Especially for victims and their loved ones. But for the whole Church.
But we know that if we live this in faith and do the right things – and I’m trying to, believe me – I know where I failed; but I want to do the right things moving forward and when I came here, I found that there’s about 50 years of bad, bad stuff that had been going on before I ever came. No one told me that when they asked me to come to Buffalo, but we found out about it and now everybody knows and it’s good it’s out there, but it’s painful and I’m sorry that all of you have to share in that pain. But that’s part of what it is to be Church as well.
Let me answer this woman’s question about homosexuality in the priesthood. There are homosexual people in every profession – would you all agree with that? (General murmur of agreement)
Homosexuality in itself is not evil. The orientation is not an evil thing. For anyone to act our his or her sexuality whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual in a way that’s not consistent with that person’s state in life is wrong and it’s sinful. I’d be just as concerned about a priest who I found out was having inappropriate relationships with a woman. The same for a priest with a man.
Do I know that there are homosexual priests? Of course. Do I know that any of them are acting out and violating their celibacy and chastity? No, I do not. You say how do I know that? Well, I would only know that if someone informed me about it.
You asked me in another meeting if I follow them around. No, I have other things to do. But if someone gave me that information, I would act upon it.
Number two – I want to make it crystal clear that all of the studies show – including the massive study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that looked into all of this for us scientifically – two things from that study:
1) there is no intrinsic connection between a person being homosexual and that person tending to be a pedophile. Most pedophiles, believe it or not, tend to be married men. That may shock you, but that’s the fact. I can give you the chapter and verse on it.
2) the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is the premier academic institution that looks at all this stuff, in a big study they did for the bishops a few years back, the psychologists told us there is no particular test that can absolutely identify someone as a potential predator.
Which leads me also to respond to someone else’s concern – there is a very, very thorough screening of everyone entering the Seminary.
Can we be sure it’s 100% in weeding out bad candidates? You can never be 100%. But we have full psychological battery of test that are done with interviews an all those kinds of things. It is taken very, very seriously in all seminaries these days and in our seminary.
The formation that they receive also looks at all of these issues. I don’t want to use all of our time on this as I have another few things to concentrate on here, but you probably know that there are four dimensions of formation for the priesthood or any ministry: intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and the human.
For me, a major, major concern has to be the human formation of the candidates. Is this a healthy human being? That’s number one.
If that’s the case, then we look does he have the intellectual capacity? Does he have the style and personality that can be pastorally effective? You can work on that. But the human and the spiritual are the two deep pillars and believe me, we’re very aware of that and looking at it all the time and we will look at it all more carefully.
We have a new rector at the seminary right now who is very much on top of things even at a moment of crisis for the seminary itself. Believe me, those things are in place and we never take our eye off of them. They can always be improved and we work on that at all times.
What I try to do here is to touch on the issues that came up most frequently. So let me comment on the financial issues that came up. Everyone is concerned about that.
We had a meeting of our whole Catholic Center staff this past week – a meeting like this actually – and we gave them some facts and they expressed their concerns.
I know there is a big deficit in trusting what I say and what the diocese says now, but I tell you that there will be no money from Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities– those are all connected with separate corporations apart from the diocese – and we have been assured on this so many times by our attorneys and other people – that they’ve been set up in a way that they are untouchable. Does this mean that some people may not try to go after them with lawsuits? We can’t control that.
But we’ve got every kind of firewall and protection and veil there that we believe protects the contributions of the people to the work of the Church because in my mind and my heart and in my prayer every single day as I pray for all of us including for myself, believe me – my focus is on these two things that we need to do:
Respond to this terrible moment in which we find ourselves and these listening sessions are part of that and number two – and we reach out to victims and bring healing and transparency, and
Number two is to make sure the fundamental mission of the Church goes on
I heard from so many of you at every single listening session your deep concern about the young people in the life of the Church. Most of my ministry before I was a bishop was with the youth and young adult community so I’m as concerned as you are.
This crisis has impacted our young Catholics, but as someone mentioned, this crisis of the young people kind of falling away has been going on for a long time. And it is connected to our very secular culture and all of that.
But please know that Dennis Mahaney is responsible for the division of the diocese concerned with Youth and Young Adult Ministry and this is a very, very high priority.
Even as we are in crisis response, we cannot let lag the fundamental mission of the church. Which is the proclamation of the gospel, concern for the poor, the bringing up of our young people in the faith and all those kinds of things.
Someone mentioned bankruptcy. Is bankruptcy a possibility? The answer is yes. Is it a decision we have made? The answer is no. All the other seven dioceses in New York are in the same boat. Cardinal Dolan calls frequent conference calls to all bishops – we have one Monday morning at 9 am – so all the NY bishops will be on the phone for a long time conferring and consulting with each other and sharing ideas. We’re all kind of at a crossroads preparing ourselves and doing our homework in case we have to move toward bankruptcy.
If we decide with lots of consultation that that is the better way to continue, we call it reorganization because it is way to continue the Church’s missions even as we deal with the crisis.
Or will be go ahead and try to settle cases and responds in that way. I’ll just tell you this– a new term I’ve learned in this whole process by working with an expert attorney from New York who is doing what’s called “insurance archaeology.”
It means digging deep into the dioceses and parishes to find every single insurance policy that has ever existed to see what’s covered for these kind of cases and what isn’t. Sometimes parishes in the past had their own insurance policy and so the archaeology term is appropriate because sometimes they have to go down into old files and boxes in the basement of the rectory and they’ll say “Aha! Here’s the policy that covers the 1980’s.” We have periods of time when many of these abuse cases happened when we had insurance for these kinds of offenses. They’ll be some gaps though. So that’s all going on right now.
So there’s a lot of work behind the scenes and there’s no decision at this point about which way we’re going to go with that. The fundamental purpose is to do what we have to do for the victims for their justice and healing and at the same time to keep the work of the church in your parishes and in our schools moving forward.
There are probably two hundred other things that I would comment on now if I could, but let me say that I appreciate more than you know your passion as hurting Catholics to come here today and to speak the truth from your hearts and minds to me.
Is it a vulnerable kind of a feeling? Of course it is and that’s okay. But I want to be with you to help move us forward beyond this into true renewal and purification which is what the whole church needs. The church is – as the Second Vatican Council said – ecclesia semper reformanda, which means it’s always in need of reform. And you are certainly seeing that that’s more than a slogan these days. We need that desperately – there’s no question about that.
Stephanie: Let me talk a little about next steps. Both the Diocese and the MRT are gathering our notes and comments. After the MRT was formed, we worked and developed some recommendations and delivered them to the Bishop and the Bishop formed a Joint Implementation Team so there’s a group that has representatives from the diocese and representatives from the MRT that are working together to identify tangible, actionable things that can be done. So this will inform work for both of those groups.
There is information on MRT at the back if you’re interested. You can get involved with the MRT or you can also just start something in your own parish. That’s within all of our own power to do that. That’s important – how do we get this into the parishes and up from the parishes as well. If you’re inclined to start something, the MRT has some groups that might be one avenue. But if there’s anything that you guys want to do – do it. Form your own group get something started even if it’s just at your parish level.
We do have some reporters here – Spectrum News Buffalo, WGRZ-Channel 2 and we have ABC News National here as well. The media is down that hallway and I think kinda to the left. If you want to talk to the media, I’m sure if you head down that hallway, you’ll find them if you go in that direction.
Last thing we want to do is a closing prayer
Bishop Malone after leading the singing of the Our Father: Let us remember the good priests and keep in mind how many priests have been ordained in our diocese over the year and how many good priests there are.
After the session formally closed, I spoke with quite a few people who approached me with comments or concerns. I could sense each person’s deep faith and was grateful for their positive, affirming words. I consider such comments to be a gift from God and the goodness of people’s hearts. It more than makes up for the times when people tell me that I should be in jail, or flip me off, or tell me I’m a bad Catholic.
One older lady was particularly memorable when she shook my hand warmly and told me, “One of my friends doesn’t agree with what you did, but I keep telling her, ‘That girl is the hound of heaven – she’s trying to save Bishop Malone’s soul – she’s the hound of heaven.” She was so sweet as she kept saying “the hound of heaven” while smiling at me. I told her how much it meant to me that she would recognize my lack of hostility toward the Bishop. Indeed, I do care very deeply about his soul and pray always that he might right his course. If I have to keep hounding him to do the right thing, so be it. And, of course, the true Hound of Heaven (as strikingly described in Thompson’s poem, which can be read here) has been at this much longer and far more effectively than me!
Upon exiting the gymnasium/cafeteria where the listening session had been held, I began to look for the media area that Stephanie had mentioned at the close of her remarks. You may recall that her instructions were rather vague: the media was “kinda to the left” and you’ll find them “if you go in that direction.” The following photos were taken in the middle of the hallway she was talking about so that you can see the distance from the gym door to the end of the hallway:
People were coming up to me and asking, “How do we get out of here?” because the exit door (seen at the direct left of the first photo) was not labeled. There were no signs at that midpoint indicating where the media were located. They were stuck down at the far end of this long hallway in classrooms such as this:
Given how difficult it was to find the exit, you can imagine how very few people were finding the media rooms. I was able to direct a few people in their direction, but it was clear that hardly anyone made it down to speak with the media. You had to be very determined and almost eager to speak with the media in order to take the time to find them. I had the opportunity to speak with all of the media folks there that day and the universal reaction was: “Why are they keeping us from even being seen let alone spoken to by people?” One of the reporters told me that she’d tried to sit in on the session and had promised Kathy Spangler that she would not have a camera or recorder on her. Kathy refused this request and made her go back to her classroom. This reporter kept saying to me, “All we want is to hear people’s thoughts and concerns – we want to give them a chance to speak about these issues. We’re not against the Church – we just want to talk to people.”
When I saw Pete Madden – an ABC National producer whom I now know well – I could immediately tell that the Spangler set-up was getting to him. Pete is the human definition of chill: super relaxed, calm and easy-going. But here he was – sequestered in a kindergarten classroom trying to interview anyone who could find him. He was clearly and understandably frustrated by this unusual, unprofessional and unreasonable set-up. Pete told me that he wanted to interview me, but to wait until “we can go outside and get out of this circus.” As I was waiting for him to wrap up in his classroom, I observed Stephanie, the MRT Moderator, approach Pete and ask him if anyone from the MRT had spoken to him. Pete said that no one had, which seemed to concern Stephanie. She gave Pete a bunch of MRT literature and then said that he should talk to someone from the MRT so their perspective could be shared. Pete said he would interview anyone who wanted to speak with him and asked Stephanie if she would be so inclined. “No,” Stephanie replied, “but Nancy would” referring to Dr. Nancy Nielsen. Dennis Mahaney, who was standing close by, indicated that Nancy “didn’t want to talk to them” and had already left. Pete reiterated that he would speak to anyone – from any organization – who would agree to go on camera. Dennis said he would be so willing and Pete conducted that interview “at the kid’s table,” as he put it later.
I was relieved that we were able to exit the building and conduct a few interviews outside. This is where Pete and his camera guy set up their interview spot:
As you can see, they were careful to set up as close to the church property as they could without standing on it. However freeing it was to be outside, there were some challenges to this location. The primary one concerned road noise. The powerful rain storm that had passed through during the listening session had left the road quite wet, which exacerbated the standard vehicular noise. During my interview, Dave had to signal when Pete and I should speak so as to avoid talking over particularly loud vehicles. But as Pete and Dave said, “It’s way better than being confined to a classroom interviewing people while perched on a kid’s chair.”
For me, it was very embarrassing to see how the media was treated at this event. Our diocese is already a dumpster fire – why add to it by ostracizing the media in such an unprofessional manner? Pete is a national reporter who flew in from a major city to be present at this listening session. The other reporters may not have flown in, but they likely drove at least an hour. It doesn’t matter if it took them 15 minutes or 5 hours to get there – they should have been treated respectfully and professionally. What is the Diocese afraid of?? That people might speak their minds to a national or local reporter? That the media might – gasp – find out that people are frustrated and angry with good cause?
I finished this report on the first anniversary of the last time I talked with Bishop Malone: August 21st, 2018. It was a strange, sad experience to be typing up my notes on his remarks while remembering the last remarks he spoke to me. Perhaps someday I will recount that experience… for now, it is still too painful to describe.
It’s quite a relief to have these listening sessions come to a close. For one thing, my left wrist was about to go on strike if it saw my purple notebook open on a Saturday morning one more time. For another thing, it has been extremely frustrating to listen to the Bishop’s spiels and not be able to interject or challenge so many of his statements. (!!!) And most of all, it was deeply saddening to hear from so many people who wanted answers to their questions and received none. So many people left these listening sessions feeling as though they’d wasted their time and were leaving with more questions than those with which they’d entered.
Thanks to all of you who have followed along on this listening session summer tour of the diocese! Special thanks to all of the pastors and parish staff who hosted these events and coordinated the hospitality that was provided to us. A big shout out to the media who braved the Spangler universe – especially this past Saturday. And to all those who attended these listening sessions… my thanks for your faithfulness and conviction!