Meeting Michael

Even as a child, I was never one to use the word “hero” lightly especially when applied to living persons. Fascinated by Greek mythology and inspired by Christian hagiography, I had developed very high standards for heroism. While I certainly appreciated that people could display heroism or have heroic moments, I was reluctant to bestow the title of “hero” on anyone.

Until February 27, 2018.

It was a Tuesday. A memorably bright and sunny one. The sunshine made it so you almost forgot it was winter in Buffalo until you stepped outside and felt February. It was a busy morning at the Chancery. In just two days, Bishop Malone would be holding a press conference to announce that the Diocese of Buffalo was initiating an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP). These were the final days of preparation for this major and historic announcement. The previous Thursday, Bishop Malone had asked me to email all of the priests of the Diocese to inform them of a meeting with him. The meeting would be held at a local parish right before the press conference took place at the Catholic Center. The Bishop, along with his Senior Staff and legal team, was focused on gearing up for this priest meeting and the subsequent press conference.

The hustle and bustle of the morning was interrupted with word that there would be a press conference held around noontime outside of St. Louis Church (across from the Catholic Center, the headquarters of the Buffalo Diocese). A victim of a diocesan priest would be speaking out about the sexual abuse he had endured. This was startling in two ways. First, that a victim would be speaking out in such a public manner, which was without precedent. Second, that this press conference would occur a mere two days before the Bishop’s.

The Bishop was either at lunch or in a meeting when the press conference began. Since he was not in his office environs, I was able to slip into the small conference room adjacent to his office. The large window in the conference room gave me a clear view of the proceedings across the street.  On the windowsill was a large, wooden statue of St. John Neumann, the missionary saint who lived and ministered in WNY back in the 1800’s. He and I are both visible in the photo below if you look closely at the window on the 4th floor – one in from the corner – to the direct left of the Route 5 sign.

best view of me at window

Across the street in front of St. Louis Church, the mother church of the Buffalo Diocese, a gentleman in a green jacket was standing amidst news reporters and their cameras. He stood resolutely while he answered the many questions posed to him. I remember thinking, “How brave is this guy to stand up and speak about something so deeply personal and painful? I wish I could go over there to shake his hand and give him a hug.” After watching most of the press conference, I returned to my cubicle, but I could not shake that image of the man in the green jacket. It was only later that I would learn his name: Michael Whalen.

Within an hour or so of the conclusion of Michael’s press conference, the Chancery was in quite a state. The biggest question was how did “this Whalen fellow” know about the Bishop’s press conference? Had someone leaked the information regarding that event?! What were the chances that this victim would speak out two days before such a huge diocesan announcement? The conspiracy theories that were raised seemed too convoluted to me so I just accepted it as a coincidence of epic proportions. I also noted that coincidence is simply another way of referring to God’s providence.

Michael Whalen could not have known the seismic impact his press conference would have. Any retrospective on the clergy abuse scandal in Buffalo must always begin with that February morning and the man in the green jacket. Michael stood up and spoke up before “clerical abuse in Buffalo” was a search term that yields 2,690,000 results in 0.54 seconds. He spoke up before “Orsolits” was a household name in WNY. He spoke out before the McCarrick scandal brought clerical sexual abuse into the national spotlight once again. He spoke out before there were calls for Bishop Malone’s resignation and demands for accountability from all church hierarchy.

Michael’s bravery inspired many of his fellow survivors to come forward either in person or in print to share their stories of abuse and the cover-up. In the days, week and months that followed his February press conference, I would meet or speak with many of these courageous people. I will never forget their names, their faces or their voices. But it is Michael’s face that always pops into my head whenever I think of the Buffalo survivors. And it has been remarkable to watch how that face has changed over the past twelve months.

MW collage.png

As I watched this brave man over the past year, I began to feel as though I knew him. I watched every interview he did and loved seeing that he seemed to be gaining peace as the months went by. I loved his genuine answers to questions and the sincerity that shown through his eyes. His courage inspired me when it was my turn to speak out. Over the past year, I gained an ever greater appreciation for this hero of mine. But during this whole year, I never once met Michael.

Until February 27, 2019.

Today around noontime I walked up to St. Louis Church and shook Michael Whalen’s hand and gave him that hug. It was a surreal and beautiful experience to meet this real life hero whom I first viewed from a 4th floor window. I was also able to meet his lovely wife, Maria, who has shown heroic strength in supporting Michael throughout his journey. And, most amazing of all, the three of us walked into St. Louis Church to attend the 12:05 Mass.

 

For the past several months, Michael and I had talked about meeting each other. I had also shared with him the hope that he might eventually return to church as part of his healing journey. I could never have imagined how beautifully those two hopes would be fulfilled! As we neared this auspicious anniversary, it seemed most appropriate to meet on this date and at the location where Michael’s historic press conference took place. When I texted Michael to see what he thought of this idea, I was thrilled to receive his positive response. I knew that it would be Michael’s first time at Mass in many years, but I did not know just how long.

It was his first time attending Mass in 40 years.

It was an immense privilege to be there with Michael as he crossed the threshold of the church he’d stood in front of for multiple press conferences and interviews. It was a nearly indescribable joy to sit beside him as he attended Mass for the first time in four decades.

Forty is a very significant number within the Bible: Noah and his family survived after forty days and forty nights of rain. Moses did forty several times: years in Egypt and days on Mount Sinai. It took 40 years for the Jewish people to reach the Promised Land. Jesus’ fast in the desert lasted for forty days. According to Father Charles Grondin, “When we see the number forty used to denote time in the Bible, we are being told that something extraordinary and definitive is happening.”

Let me tell you, something extraordinary and definitive happened at St. Louis Church today! A very courageous man took an incredible step in his journey of healing. Before Mass, he spoke movingly about the beauty of the Catholic faith and how he never lost his faith in God. He spoke about how he is focused on healing and peace rather than hatred and pain. Michael expressed that he hoped attending today’s Mass would be a way for him to “start again.” How I hope and pray that will be exactly what happens for Michael.

Michael Whalen has taught me many things since I first glimpsed him from across Main Street. He has taught me that one person can make a difference. He has taught me that sometimes you have to speak up in order to see necessary change occur. He has taught me that courage is a way of life not a onetime deal. He has taught me that peace can be obtained even if the obstacles to that goal seem insurmountable. He has also reminded me that Jesus is always seeking us and waiting for us. His door is always open and he will always leave the (tabernacle) light on for you.

tabernal

Michael – may Jesus continue to lead and guide you on your journey of healing. May He preserve the beautiful peace that you exuded on this one-year anniversary. May your relationship with Him grow ever stronger as you continue to seek Him. May you always know of His immeasurable love for you. May you always know that He’s got the light on for you in any one of His churches.

Thank you, Michael Whalen. For being a hero. For being a trailblazer. For being you.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Flight 3407

It was a cold February evening back in 2009. Typical Buffalo weather for that time of year… snowy, icy, chilly. When we heard the horrible news that a plane had gone down in Clarence, we could only assume it was a weather-related disaster. But that immediate assumption did not lessen the shock.

Buffalo had never experienced a plane crash of that magnitude – a commercial flight carrying 50 souls struck a house killing one person inside. We were stunned. 6308 Long Street – the address of the home that was struck – was less than 10 miles from the Buffalo airport! The plane and its passengers were achingly close to their destination. It was and is an immense tragedy, which was only increased when we learned that weather conditions were not the cause of the crash.

The effects of this tragedy were felt far and wide throughout our Western New York community. There was a palpable grief that lasted for many, many months. For the loved ones of those lost, that pain has never ended. I cannot fathom the suffering endured by those who still grieve their loved ones who perished that February night. Yet out of the ashes of their anguish, the families of Flight 3407 have become powerful advocates for much-needed improvements and changes to airline safety. Their tireless efforts have garnered high praise from none other than Captain Sully himself! They are incredible examples of how to deal with a tragedy in the most positive manner possible.

3407 names again

6038 long stret.jpg
Near the crash site is a place called Swormville – a hamlet in the eastern part of Amherst and the western part of Clarence. In case you’re wondering about it’s unusual name, the hamlet takes its name from Adam Schworm, a prominent landowner and businessman. The hamlet was originally known as Schwormville and is sometimes referred to as Swormsville. (Thank you, Google!) St. John Neumann, a great missionary saint who spent time in WNY, founded the “Parish of the Transit” that is now known as St. Mary’s Swormville.

At the time of the Flight 3407 crash, a young parochial vicar was assigned to St. Mary’s parish. His name? Father Bob Zilliox. Ordained in May of 2008, Father Bob’s first assignment was to St. Mary’s, which was under the pastoral leadership of Father Robert Yetter.

st mary's

Right after the crash of Flight 3407, Father Bob was eager to assist the community in healing from this tragedy. He approached his pastor, Father Yetter, about holding a Mass of remembrance for the victims of this tragedy and to offer consolation to their families and the grieving community. St. Mary’s is just 8 miles from the crash site and the closest Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Father Yetter was not interested in holding such a Mass and told Father Bob no. With great sadness, Father Bob watched as other Christian churches in the area held these much-needed services. He was distressed that his parish had not provided one as well.

Although Father Bob was assigned to St. Mary’s for three years, he spent only two years there. He was asked to pursue a degree in canon law since there was a need for additional canon lawyers in the diocese. With his naturally generous spirit, Father Bob embarked upon this new path on his priestly journey and ended up working for many years in the Buffalo Diocese’s Tribunal. Little did he know that he would eventually return to St. Mary’s.

During the late summer of 2018, St. Mary’s was reeling from the shock of alleged abuse perpetrated by their pastor, Father Yetter. Yetter was removed from ministry at the end of August and the parish found itself in need of a new pastor for the first time in over 20 years. But they were about to receive a great gift during this time of suffering: the return of the parochial vicar who had served them from 2008-2010.

Father Bob Zilliox was the perfect priest to be assigned to St. Mary’s – a parish in such great need of hope and healing. A victim of clerical sexual abuse himself, Father Bob was uniquely equipped to respond to the needs of his former parish. I have heard from many of his parishioners that despite their ongoing distress over their former pastor’s actions and the way Bishop Malone handled the situation, they are receiving great consolation and hope from Father Bob’s joyful presence among them.

 

One of the permanent deacons at St. Mary’s is Deacon Paul Snyder, who served with Father Yetter for 15 years. Deacon Paul was at the front lines of the response to the allegations against Father Yetter and was appalled at the Diocese’s lack of concern and care for the people of St. Mary’s parish. He became the first member and representative of the Diocese of Buffalo to call for Bishop Malone’s resignation. His strong, impassioned words on that final Friday of August 2018 will long be remembered.

May the Blessed Mother and St. John Neumann watch over and intercede for the priests, deacons and people of St. Mary’s Parish!

May the souls of those lost on Flight 3407 on February 12, 2009 rest in peace and may God console and strengthen their loved ones.

eternal rest by water

~ In loving memory of the victims of Flight 3407 ~

Passengers

  • Mary Abraham
  • David Borner
  • Linda Davidson
  • Ronald Davidson
  • Alison Des Forges
  • Beverly Eckert
  • John Fiore
  • Ron Gonzalez
  • Brad S. Green Sr.
  • Zhaofang Guo
  • Kevin Johnston
  • George Abu Karam
  • Sean Lang
  • Ellyce Kausner
  • Nicole Korczykowski
  • Jerome Krasuski
  • Brian Kuklewicz
  • Bethany Kushner
  • Maddy Loftus
  • Lorin Maurer
  • Donald McDonald
  • Coleman Mellett
  • Dawn Monachino
  • Dawn Mossop
  • Donald Mossop
  • Shawn Mossop
  • Jennifer Neill
  • Jennifer Neill’s Unborn Son
  • Gerry Niewood
  • Johnathan Perry
  • Mary Pettys
  • Ferris Reid
  • Julie M. Ries
  • John G. Roberts III
  • Kristin Safran
  • Jean Srnecz
  • Darren Tolsma
  • Susan Wehle
  • Ernest W. West
  • Shibin Yao
  • Clay Yarber

Crew

– Capt. Marvin Renslow, Pilot

– Rebecca Shaw, First Officer

– Matilda Quintero, Flight Attendant

– Donna Prisco, Flight Attendant

– Capt. Joseph Zuffoletto, off-duty crew member

6308 Long Street

– Doug Wielinski

blessed are they who mourn

 

A Hard-won Victory

Last week I was despondent about a bill passing into law in Albany.

This week I am delighted by a bill about to pass into law in Albany.

Such are the ups and downs of a pro-life, pro-victim New Yorker.

After fighting for the Child Victims Act for literally decades, survivors of child sexual assault can celebrate a hard fought, hard-won victory today. The New York State Senate unanimously passed the CVA as survivors and advocates looked on. In fact, Buffalo’s own Michael Whalen was there to witness this historic event.

Once signed into law, the CVA allows victims of child sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser and pertinent institutions until they are 55 years old. Previously, victims were only able to sue until they turned 23.

In addition, the Child Victims Act includes a “look back window,” which allows adult victims to sue during a one-year period. Before this law, such action by these individuals was prevented by the statute of limitations. Another important point is that law enforcement will now have additional time to file charges against abusers.

As you likely know, the Catholic Church in New York State has long opposed this law. The eight Catholic bishops of New York State have collectively spent millions lobbying against this legislation. (Buffalonians may recall that on the day the original list of 42 priests was released last year, Bishop Malone was in Albany lobbying against the CVA among other things. The optics were really bad for the Diocese of Buffalo that week.) The bishops’ opposition has gradually eased over the last year most likely as a result of the clerical sexual abuse scandal currently playing out within the Church. As episcopal cover-ups and complicity have become more clear, the bishops’ opposition began to dwindle as well it should.

One important point that the bishops always raised was that public institutions should be included in this bill along with private organizations. I heartily agree with them in this regard. After all, a victim is a victim. Abuse is abuse. Just as it shouldn’t matter when the abuse occurred, it shouldn’t matter where or by whom: a public school teacher, a priest, a Boy Scout troop leader, a guidance counselor, a deacon, etc. – any and every abuser should be held accountable. As far as I know, today’s legislation incorporated the provisions demanded by the Catholic bishops. I’d call that a win-win.

It is important to recognize that this law may have a dramatic impact on the Catholic Church in New York State. Before today, this “look-back window” had been instituted in only 4 states: California, Delaware, Hawaii and Minnesota. Multiple dioceses in those states have filed for bankruptcy after paying large sums to victims. This is not a pleasant prospect for Catholics, but it is wise to be prepared for such an occurrence. While there is no fully adequate earthly justice for what survivors have endured, they deserve every bit of that justice they can obtain.

This is where the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program comes into play. Most of the dioceses in New York – including Buffalo – have initiated such a program. Survivors who participate in the program and agree to the compensation they receive also waive their right to sue. According to various news sources, it would seem that the majority of participating survivors in NYS have signed the “I won’t sue” release.

However, there are survivors who have decided to pursue a civil lawsuit. Cynics will say they’re looking for a larger dollar amount. From my experience, this is not an accurate description. Most survivors are not focused on the financial aspect, but rather on their personal quest for truth and justice. If their quest is best pursued through a jury trial rather than an IRCP judge’s decision, that is their choice. I support survivors no matter which route they choose. I just pray that whichever path they select, it will bring them as much peace and healing as possible. Money cannot heal, but it can help.

I would be remiss if I did not mention adult victims of clerical sexual abuse. While today’s legislative victory marks a long-awaited milestone for child victims, it is a reminder that there is still work to be done in fighting for justice for adult victims of clerical sexual abuse. While we celebrate today’s victory, let us not forget the many adult victims who are still waiting for justice and truth.

Finally, I love this “survivor psalm” and wish I knew its author so that I could give proper credit. To me, these words eloquently express not only the anguish and agony of survivors, but also their ability to rise about their suffering. Their resiliency never fails to inspire me.

surivor-psalm-e1548715340486.jpg

 

 

Life Lessons from Nana

nana and i motorcycles

When it comes to my Nana, it’s hard for me to adequately describe three things: how amazing she was, how much I love her and how much I miss her. Ellen Christina Quigley was born on January 25, 1919 and returned to her Creator on October 1, 2012. The greatest honor of my life will always be that I am my Nana’s granddaughter. Through the tears of missing her on what would have been her 100th birthday, I thank God for the immense and enduring gift of her life.

Perhaps I should start by explaining the photo that begins this post. Not surprisingly, it is my favorite photo of all time. During the fall of 2008, I had the privilege of living in my Nana’s hometown of Beverly, MA in order to care for her every day. This was a tremendous gift as my family has always lived at least 400 miles from our nearest extended family. I still can’t believe how fortunate I was to spend three months in the daily presence of my favorite human being. She had total cognitive function, but needed help with staying safe while going about her day. So obviously motorcycles were in order!

We had just finished lunch at Kelly’s, a roast beef sandwich spot akin to Anderson’s in Buffalo. Upon exiting the restaurant doors, we saw these two motorcycles parked right next to my Civic. Nana gave them an admiring appraisal and exclaimed, “Would you look at those motorcycles!” Nana went over to the blue bike and began inspecting it more closely. At this propitious moment, the owners of the bikes emerged from the restaurant. They were far from the stereotypes of my imagining: two diminutive women whose motorcycle ownership was only evidenced by the helmets in their hands. Fortunately, they seemed amused to find us so close to their bikes with Nana literally getting up in one’s grille. Upon realizing their presence, Nana looked up and cheerily introduced herself. Both women were charmed by her, as everyone always was, and introduced themselves in return. It turned out that the owner of the blue motorcycle was also named Ellen. And so it happened that Nana and I got a chance to pose on the motorcycles with Nana eagerly donning Ellen’s proffered helmet.

After the photo was taken, the ladies asked us if we’d like them to take us on a little spin around the parking lot. Nana’s immediate answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” It was obvious that the motorcycle ladies had just met their new hero. I can still remember Nana’s eyes twinkling over the mouth guard of her helmet. At the same time, I could imagine my mother and my aunts’ eyes if they learned of any Nana/motorcycle escapades I had authorized or participated in. It was oh so very hard to remind myself that I was Nana’s caretaker and couldn’t be her fellow thrill seeker. Nana was very cute when I told her that we’d need to watch from the sidewalk as our new friends rode off: “It’s okay. She wouldn’t let me get a henna tattoo at the fair either.” The motorcycle ladies were still laughing as they waved to us from the road.

We see the mantra often: Live life to the fullest. So easy to say, but rather difficult to do. My Nana lived her life so fully that she had extra life left over that seemed to spill from her in bursts of enthusiasm and joy. She was always up for anything and often surprised us with her zest for life. One time we were passing Fenway after she was discharged from a Boston hospital after a week-long stay. Nana instantly realized that the Red Sox were playing an afternoon game. She immediately checked her watch: “Game probably started at 1:05. If we can get a reasonable parking spot, they might let us in cheap and we could catch 4 or 5 innings.” This elderly woman had just been through a lengthy and depleting hospital stay yet she was more than up for the chance to root for the home team.

Nana lived through the Great Depression, a World War and many other dramatic world events. She raised 5 children while holding a demanding job to help support her family, which never enjoyed financial comfort. She was a natural athlete who excelled at and thoroughly enjoyed every sport she tried. She had a can-do attitude that did not permit pessimism. In her presence, you felt that anything was possible and the world was a brighter place than you previously thought it was.

Among the many lessons my Nana taught me, the foremost one is to love people. Nana just loved people – family, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc. She would truly do anything for a person in need while thinking little and always last of herself. She wanted to know how people were doing and she really listened when they told her. She remembered people’s names with such acuity that it often startled them. She looked for the good in people and was not surprised when she found it. In turn, people adored my grandmother. It could be time-consuming to grocery shop with her. Not because of any mobility issues on her part, but because everyone we passed in the aisles would want to talk to her whether they knew her or not. She was just the sweetest thing. Nana loved people and how they loved her in return! When we took her to West Beach near her coastal hometown, the parking lot attendant would sound the call: “Ma Quigley’s here – make way!” and you would think the Queen of Something had arrived.

Less than 10 years before we lost her, one of my cousins conducted an interview with Nana. I’m so grateful that he did this because her answers are such a lasting gift to us. My favorite is the following Q&A:

What advice can you give me that would help me to live a happy and successful life?

Study. Gain as much knowledge as you can. You never know when it will come in handy. Keep your mind on your work and retain as much of the information as possible. Be honest with yourself and others. Live a good life and live your faith. Follow the Golden Rule. Appreciate yourself for who you are. You know what is right – don’t stray from that. Just do it. Keep company with the right kind of people. Value your life – don’t let yourself down.

These words of wisdom continue to inspire me. Last summer, I thought of my Nana’s advice when I was wrestling with the idea of leaking diocesan documents. I tried to imagine what she would say if I could ask her what I should do about my dilemma. Then I could almost hear her saying, “You know what is right… just do it.” So I did.

NANA & Me.jpg

Thank you, Nana, for all that you taught me and the innumerable, literally heartwarming memories I have of you. I miss you more than I can say, but I can’t wait to see you again in the life that will never end. I always loved it when you’d call me “your darling girl.” My darling Nana, I love you!

beverly salem

In an interesting twist that proves life is never boring, Bishop Malone was born in Salem, Massachusetts, which is the closest geographic neighbor of Beverly, my Nana’s hometown. In fact, they’re so close that there is a Beverly-Salem bridge that crosses the slender river separating the two towns. Bishop Malone was raised in the same parish – St. Mary, Star of the Sea – at which my Nana and my mother received all of their Sacraments. It was a neat experience to share this connection with my bishop and my boss. Sometimes he would talk about his hometown region and would mention a spot such as the Beverly Depot. I would smile and say, “Oh yes, over on Rantoul Street!” He would do a double take to hear such a unique street name uttered so familiarly by a Buffalonian. I would tease him just a little when fatigue would lead him to drop a couple “R’s” from his speech as a native Beverly/Salemite is wont to do. For Christmas the first year I worked for him, I gave the Bishop a few “Cat’s Meow” pieces of iconic Beverly buildings such as St. Mary’s itself.

st mary church

He placed it on an end table near the “Distinguished Alumni Award” that St. Mary’s School gave him in 2009. I would smile when I saw it as I turned on and off his office lights every day. I thought it was so cool to have Beverly in common with the Bishop.

It’s a little less cool these days, I must admit. I cringed when I realized that the Red Sox had a chance to win the World Series on Sunday, October 28th for that was the night when the 60 Minutes episode about our diocese would air. I clearly remembered how all through that summer, Bishop Malone had eagerly watched as many games as he could. He is a true baseball fan who knows all the stats and watches games all the way through. He was very hopeful that the team would have a long season and win it big come autumn. I never root against my Nana’s beloved baseball team*, but I was hoping the Dodgers would win on October 28th so that the Red Sox could win the World Series on another night. Instead, the Sox won it 5-1 that evening. At the press conference I held two days later, I apologized to Bishop Malone for one thing only: ruining the World Series for him. I was happy that they’d won for him and for my Nana, but the timing was rough.

How I wish that I could share my Nana’s advice with Bishop Malone at this time:

You know what is right – don’t stray from that. Just do it. 

Praying for you, Bishop Malone. Don’t let yourself down.

 

*Lest any of my fellow Buffalonians worry, I do not root for my grandmother’s other teams: the Bruins or the Patriots. Over the years, I often debated with Nana about Tom Brady and his henchmen. For such a sweet lady, she sure could talk some serious smack!

 

Let Nothing You Dismay

Disappointed. Dismayed. Distressed. Getting close to disgusted.

This is a statement from Alessandro Gisotti, the Interim Director of the Holy See’s Press Office. The statement addresses the aims of Pope Francis’ abuse summit next month at the Vatican.

Summit meeting.JPG

Major Problems:

1) It is to be a meeting “on the protection of minors” exclusively? Absolutely unacceptable. This meeting must address the abuse of any of God’s children regardless of their age.

2) It is to be an “assembly of pastors not an academic conference.” Yes, the meeting should certainly include prayer and discernment. But by making this an exclusively pastoral gathering, the Pope is avoiding and excluding the input of many important groups: survivors (!!!), lay men and women, psychologists, experts in abuse detection, prevention & treatment, and members of law enforcement.

3) This meeting is a “stage along the painful journey” and part of the Church’s “unceasing and decisive” work on this issue for “over 15 years”?!!!! The only unceasing work seems to have been the cover up. The only decisive action has been covering up the cover up. Most everything else has been arbitrary, inconsistent, deceitful, apathetic and ineffective.

According to this statement, these bishops coming to Rome are to leave with an understanding of “the laws to be applied” and how they must “take the necessary steps to prevent abuse, to care for the victims, and to make sure that no case is covered up or buried.”

Given how obtuse our Church and Her leaders have been regarding the aforementioned laws (all readily accessible and applicable) and (simple and straightforward) steps, how can we expect a 3-day meeting to accomplish these goals?

The statement mentions “high expectations” for this meeting. I have no such high expectations. I’m trying to not even have any expectations. I will pray, but it is hard to hope. Jesus, help us. We trust in You… even when it is so very hard.

Full news release from the Vatican available here:

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2019-01/holy-see-press-office-meeting-protection-minors-communique.html?fbclid=IwAR3j0K2AG5FPPwjKevRauZ0Bn9JDHeGqWWky_OmU-Noww0i2RXR62O9AyNQ

 

A Scene of Constant Leave-Taking

Edited on 1/19/2019 to include this preface:

The following post has quickly become the most-read piece on this blog. In the week or so since I posted it, I’ve heard from two of my former Catholic Center colleagues whose names were included on the “exodus list,” as I’ve come to call it, because of their resignation or retirement. They were both distressed that I had included their names on this list and referred to their retirement/resignation as “personal diocesan information” that was “not authorized for publication.” I was genuinely stunned and saddened by their distress. To be completely honest, I would not consider the news of someone’s retirement/resignation to be “personal diocesan information.” It is not what I’d consider a confidential matter such as a firing would be. I meant absolutely no ill will toward them or any of my former colleagues by including them on this list. At their request, I have removed the mention of their names. I have also removed the names of other individuals in case they too would be upset to have their name included on this list. However, I have maintained their slot on the list in order to still demonstrate how many people have departed the Catholic Center over the last 12 months. 

 

After Father Mark Noonan and I resigned last summer, Bishop Malone remarked that 2018 was a “tough year for losing good people.” If he only knew.

Below you will find a list of the employees who have left (or been laid off) the Catholic Center since the clerical sexual abuse scandal began on February 27, 2018. I included each person’s job title plus any circumstances specific to them. Scheduled retirements are indicated as such to differentiate from resignations. I added the retirements and lay-offs to illustrate just how many people have left the Catholic Center in less than a year.

  1. March 13: Kim Petrella – Accounts Payable – RESIGNED
  2. March: Employee whose position was eliminated due to lay-offs related to financial concerns stemming from the IRCP/”declining parish income”
  3. April 4: Msgr. Paul Litwin*, Chancellor, begins his appointment as Pastor of Christ the King Parish, Snyder
  4. June 1: Father Bob Zilliox – Tribunal – Did not accept reappointment to his position in the Tribunal as he focused on his role as Pastor of St. Mary’s, Swormville and his ongoing recovery as a survivor of clerical sexual abuse
  5. June 1: Msgr. David Slubecky, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia, begins his scheduled retirement
  6. End of June: Sr. Carol Cimino – Superintendent of Catholic Schools – Scheduled retirement
  7. July: All EIGHT employees of Daybreak Productions were laid off as their beloved department was entirely eliminated due to financial concerns stemming from the IRCP/”declining parish income.”  (This spot is given to Claire Rung, Director)
  8. July: Daybreak 2 – Paula DeAngelis Stein
  9. July: Daybreak 3 – Ann Przybylski
  10. July: Daybreak 4 – Ashley Czarnota
  11. July: Daybreak 5-  John Epolito
  12. July: Daybreak 6 – Andy Gołębiowski
  13. July: Daybreak 7 – Bob Karaszewski
  14. July: Daybreak 8 – Pete Herrmann
  15. August 10: Siobhan O’Connor – Executive Assistant to the Bishop – RESIGNED
  16. August 16: Fr. Mark Noonan – Vicar General & Moderator of the Curia – RESIGNED
  17. September 7: George Richert – Director of Communications – RESIGNED
  18. September: Employee name removed at their request
  19. October 12: Employee name removed at their request
  20. December 28: Scheduled retirement
  21. December 31: Scheduled retirement
  22. January 4: Dir. of Parish Financial Services & Sr. Operations Accountant – RESIGNED
  23. January 11: Colleen O’Connell Jancevski – Director of Human Resources and In-House Legal Counsel – RESIGNED 
  24. January 31: Steve Timmel – Executive Director of Financial Administration – RESIGNED 

Father Mark was there for a little over three months.

I made a strategic exit after three years.

Steve Timmel has worked for the Diocese for three DECADES. 

Amidst this incredibly long list of personnel, it is the last two names that are the most staggering. I know from firsthand experience just how much Bishop Malone relied on Colleen and Steve. They were frequently summoned to his office to assist him with time-sensitive decisions or to put out various fires within the Diocese. I cannot fathom how Bishop Malone is going to function without the two of them – particularly Steve. Steve has worked for the Diocese of Buffalo for over 30 years and has always provided much-needed steadiness and stability. He is not of retirement age. It was everyone’s expectation that he would eventually retire from the institution he’s devoted his career to serving. Instead, his resignation sent shockwaves throughout the Catholic Center and the Diocese.

I must admit that I was not shocked when I learned the news about Steve and Colleen a few months ago. Would you want to be the Diocese’s Executive Director of Financial Administration when the Feds show up and start asking questions?! I think not. For similar reasons, you would not want to be the Director of Human Resources and In-House Legal Counsel for the Diocese of Buffalo. Suffice it to say that Colleen and Steve are very intelligent people and their resignations prove that.

Some of the people on the above list did not have any choice and were laid off. Most of the rest of the folks on the list had specific reasons for getting out. For some, it was a planned and scheduled retirement. Others had very particular and important reasons for taking their leave:

Accounts Payable involves writing diocesan checks to credibly accused priests. I believe that Kim could no longer stomach this revolting but regular part of her job.

Father Bob was being grotesquely overworked in the Tribunal and by Bishop Malone in ways that were detrimental to his health and to his recovery as a survivor. 

I knew it was wise to be a former employee before one starts blowing whistles. 

Father Mark left because of his integrity – not due to any incompetence as was suggested at the time.

Like the most famous George of them all, Mr. Richert could not tell a lie or speak for liars.

Colleen & Steve must not have relished the prospect of pointed conversations with the Feds.

How I wish the above list could include two more entries:

25. February 27, 2019: Richard J. Malone – Bishop of Buffalo – RESIGNED

26. February 27, 2019: Edward M. Grosz – Auxiliary Bishop of Buffalo – RESIGNED 

February 27th will be the one year anniversary of Michael Whalen’s heroic press conference, which is now recognized as the start of the abuse scandal in our diocese.

I can think of no better anniversary gift for Mike, all of the survivors and the people of our diocese than for both bishops to resign by or on that date.

It could happen. It should happen. I’m praying it will.

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* I put an asterisk by Msgr. Litwin’s name because of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the Chancery. I believe that he made his (emergency) exit in order to avoid being held accountable for the manner in which he carried out his duties. He announced his return to parish life very soon after Msgr. Slubecky made his retirement known. I believe that Msgr. Litwin knew that having a new sheriff in town, as it were, would mean changes to the Chancery that would negatively impact him. Of course, it didn’t hurt that a plush parish assignment opened up at the same time. Litwin’s luck, you might say.

Msgr. Litwin was also aware that the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) was rolling out in the Diocese on March 1st. He couldn’t have known that a full blown scandal would erupt at the same time, but he had good reason to make his exit before such a program went into place. The Chancellor of a diocese is supposed to assist the bishop by notarizing official documents, maintaining the diocesan archives, overseeing all priest files, and providing clearance for visiting clergy and religious. Knowing that job description, you can see why a Chancellor like Msgr. Litwin might want to be off the scene before the IRCP began since that program necessarily involves official documents, the archives and the priest files!

 

Please note: The title of this blog post is taken from R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island.

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Added 1/23/2019: I received a comment today from a former Catholic Center colleague asking: “Where’s the comments from the folks that are angry you placed their name on the list? In the interest of fairness, shouldn’t they still be available? I resent your insinuation that we are all anxious to get out of the Catholic Center!” I have approved her comment so it will appear below this blog post as well.

I have received two comments from former colleagues requesting that their names be removed from the exodus list. Immediately upon receiving those messages, I removed their names and titles. Initially, I approved their comments to be included below this post, but then I thought better of it. If I kept their comments on here, their names would appear and essentially defeat the purpose of their request to remove their names. It was a catch-22 and I aired on the side of respecting their wish to have their name removed. However, upon receiving today’s message, I am including their comments below “in the interest of fairness.” I have removed their names, however, because I still want to honor their request.

Comment 1:

“Siobhan, please take my name off this list; there is personal diocesan information that I have not authorized for publication. Besides, the title and “unexpected retirement” are incorrect. I’m not sure where you got the idea my retirement was unexpected. It is something I had planned since before I can remember. Please delete all of it, including my name. Thank you and hope you are doing well. Sincerely, Name Withheld”

[I would not characterize the above comment as angry. Indeed, it was admirably cordial, which I certainly appreciate. My response to the above individual noted that I had heard from multiple, current Catholic Center staff that this person’s retirement announcement was unexpected and a surprise to them. I would not have included that adjective without due cause. Also, I looked up their former title on LinkedIn and believed it to be accurate. Lastly, please note that this person especially wanted their name deleted, which is why I did not approve their comment to appear in full because it would necessarily include their name.]

Comment 2:

“Please remove my name from your blog. You do not have my permission to post my employment history. You did not ask me for it and I’m sure you did the same with all of the other names. The reason I left the Diocese is none of your business. I do not support anything you did. I consider you a common criminal who stole confidential clergy employee documents. Rather than going to the proper legal authorities with your issues, you chose to steal documents and run to the media. Your 15 minutes of fame are over. I completely support Bishop Malone. Nothing you say or do will change my mind.”

These are the only two comments I have received. Thank you.

Read more

Another Way

January 6th, 2019. 

Epiphany Sunday.

Epiphany comes from the Greek and means “manifestation.” Today, the Church celebrates the manifestation of Christ to the world. On this feast, we especially remember the Magi who traveled from the East to find “he who has been born king of the Jews.” Whenever I consider the Three Wise Men, I always reflect on how arduous their journey must have been. Even if they were knowledgable astronomers, it can’t have been easy to have a star as your GPS. Their journey would have taken many weeks as they traversed hundreds of miles in search of a newborn king. They also risked political peril as foreigners traveling through the territory of the Roman Empire. It is quite inspiring to consider all that these three men risked to follow the star.

Matthew’s Gospel offers this simple yet profound description of the Wise Men:

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

It has always struck me that the Wise Men had to travel home by another way. Another way?? How did they determine this other way? They had no celestial guide to follow on the return trip. It would probably have been difficult enough just to backtrack hundreds of miles of difficult terrain. Now they needed to find an alternate route? Departing by another way may have presented challenges to them, but they faithfully followed the directives of their dream. Their response gave the Holy Family more time to seek safety from Herod’s wrath. By finding another way, the Wise Men helped to save the Christ Child they had adored in the manger.

The Wise Men are usually depicted as regal men of humility, dignity and reverence. Let us not forget that they were also heroic men of courage, trust and resiliency. They found another way.

wise men again

January 6th, 2002. 

Seventeen years ago, the Spotlight team of The Boston Globe published their first story on the clerical abuse scandal within the Archdiocese of Boston.

spotlight-image-e1546757876433.png

Five intrepid investigative journalists uncovered widespread sexual abuse by scores of priests within the Boston region. The victims’ stories were equally gut and heart wrenching. But the Spotlight team also revealed another atrocious reality: the cover-up of this abuse and the relocating of abusive priests to different parishes. These incredible, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigations set off shockwaves throughout the country. Ultimately, many priests were criminally prosecuted, vast numbers of victims came forward, and Cardinal Law eventually fled to Rome in disgrace. U.S. Catholics were in disbelief as the issue of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy emerged as a matter of national awareness.

The Spotlight articles marked the beginning of a challenging chapter in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. At the time, many Catholics thought the scandal was essentially a problem in the Archdiocese of Boston. Sure, there might be isolated cases here and there, but nothing on the scale of Boston. How very wrong we were.

Beginning in 2002, Catholics in the United States have been faced with the challenge of looking at our Church in another way. We have had to acknowledge that some of our priests were capable of heinous crimes against children and adults alike. We have been forced to reckon with the reality that the leaders of our Church have often been involved in covering up these crimes and protecting the abusers. It is painful to see our Church in a new, harsh light and to view her not with blind faith but in another way. It is necessary to face this reality, but it is extremely painful.

 

nashville postulants

January 6th, 2010. 

Nine years ago today, I came home to Buffalo after spending six months with the Nashville Dominicans at their Motherhouse in Tennessee. My postulant class of 23 – pictured above on a rosary walk – was the largest group of sisters-in-training in the United States at the time. My time at the Motherhouse was filled with truth, goodness and beauty. It was a period of joy, challenge, self-knowledge and closer union with Christ. It was a great privilege to spend half a year with such spirited, faithful Sisters. I will always be grateful for my days at their lovely Motherhouse.

cemetery.png

During my first several months there, my cell (monastic term for the living quarters of a religious) overlooked the Motherhouse cemetery, which is pictured above. Situated on a small hill, it was a particularly picturesque graveyard. I remember looking out at the cemetery every morning and thinking, “I wonder where I’ll end up out there!” I had every intention of living and dying as a teaching Dominican Sister.

It was very difficult to accept that God had another way for me. Entering the convent was an intense and challenging experience, but exiting it was even more difficult. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to discern another way to know, love and serve God. I thought my discernment days were over! It was hard to trust God that He would help me find another way.

January 6, 2019.

Once again, I find myself asking God what He wants of me and how He wants me to best know, love and serve Him. Several years ago, I thought that would be accomplished through serving my bishop and my diocese by working at the Chancery. Obviously the Lord had another way in mind. Now I am not sure of the way He intends for me. I find myself turning to this candid prayer by Thomas Merton:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

If you are seeking another way of any kind, know that God is with you and will never abandon you. He was with the Wise Men. He will always remain with His beloved albeit beleaguered Church. He is with each of us through the vagaries of our individual journeys. Thank you, Lord, for being with us all the way.