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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Solidarity? With Whom?

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The January 2019 edition of the WNY Catholic, Buffalo’s diocesan newspaper, contained the above statement from the Presbyteral Council in place of Bishop Malone’s usual column. When I first read this statement on Thursday the third, I was very disappointed, dismayed and distressed. I had to let a few days pass before I could write respectfully and coherently on the subject. While still incredibly disheartened by this statement, I am now better able to respond to it.

Let me begin by allowing Canon 495 to define the Presbyteral Council in case that is an unfamiliar term: “a group of priests which, representing the presbyterium [priests of a diocese], is to be like a senate of the bishop and which assists the bishop in the governance of the diocese according to the norm of law to promote as much as possible the pastoral good of the portion of the people of God entrusted to him.” The Diocesan Directory provides further information about this group: “The Council of Priests is the chief consultative body to the bishop. Twenty-one members are elected, six are appointed by the bishop and four serve by reason of the office they hold. Three of the elected members represent rural areas and three represent religious congregations. The remaining fifteen represent seniority groups of the diocesan clergy.” The Chairman of the Council was Father Peter Karalus until he assumed the role of Moderator of the Curia/Vicar General in September 2018. Msgr. David LiPuma, who was Secretary to three bishops for over two decades before becoming Pastor of St. Peter’s in Lewiston, has taken over the role of Chairman.

Having maintained connections with some of the priests of our diocese, I was aware that the Presbyteral Council had been tasked with developing suggestions for how the diocese might begin to heal from the 2018 clerical sexual abuse scandal. Apparently they made their presentation to the Bishop at their December 11th meeting and the associated action steps are articulated in the statement they are now promulgating.

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This statement was posted on the Diocese’s Facebook and Twitter accounts on Thursday, January 3rd, which is the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. That calendar occurrence made this statement’s most glaring omission even more chilling:

Jesus’ name is not mentioned even ONCE in this statement. 

Yes, they refer to “our gracious Lord” in the final sentence, but there is no mention of Him by name nor of reliance on Jesus, taking His example, turning to Jesus or invoking His Most Holy Name. Besides, they reference Him by stating that He “has begun this good work in us.” I would argue that it is not particularly good work they have begun.

A Year of Healing to begin this Lent: The clerical sexual abuse scandal erupted in our diocese on February 27, 2018. Lent 2019 begins on March 6th. That means it will be over a year later that our diocese will take any organized, concerted steps toward healing of any kind. However, the description of the Year of Healing is appallingly deficient. First off, it does not make any mention of survivors. In fact, survivors (referred to as “victims” in the statement) are mentioned only twice in the entire document! It is particularly outrageous that there was no mention of them made in reference to the Year of Healing. They are the people who most need and deserve healing! The people of our diocese also need and deserve healing since this scandal has bruised our souls and challenged our faith.

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You know what would go a long way toward healing for survivors and diocesan members alike? ACCOUNTABILITY. SORROW. TRANSPARENCY. Bishop Malone, Bishop Grosz and various other Chancery staff (past and present) need to be held accountable in a definitive, public manner. Penance should be imposed on all those who were complicit in the cover-up. As I’ve been saying since October, Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz should resign as a public act of accountability and penance. At the very least, someone like Bishop Grosz should not be on the Board of Trustees for the Seminary. Msgr. LiPuma should not be on the Presbyteral Council and certainly not its Chairman! All clergy who have participated in the cover-up should be banned from leadership and advancement in our diocese and the Church. Instead of being banned from leadership, Msgr. LiPuma is the first author of this statement. He is in charge of the group that has been tasked with bringing “healing” to our diocese. This is simply not acceptable.

Furthermore, the Diocese should be reaching out to survivors in genuine, apologetic and personal ways. Such outreach is unlikely under our present leadership, which has had ample opportunity to begin such overtures. Our diocese and the survivors deserve and need a wholesale change in diocesan leadership beginning with both bishops. Otherwise we are faced with business as usual under the guise of “healing initiatives” and “special projects” and a lot of other euphemistic vacuity. New prayers for the Universal Prayer at Mass? Color me underwhelmed.

A Study Day for Priests: The fact that they included this description amazes me. How utterly obtuse! If the priests need to gather to discuss their canonical and civil rights and be assured of support and accompaniment if they’re under investigation, we don’t want to know about it. I want to hear about support and accompaniment for survivors, which this statement simply does not address! There are good priests in our diocese and they should know their canonical and civil rights. But this should not be the second priority of a diocesan plan for healing. Besides, the priests have had several meetings that should have accomplished what this Study Day entails. They met in May 2018 to hear several talks by Msgr. Stephen Rossetti, who is an expert on priestly spirituality and wellness issues particularly concerning clerical sexual abuse. I would assume priestly canonical rights were discussed during this gathering. The priests also had their special meeting with Bishop Malone on November 5th where both diocesan lawyers were present to answer any questions about their civil rights.

I’ve heard from several priests who were in attendance at the 11/5 meeting that the primary focus for the majority of priests was on their own protection and their reputations. They were asking about their canonical and civil rights during the Q&A session that closed the meeting. Thus this “study day” would certainly not be the first opportunity for priests of our diocese to raise their concerns and receive answers to their questions. One priest shared with me that he was very discouraged by the attitudes and priorities of his brother priests that were on display at the 11/5 meeting. As he put it, “Their only concern was themselves and their reputations. But we don’t obtain a good reputation simply by virtue of being priests. We obtain and retain our good reputations by being good and holy men of God.” Amen to that, Father!

Please note that I am not implying that our priests should not be well-informed or receive support, but this cannot be the #2 priority right now.

A Diocesan Synod:

First, the definition of a diocesan synod according to Canon 460 and 461: “A diocesan synod is a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community. A diocesan synod is to be celebrated in individual particular churches when circumstances suggest it in the judgment of the diocesan bishop after he has heard the presbyteral council.”

Okay, but what does a synod actually accomplish?

The Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples provides this additional information on diocesan synods:

“The purpose of the diocesan Synod is to assist the Bishop in the exercise of the office proper to him, namely, that of governing the Christian community. In the process of the Synod, the Bishop exercises the office of governing the Church entrusted to his care. He determines its convocation, proposes the questions to be discussed in the Synod and presides at the synodal sessions.

Moreover, it is the Bishop who, as sole legislator, signs the synodal declarations and decrees and orders their publication. Those who participate in the Synod assist the diocesan Bishop by formulating their opinion with regard to the questions which have been proposed by him… the Bishop remains free to accept or not the recommendations made to him by the members of the Synod.

The circumstances which would suggest the convocation of a Synod are various in nature: lack of an overall diocesan pastoral plan; the need to apply at local level norms and other directives; acute pastoral problems requiring pastoral solutions; a need to further a more intense ecclesial communion, etc.”

Here are my primary issues with a Synod:

1. It would be solely led and governed by Bishop Malone, who has already demonstrated that he does not have the judgement, courage or skills necessary to lead and govern our diocese.

2. While our diocese certainly does have “acute pastoral problems,” a Synod is a time-consuming and unnecessarily complex way to address these crucial issues. Take a look at this Vatican webpage to learn more about what goes into establishing a Synod let alone carrying one out. A Synod would essentially be an unwieldy task force under the sole jurisdiction of Bishop Malone.

3. In July 2017, the Buffalo Diocese participated in The Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America — a 4-day event that was held in Orlando, Florida. This USCCB-convened gathering was hailed as “an unprecedented gathering of key leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations from across the country to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time, particularly in the context of the Church in the United States. An initiative of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person, this historic gathering assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation, under the leadership of the bishops, on forming missionary disciples to animate the Church and engage the culture.” 

joy of the gosepl

As you can guess, addressing clerical sexual abuse and reaching out to survivors was not one of the “challenges and opportunities of our time.” You can check out the Convocation guidebook here to learn more about what they discussed. That whole event is very sad to consider in light of what has happened in our local, national and international Church since the summer of 2017. Talk about misguided priorities.

The Diocese of Buffalo sponsored roughly 20 people to participate in this event along with Bishop Malone. It was a very costly trip. I clearly remember the often-heated discussions about the fiscal component of this venture. Because of the high price point, it was emphasized to Bishop Malone and all DOB attendees that they would need to demonstrate the effectiveness of their participation in this Florida vacation… I mean convocation. One of the stated goals of the Convocation was for it to be “a deep reflection and creative movement that helps dioceses, parishes, organizations, apostolates, and associations across the United States celebrate, implement, and live out the key principles of Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation).” 

Thus the DOB Convocation cohort met monthly (under the leadership of Dennis Mahaney, Director for Evangelization and Catechesis) during the 2017-2018 year to discuss how their participation in this event could bear fruit in our Diocese. Guess what they came up with?

A Diocesan Synod. 

You can’t make this stuff up.

Bishop Malone was quite enthused about the idea of a Synod especially since there hasn’t been one in Buffalo since the 1950’s. I remember him obtaining the synodal documents from that last Synod and eagerly showing them to me in the spring of 2018. Yes, as the clerical sexual abuse scandal was rapidly unfolding, Bishop Malone devoted brain power (from his self-described weary brain) to discussing and pre-planning a diocesan Synod. Of course, it shouldn’t surprise us that he would want to convene a diocesan Synod:

  1. He would be the only one in charge of it, but everyone else would do the work.
  2. He would get to take on a teaching role, which he loves. “For his part, the Bishop directs discussions during the synodal sessions and, as a true teacher of the Church, he will instruct and correct when such is deemed necessary,” as the Congregation for Bishops puts it. Take it from me, Bishop Malone loves to instruct and correct whenever he gets the opportunity.
  3. His word would literally be law on all things Synod.
  4. He could use it to form his legacy. I can see the WNY Catholic cover now: “Bishop Malone is first Bishop of Buffalo in over 50 years to convene and preside over a Diocesan Synod.”
  5. He could answer any critics of the Florida Convocation by saying that it yielded this Diocesan Synod.

We do not need a diocesan Synod. It will be a whole lot of smoke and mirrors masquerading as a solution. It will cost time, money and energy that should be devoted to more effective solutions.

Also, the Synod paragraph in the statement concerns me because it references the Canisius Symposium and how it is “currently independent of the Diocese.” Does that imply that its independence is only temporary? We were told at the start that the Symposium and its resulting work enjoyed the blessing of Bishop Malone. I would hate to see him co-opt that lay-led movement for his own purposes.

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In closing, we need a diocesan plan that includes: 

  1. JESUS. He is our Redeemer, Brother, and Lord. We need to turn to Him as our model. What would Jesus do in a situation like this? He would be honest, humble and heroic. He would flip the tables of those who dared to turn His Church into a corporation and a badly run one at that. He would already have reached out to survivors because He always sought out those who were suffering, hurt or lost. How can we possibly move forward as a diocese without turning to the One who founded our Church in the first place?! We need an abundance of Masses, Holy Hours, Eucharistic Adoration, etc. We need leaders who at least try to act as Jesus would act and invoke His holy name at every opportunity!
  2. Ongoing support and outreach to survivors that is tangible, transparent, genuine and effective. This is nonnegotiable and needs to begin yesterday.
  3. The resignation of Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz. I will not stop saying this just because it is unlikely to happen due to episcopal hubris.
  4. The imposition of penance on those who participated in the cover-up and a permanent ban on advancement/leadership for any such persons. They should be leading lives of prayer and penance rather than retaining leadership positions or aspiring to hierarchical heights.
  5. The assurance that our diocese and its leaders are not being misled by Terrence M. Connors and company, the legal team that has received literally MILLIONS OF DOLLARS from the Diocese of Buffalo in exchange for legal counsel that has perpetuated the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. I believe that Terry Connors, Lawlor Quinlan and Randy White are complicit in this cover-up (along with any lawyers of theirs who worked with the Diocese in the past). They must be held accountable and should no longer represent the Diocese of Buffalo unless they can verify that they have changed course from the legal practices that they have had in place within the Diocese for over three decades.
  6. Immediate, verifiable action regarding those priests who should have been laicized decades ago. So many of these confirmed abusers have simply never felt the repercussions of their diabolical actions. Despite committing and often confessing to heinous crimes, they never set foot inside a jail cell. Instead, they’re relaxing in cabins in the Southern Tier, living the high life in Sin City, or lounging by pools in Florida. They are still receiving regular financial assistance from the Diocese of Buffalo! This is beyond outrageous. I have seen firsthand how Bishop Malone dragged his feet regarding this vital issue. Perhaps instead of worrying about USCCB Convocations and Committee meetings, Diocesan Synod pipe dreams and the diocesan flags for his new residence, Bishop Malone should have been focused on proper action regarding these abusers who should no longer hold the title of priest in any capacity.

 

The Presbyteral Council’s statement was titled “A Statement of Solidarity.” I must respectfully ask – with whom or what are they in solidarity?

Jesus?

The survivors?

The people of the diocese?

Truth?

Justice?

Accountability?

I would argue that they are simply in solidarity with Bishop Malone and themselves. They are orchestrating this “healing and strengthening of the Diocese of Buffalo” to avoid or mitigate any of the difficult realities they face. Those complicit in the cover-up are essentially absolved and of course Bishop Malone will be heralded as the one to lead us to healing through a Synod.

Solidarity is a very important concept to me. My undergraduate thesis was on Pope John Paul II as the “Solidarity Pope” and posited that his 1979 visit to Poland planted the seeds of the Solidarity Movement in his homeland. I have always been inspired by the quote from JPII that is featured at the start of this post. The Diocese of Buffalo, her people and her survivors are yearning for peace. In order to achieve that peace, we are in desperate need of fairness, truth, justice and solidarity.

I stand in solidarity with survivors.

I stand in solidarity with the people of our diocese.

I stand in solidarity with our good and holy priests.

I stand in solidarity with my Savior, Jesus Christ.

May His Holy Name be ever praised, reverenced and invoked.

Amen.

US Bishops Begin New Year with Retreat

Pope Francis has called for the bishops of the United States to gather for a 7-day retreat at the start of the new year. This period of prayer and reflection will commence on January 2nd and conclude on the 8th. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Capuchin Friar and the Preacher to the Papal Household, will direct their retreat. Its theme is taken from Mark 3:14 – “He appointed twelve to be with Him and to be sent out to preach.”

This is a very unique episcopal gathering because it will be solely devoted to prayerful reflection. No business of any kind will be conducted during this retreat! Instead of business discussions, break-out sessions or workshops, the bishops’ schedule will consist entirely of daily Mass and Vespers, silent meal times, communal and personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, and ample time for reflection and Reconciliation.

Cardinal DiNardo, President of the USCCB, had this to say about the retreat:

“I am grateful to the Holy Father for calling the bishops and me to step back and enter into this focused time of listening to God as we respond to the intense matters before us in the weeks and months ahead. I also humbly ask the laity, our priests and religious for your prayers for my brother bishops and me as we join in solidarity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit. Pray also for the survivors of sexual abuse that their suffering may serve to strengthen us all for the hard task of rooting out a terrible evil from our Church and our society so that such suffering is never multiplied.”

It is encouraging to hear Cardinal DiNardo seeking prayers not only for himself and his brother bishops, but also for the survivors of clerical sexual abuse. None of the Church’s efforts to address this crisis will be fruitful if they are not imbued with deep respect and true compassion for survivors along with an uncompromising commitment to truth and justice on their behalf.

Please join me in fasting and praying for our bishops as they gather for this most unique and very important retreat. Scripture tells us that some demons can only be conquered through prayer and fasting. Surely the demons of clerical sexual abuse are some of the worst imaginable and thus much prayer and fasting is in order. After the feasting of the recent holidays, many of us may be naturally thinking of cutting back as we begin the new year. Let us bring those efforts into the spiritual realm by offering our fasting to God along with our earnest prayers for our bishops.

EAS and JN

During the course of this bishops’ retreat, we will celebrate the feast days of two saints with special ties to the United States: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York City in 1774 and went on to live a life of heroic virtue as a wife, mother, widow, and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph. She and her Sisters laid the foundation of Catholic Education within the United States. Mother Seton was the first United States citizen to be canonized and her feast day is January 4th.

St. John Neumann was born in what is now known as the Czech Republic. At age 25, he came to New York and joined the Redemptorist Order several years later. He was an indefatigable missionary throughout New York, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia. St. John Neumann has special significance for our Buffalo Diocese as he founded and pastored several parishes within our region. Upon becoming bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann established the first diocesan school system in the United States. He was the first male saint of the United States and is the only US bishop to be canonized. His feast day is January 5th.

Let us particularly pray to these two wonderful saints that they might intercede on behalf of our United States bishops during their retreat!

raymond

Another important saint’s feast day will be celebrated during this retreat: St. Raymond of Penafort. St. Raymond is the patron saint of canon lawyers and thus another significant intercessor at this time. In 1230, Pope Gregory IX called St. Raymond, a Dominican priest and contemporary of St. Thomas Aquinas, to the Eternal City and gave him a mammoth task. He was to assemble and organize all the laws and rules of the Church into one systematic collection! (I like to think that the expression on his face in this painting is very similar to the expression with which he received the Pope’s request: “You cannot be serious, Your Holiness.”) St. Raymond produced a 5-book collection that was the basis of the Church’s legal system for many centuries. His feast day is January 7th.

As you’ve likely realized over the past few months, canon law will play a significant role in the Church’s response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis. At the press conference at the start of the USCCB Assembly last November, Cardinal DiNardo noted that there were “some points in one or two of the documents where the canon law needed further precision.” The documents he was referring to pertained to the Code of Conduct for Bishops and the lay-led commission that the US Bishops planned to discuss and vote on during their assembly. Canon law is the ecclesiastical law that governs the Catholic Church and thus is an unavoidable element in the Church’s response to this crisis. We would do well to pray to St. Raymond since he is essentially the Father of Canon Law though not known as such formally.

There aren’t many prayers written specifically for bishops or at least not many that I am aware of or could locate. Here is one that I composed to be prayed just for our bishops during their retreat:

Good and gracious God, we seek your blessing upon our bishops as they gather for prayer and reflection during this time of crisis within the Church. Grant that they may be strengthened and healed by the power of the Eucharist they will celebrate and receive. May they likewise be strengthened by the time they will spend before the Blessed Sacrament. May the Gospel and Scriptures they meditate on give them courage and wisdom. Please send your Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide them during this time of retreat. Help them to be shepherds filled with conviction, courage and compassion. Mary, Mother of the Church, and Saint Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for these shepherds of our Church within the United States. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann, great saints of our nation, intercede for our bishops at this critical time. May their time of retreat bear much fruit for them individually and collectively for the renewal of our Church, the healing of survivors, the salvation of souls and the glory of God. Amen. 

rjm praing

Bishop Malone (and Bishop Grosz) will be attending this retreat. Some people have asked me if it is difficult for me to pray for Bishop Malone. It is much easier to pray for him than it is to think of him or to recall difficult interactions or distressing memories. He may no longer be my boss, but he is still my bishop and thus I must pray for him. I particularly like this prayer of his patron, Saint Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

I offer this prayer for Bishop Malone, for myself and for all of you that each day of 2019 might bring us closer to Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts At Year’s End

After my siblings and my first year of life, our parents assigned an adjective to us that best described our first 12 months. I was good, my sister happy and my brother content. I’ve always thought this was a very creative idea of my parents.

This concept came to mind as I’ve been pondering the past year as it mercifully comes to an end. What adjective would I assign to 2018? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad… oh wait, that’s a children’s book title.

2018 began innocently enough but was not even two months old when the darkness began to emerge here in the Diocese of Buffalo. March, April and May were especially dark months for our diocese, but by summer’s end, our national and global Church were facing the same storm of scandal and tragedy. This has been an incredibly painful year for Catholics in Buffalo, the United States and across the globe. It has been emotionally, physiologically and spiritually exhausting.

If I had to choose just one word to describe this infamous year, I would call it the Year of Upheaval. On a personal level, this description definitely works. During the course of 2018, I had 3 jobs, moved 3 times, lived in 4 homes, leaked hundreds of documents and appeared on TV numerous times. For a naturally private person who didn’t even have a Facebook account before this started, it was a jarring change to my normal existence. Upheaval is defined as “a violent or sudden change or disruption to something.” My life has absolutely changed and I still feel that disruption keenly. Yet the challenges I’ve faced are so many ounces to the oceans of suffering endured by the survivors.

On the national and global level, the Catholic Church experienced great upheaval this past year. We Catholics are still reeling from the seismic shock of learning that the clerical abuse scandal of the early aughts was not a thing of the past, but an ongoing crisis. This CNN article gives an excellent (albeit nauseating) month-by-month explanation of the many upheavals of 2018. It is staggering to review the year and realize the many facets of this global scandal.

This has been the worst year of my life. Other years might have been in contention for a few months, but by May they were out of the running for that ignoble title. Yet amidst this year of dark distress, there was still good to be found. Here are the best things about my worst year:

1. I’m still a practicing Catholic. Thank you, Lord.

2. I was able to do something for the victim-survivors, who matter so very much to me, and for the Church that I love.

3. I’ve learned the painful yet valuable lesson of who my true friends are while gaining wonderful new friends.

4. I still believe that there is more good than bad in the world, but I’ve learned that sometimes the bad is where you thought the good was.

5. I have an enduring peace of soul that defies explanation.

All that is good comes from our gracious and loving God. With all my heart, I thank Him for these good things that penetrated the darkness of this difficult year.

jesus pic

In this photo from the crypt of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, Christ steps out of the darkness with His hands stretched out towards us. I love how this image contrasts His light with the surrounding darkness. Christ’s face is pained as is His Sacred Heart. Long ago in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew that one day the descendants of His followers would hurt and harm the little ones He loves so much. He knew that the Church He founded would be run like a corporation within a few millennia. He knew that in 2018 His people would be suffering in mind, heart and soul. He anticipated the pain of victim survivors and their loved ones. No wonder he experienced hematohidrosis there in the Garden!

Jesus well knew how ugly, evil and horrible humanity would be across the ages and yet he willingly died for us after establishing the Church through which we were to follow Him and His teachings. Let us unite our broken hearts to His and offer our own yes in response: Yes, Lord, I will follow you. Through the darkness, the turmoil, the pain and the upheaval. I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life even if my way forward is unclear, the truth came at a cost and my life is still unsettled.

During the unsettling months of 2018, a much-listened-to song became a prayer as well. Abide with Me is a hymn written in Scotland in the 1840’s which draws inspiration from this line in Luke where the apostles address Christ: “Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” You can read the lyrics of this hymn below or listen to it sung with haunting beauty by Audrey Assad here.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still ​if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me.

The most poignant line for me is: “O Though who changest not, abide with me.” During this year of such upheaval and so many changes, God was with us. As we cross the threshold of a new year, He will remain by our sides. Abide with us, Lord, and help us never to lose our trust in You. You gave your life for us. May we live our lives for you.

Guadalupe Gratitude

The Blessed Mother has so many wonderful titles – enough to fill a year’s calendar! Many Catholics may have their personal favorite titles for her. I’m partial to Mary, Star of the Sea and Our Lady of Knock and of Victory. 11 years ago, rather dramatic circumstances led me to be devoted to her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It was a Wednesday evening and I was driving on Route 66 in Northern Virginia near Christendom College, where I worked after graduating. I had put in over 100 hours the previous week and was too exhausted to be driving. My car radio and CD player were out of commission so I was trying my hardest to stay awake sans music. The next thing I knew, I was jolted awake by the impact of my vehicle colliding with another car. I will never know how I got across 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic to the shoulder of that ever-busy highway. My Guardian Angel must have taken the wheel for me.

The gentleman I struck, a military veteran named George who was on his way to a VFW meeting with his sweet wife, was convinced I was intoxicated based on the erratic behavior of my vehicle before it struck his. Fortunately, they were driving a Lexus SUV, which was hardly damaged by the impact and kept them safe. My little Civic did not fare so well and was off its front axle among other injuries, but it had also kept me safe. When the State Trooper arrived, he gravely assessed my car’s condition and then surveyed the shoulder where huge cement barrier walls were lined up as part of ongoing construction work. I’ll never forget his expression as he turned to me and said: “You should not be alive right now. If you hadn’t hit their car, you would have ended up hitting one of these. You should not be alive. You are extremely lucky.”

Of course, luck had nothing to do with it. I will never forget the realization that I could easily have died on Route 66 that night. It was both a chilling and heartwarming realization. The former because it made me appreciate how quickly our lives can be extinguished. The latter because it literally warmed my heart and soul to consider God’s generous protection of me. I knew that He was responsible for the preservation of my life that night. Then I remembered what day it was and knew that Our Lady of Guadalupe must have had a hand in it as well. Ever since then, I’ve had a small statue or image of her in my car to remind me of her intercession that cold winter’s night. I will always be grateful for her maternal intercession that evening and always.

This year I met a wonderful woman who has a very special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rosa Flores was the first national journalist I worked with regarding the situation in our diocese. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, kinder person with whom to work! Her concern for our diocese was only exceeded by her respect for our Church and our faith, which she shares. She also has an amazing story about how Our Lady of Guadalupe influenced her career in journalism. Even Rosa’s full name is a beautiful testament to “Virgencita,” as Our Lady of Guadalupe is called in Spanish, since it reminds us of the Castilian roses that bloomed on Tepeyac Hill in December of 1531. Thank you, Rosa, for being a beautiful witness to the Catholic faith and a true friend to the people you assist through your earnest journalistic efforts.

When we consider the miracle of Guadalupe, the primary figures we think of are Mary and St. Juan Diego, whose feast was this past Sunday. Yet there is another crucial character in this story: Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. I must admit that my view of him used to be pretty one-dimensional… I thought of him as the stubborn bishop who refused to believe Juan Diego until miraculous roses cascaded from an even more miraculous tilma. Then I read about Bishop Juan and realized that his life story is very complex. My initial assessment of him was rather harsh given that I knew nothing of the many challenges he faced and overcame during his life. Based on what I know of him now, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is an undeclared saint who completes the heavenly trio of Guadalupe. Perhaps he can intercede for the bishops of the United States – many of whom are truly obstinate!

How unbelievably generous God was to give us not only a loving Savior, but also a Blessed Mother! Thank you, Virgencita, for your powerful intercession and your beautiful, encouraging words:

“I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us and for your Son’s Church!