Bishop Richard Malone steps down

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone has stepped down, retiring early from his position.

Here is a statement he released on Wednesday morning:

“My Sisters and Brothers in Christ – 

Just this past Sunday, we entered into the Season of Advent – a season of hope, of expectation and fulfillment, and the promise of new beginning. It is in the spirit of this Holy Season now upon us that I wish to address the future of our Diocese and my own fervent hope for a new beginning.

As you are well aware, we have faced tremendous turmoil over the past year and a half. Some have attributed this to my own shortcomings, but the turmoil also reflects the culmination of systemic failings over many years in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.  The crisis our Church is facing relates not only to the immoral and criminal acts of those who committed unconscionable offenses toward the most vulnerable, but also to the failure to regard these violations as grave offenses that warranted the full weight of civil and ecclesiastical justice. As you know, major reforms were undertaken in this country in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and in the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  But, of course, the injury caused by past abuse continues to bring immense suffering around the world and here in our Diocese.

I have met with many survivors of child sexual abuse and felt deeply their anguish, which words and gestures alone are inadequate to soothe. I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made innot addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults. In extensive listening sessions across our Diocese, I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns.  I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness. 

At the same time, I have worked diligently with my brother priests and deacons, and so many accomplished lay professionals, to enact new policies and procedures that have the potential to rebuild the trust and confidence of our Catholic faithful and the wider community. We are committed to dealing decisively with those who betray their faith and vows and by failing to adhere to the high moral and ethical standards that we have every right to expect of them.

We have made much progress to ensure safe environments for our children and utmost accountability among clergy and religious, educators, lay Church ministers, volunteers and bishops alike, for the well-being and protection of our youth. It is important to note that during my tenure, there has not been a single priest of this Diocese ordained in the past 30 years who has had an allegation of child sex abuse substantiated. We now have rigorous protocols, an independent review board, as well as reporting systems that allow any and all to come forward and report concerns over real and perceived improprieties by Church personnel of every rank and status. We have also defined new and consistent standards for the behaviors required of adults toward adults, and clear protocols for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and in the performance of ministry. These include well-defined consequences for any individual who would betray codes of conduct that, in our Diocese, are simply non-negotiable.

Despite the measurable progress we have achieved together, I have concluded after much prayer and discernment that the spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.  As such, I requested of His Holiness Pope Francis that he permit me to retire early, and he agreed to do so.  It is my fervent belief that a bishop must not only represent the unity of our Catholic Faith and the Church Universal, but be able to bring about true Christian unity among those he is charged with leading. It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to, and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal.  Consequently, I am announcing my retirement, effective today, and the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, as the Apostolic Administrator, pending the eventual designation of the 15th bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. Bishop Scharfenberger will continue to lead the Diocese of Albany while serving as Buffalo’s Apostolic Administrator, and I ask all to work with him to ensure that the work of the Church continues and flourishes throughout Western New York. The diocese is in very capable hands. 

Inevitably, some will surmise that my decision is the result of the recently-completed Apostolic Visitation, carried out by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at the behest of the Holy See. While I was made aware of the general conclusions of the report, which were a factor in my discernment, my decision to retire early was made freely and voluntarily. I have come to this decision with honest reflection and a deep and abiding commitment to doing what I believe is in the best interests of the Church throughout  Western New York.

I cannot begin to convey my gratitude for the innumerable expressions of kindness and support shown to me over these past seven years here in Western New York. The lively and active faith that is in such evidence among our devoted priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, educators, our parishes and young people has been a constant source of inspiration and energy for me in my own ministry to serve and lead – to listen, comfort, and indeed, celebrate with you the Faith that has the potential to unite in ways that would overcome our every conflict and division.

I appeal for your fervent prayers for our Diocese and for those especially who give of their lives in priestly ministry in service to others. I am so grateful to our priests and will hold them constantly in my heart.  I ask that you support them not only with your words and prayers, but also with your talents and expertise, with your insights and engagement in the life of our parishes.

I intend to continue to live among you as Bishop Emeritus, and to be available to serve in whatever ways that our Apostolic Administrator and new bishop determines is best.  I will forever be grateful for the honor to serve you as your 14th bishop, even as I have been constantly humbled by so many heroic acts of faith and service on the part of those I have been entrusted to lead. It is and will continue to be my constant prayer and hope that you will “live the truth in love” – demonstrating care and compassion, understanding, healing, forgiveness – and above all – Christ-like charity toward family, friend, and stranger alike.

May Christ who inspires our hope and offers the promise of new beginnings bless and sustain you, even as He unites us all in his constant love and abiding grace. Please pray for me as I shall for you.

The Most Reverend Richard J. Malone”

Last month, Malone was in Rome for the Ad Limina, a summit held every five to seven years between bishops and the Pope.

While there, Malone asked Pope Francis to grant him early retirement.

A reporter there covering the Vatican, Christopher Lamb, was first to report rumblings of Malone’s coming resignation.

Back in Buffalo, calls had been steadily growing for Malone to step down, with protesters for sexual abuse victims to individual churches casting doubt about Malone’s handling of various sex abuse allegations and lawsuits within the Catholic Diocese.

The Movement to Restore Trust, a group dedicated to restoring faith in the church, released a statement on Malone’s resignation:

“The Movement to Restore Trust (MRT) received the news of Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation with a mixture of sadness and relief. From the start of our reform efforts in October 2018, the MRT stressed that the problems that the Catholic Church in Buffalo faces were not caused by a single person. In our view, this was less about Bishop Malone and more about a culture and a way of operating that predated the bishop’s arrival in Buffalo.

In recent months, however, the MRT came to the conclusion that Bishop Malone had become the lightning rod for all that was wrong in the diocese and that progress toward the healing, reconciliation and reform that the diocese so desperately needs was impossible while he remained in office. And so, his resignation is greeted with a sense of relief that we are now at a point where we can turn the page and look forward to a new day in the diocese.

We look forward to working with Bishop Scharfenberger in his role as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo.

There is much work to be done to move our Church toward this new day when sexual abuse and misconduct is unthinkable, when victims of sexual abuse achieve a measure of justice and healing from the Church that has wronged them, and when the laity are welcomed as equal participants with the clergy in the task of rebuilding the diocese. The MRT remains ready and willing to work with the faithful of the diocese to create this new Church.

Toward this end, the MRT is hosting a symposium at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College on Saturday Dec. 7, from 9-11 a.m. to which the public is invited. Among the sessions at the symposium will be a communal discernment of the qualities desired in the next bishop of Buffalo, the results of which will be shared with the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington who will have a critical role in the selection of the next bishop. It will also include a discussion of what will likely happen should the Diocese of Buffalo file for bankruptcy. The symposium will be livestreamed on the MRT website at https://movementtorestoretrust.org.”

Local priests were notified of Malone’s resignation via a letter:

In October, the bishop of Brooklyn visited Buffalo to investigate and conducted tens of interviews on the pope’s behalf. This apostolic visitation by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was completed, Lamb also reported.

The month prior, Malone spoke about a “convoluted matter” involving his former secretary, a seminarian and a priest currently on administrative leave. The scandal was set amid the opening of the Child Victims Act window in New York State for civil lawsuits against alleged abusers.

Malone’s former assistant has been a strong advocate for change in the Diocese. We spoke with Siobhan O’Connor on Wednesday morning.

In our studio, we were also able to hear from Gary Astridge and Steve Boyd on Malone’s resignation:

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian represents 38 people who claim to have been sexually abused by priests in the Buffalo Diocese. He says Malone should not receive a promotion.

“Pope Francis should not give Bishop Malone a promotion such as to a Basilica in Rome as was the case with Bernard Cardinal Law in Boston,” Garabedian said. “The immorality of Bishop Malone should not be rewarded with a promotion. Pope Francis must not re-arrange the immorality deck with a successor to Bishop Malone who has also been and is part of the morality problem.”

Politicians have even weighed in on the bishop’s departure. Rep. Brian Higgins (D) was one of the early voices calling for Malone’s resignation.

“The Catholic Bishop plays a significant role in the community, overseeing local parishes, schools, hospitals and charities.  While Catholics know it is the people that make the church, faith and trust in the church leadership is necessary.  The people of the Buffalo Diocese have endured the protection of predators, coverups and deception.  Bishop Malone’s departure offers a new beginning and opportunity to heal. The people of Western New York deserve transparency and honesty from their church.  While this Bishop was lacking in the ability to provide that leadership, the Western New York community is grateful to the incredibly brave survivors, principled whistleblowers, and persistent journalists who were willing to bring truth to light.”

Rep. Brian Higgins

Normally, a bishop retires when he reaches age 75. At 73, Malone’s early departure comes amid the controversy he and the the Diocese as a whole have faced.

In his place, the Pope has appointed Bishop Edward Scharfenberger as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo. This takes effect immediately.

Currently, Scharfenberger leads the Diocese of Albany, and will continue to do so while overseeing Buffalo.

“I am honored to serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo during these challenging times, and I am humbled by the task put before me. I ask for your prayers as we begin this journey together, and I look forward to getting to know the people of this great diocese,” Bishop Scharfenberger said.

The Diocese of Buffalo will hold a news conference on these changes at 10:30 a.m. This will be shown live on News 4 and WIVB.com.

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