In recent months, Richard Malone, the embattled bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, continued to receive support from members of the Movement to Restore Trust, an advisory group of local Catholics that was formed in response to a recent rash of sexual abuse allegations facing members of the clergy.
On Thursday, that all changed.
The group of lay Catholics who had been working with Malone to develop reforms in hopes of moving the diocese forward joined a chorus of critics who have been calling on the bishop to resign. In a statement issued to the media this week, members of the Movement to Restore Trust members determined that Malone’s actions in response to the sex abuse scandal threaten to set the diocese “back several decades.” In the opinion of the group, Malone has failed to handle the situation in such a manner as to pose “substantial risk of harm to the diocese and the good works that the church does in this region.”
The Movement to Restore Trust’s position amounts to a vote of no confidence in Bishop Malone and it is one Catholics across Western New York should seriously consider as they form opinions on diocesan leadership.
This select group of Catholics was chosen to assist in the process of developing much-needed reforms within the diocese. For them to conclude Malone has mishandled diocesan affairs should be proof enough that new leadership is needed.
As has now been widely reported, Malone’s latest round of missteps were laid bare for the public to hear when a once-trusted secretary released secretly recorded audio tapes on which Malone can be heard talking about his fear of losing his position amid the crisis and his thoughts on potentially embarrassing matters, including a priest’s alleged sexual harassment of a seminarian.
Those recordings were first aired in reports from WKBW-TV reporter Charlie Specht, whose work with diocesan whistleblowers has provided Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the Buffalo area with information about the inner-workings of Malone’s administration that very likely would not have come to light otherwise.
In yet another questionable turn for Malone and the current administration, Specht’s name was left off a list of media members who were invited to a press conference featuring Malone mere hours after WKBW aired their report on the secretary’s audio recordings.
Another WKBW reporter did get an invite and diocesan officials insist Specht was left off the list due to space, not coverage, concerns.
Still, as has been a persistent problem of late for Malone’s administration, there’s a bad look here, the kind that suggests the diocese thinks it can exclude reporters and media outlets that air or print reports it doesn’t find flattering.
If anything, the diocese should be led by someone, or a group of someones, who are committed to open discussion about the mistakes of the past and present.
The most egregious mistakes have involved the abhorrent and criminal behavior of sexual abuse, in some cases involving minors.
On Friday, Malone himself announced that an internal review panel created by the diocese has substantiated allegations of child sex abuse against retired North Tonawanda priest, the Rev. Louis S. Dolinic.
One incident of this nature is too many and clearly unacceptable.
It is true that allegations of abuse within the diocese pre-date Malone’s ascension to the position of bishop.
It is also true that he has served as bishop at a time when more and more details about questionable activity within the church have come to light.
Rather than come clean in an effort to earnestly address numerous issues and concerns, as the audio recordings show, Malone worried more about appearances and the potential impact on his job.
Malone is right to say the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is in “crisis.”
It is, in fact, facing “the” crisis of our time.
If it is to survive to continue to support valued community assets like Catholic Charities and to serve the faithful Catholics who live among us in our region, the diocese must have a new leader who evokes a greater level of confidence that the focus moving forward will be more about accountability than protecting long-held and unsightly secrets.