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Pope appoints new Buffalo bishop

An experienced administrator with an extensive background in theology and Catholic education will be installed in August as the 14th bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Bishop Richard J. Malone, who has been bishop of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, since 2004, was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to succeed Bishop Edward U. Kmiec, the Vatican announced Tuesday.

"I come to you happily and without any hesitation," Malone said after being introduced by Kmiec during a news conference Tuesday in the diocesan chancery building on Main Street. "I look forward to being your neighbor, your friend, your brother, your bishop."

Though not well-known to most Western New York Catholics, Malone, 66, has carved out a solid reputation among fellow prelates.

"He's just a regular guy. He's very affable. There's no pretension or anything like that," said Kmiec. "He's a straight shooter and a straight talker."

Malone serves on the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. Catholic Church's international relief arm. He also was former chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' committee on evangelization and catechesis.

"He's somebody with a bit of a national profile," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, an expert on the Catholic hierarchy and senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. "He's gotten more and more high-profile over the years."

Reese described Malone's standing on the Catholic Relief Services board and his chairmanship of a committee in the bishops' group as "a vote of confidence from the bishops across the country."

In Maine, home to 187,306 Catholics, Malone has had to merge parishes and close churches due to financial challenges and declining priest numbers.

Malone's friends in Maine figured he would end up in a bigger diocese.

"I guess all of us came to the realization we know we can't keep him forever," said Cynthia Nickless, executive director of Presence Radio Network.

Malone was a proponent of establishing Catholic radio in Maine, as a way to evangelize and help "build up the body of the church," said Nickless.

"He's been a great supporter of ours from the very beginning," she said. "He understands the need for solid catechesis."

Brian Featheringham, a retired U.S. Customs agent who does volunteer liturgical ministry for the Portland Diocese, said his first reaction to Malone's pending departure was "just a profound sense of loss."

"Then when I thought about it, it seemed to me he was far too intelligent and far too humble to stay in Maine for the rest of his career," Featheringham added.

Malone isn't without critics, in Maine and elsewhere.

The Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests put out a statement Tuesday accusing the church hierarchy of "trading one callous official for another."

The network said Kmiec has repeatedly covered up abuse by refusing requests to make a list of all credibly accused priests available on the diocesan website.

The statement from the network's outreach director, Barbara Dorris, also said Malone in 2010 kept secret the identity of seven predator priests in Maine.

But in an interview with The Buffalo News, Malone disputed the network's portrayal of his record on sexual abuse allegations.

Any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is reported immediately to civil authorities, and counseling is offered to victims, he said.

Moreover, if the diocese is able to determine "a semblance of truth" to the allegation, it will remove a priest from active ministry and explain why, then investigate further, said Malone.

Malone recently sent letters to parishes informing them of an investigation into a sex abuse complaint against a retired priest, the Rev. Antonin R. Caron, regarding incidents alleged to have occurred in the mid-1980s.

Before being installed in Maine, Malone was an auxiliary bishop under Cardinal Bernard Law in the Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter of the Catholic Church's clergy abuse scandal.

Law was heavily criticized for shuffling predator priests from parish to parish and ultimately was moved from Boston to a post in Rome during the height of the scandal.

Malone, who served as secretary for education for several years under Law, said his chancery post in Boston did not involve any assignment of priests.

Malone was as "stunned, shocked and saddened" as anyone about the cases of abuse uncovered in Boston and their mishandling. As a bishop, he added, "I was determined to do things right."

In 2009, Malone campaigned against a same-sex marriage referendum that was narrowly defeated by voters.

The referendum will be on the ballot again in November. Catholic churches have declined to participate in a statewide church collection on Father's Day to raise funds for a political action committee opposing the ballot initiative.

But Malone released a 22-page pastoral letter in March defending and explaining the Catholic church's stance on marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also has used the letter on one of its websites, "Marriage: Unique for a Reason."

Malone was informed of his assignment to Buffalo in a telephone call May 21 from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio, or the pope's representative in the United States. Kmiec learned the next day that he would soon be able to retire.

Malone's birthday is March 19 -- the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the Buffalo diocese.

He recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Before his work in the Boston chancery office, Malone spent more than 15 years as a teacher and faculty member in Boston-area high schools and colleges.

"He's highly intellectual, but he doesn't come off like that," said Featheringham. "He's a deeply spiritual guy and very intelligent. There's no hint of arrogance about it. You'll find he can talk to any group of people."

Malone said he begins each day by reciting the prayer of abandonment by Charles de Foucauld.

After the news conference, he met briefly with staff of the diocese's Catholic Center, telling them he planned to have an "open door" policy.

He then spent much of Tuesday touring diocesan sites, including Our Lady of Victory Basilica, where he acknowledged knowing little about Father Nelson Baker, the diocese's candidate for sainthood, but promised to learn about him quickly.

Malone said he will miss Maine and New England, where he has spent all of his life.

And while he pledged to trade in his allegiances to the New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins, he refused to let go of his favorite baseball team.

"Integrity requires me to confess that I am a lifelong Red Sox fan. It is in my blood," said Malone. "I will be able to convert to the Bills and the Sabres. I can handle that."

Malone will be installed at 2 p.m. Aug. 10 in St. Joseph's Cathedral. With his appointment in Buffalo, he is now administrator and no longer bishop of the Diocese of Portland.

The appointment also means the Pope Benedict XVI has accepted Kmiec's resignation, which was submitted last June, after Kmiec's 75th birthday.

Kmiec will serve as apostolic administrator for the Buffalo diocese until Malone's installation.


GRAPHIC: Bishop Richard J. Malone

Some facts about the Buffalo Diocese's new bishop:

Born: March 19,1946 in Salem, Mass.

Education: Bachelor's degrees in philosophy and divinity and master's degree in theology, St. John Seminary, Boston; doctorate in theology, Boston University.

Interesting fact: Malone's birthday is March 19, the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the Buffalo diocese.