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Bishop Malone: 'There's nothing being hidden'

It's been a difficult past few months for Bishop Richard J. Malone.

A retired priest's admission in February that he had molested dozens of boys triggered a cascade of other sexual abuse allegations against Buffalo area clergy. It also thrust Malone into the middle of the historical cover up of abuse by the hierarchy of the Buffalo Diocese. As new revelations of abuses continue to surface, some victims have accused Malone of being part of the cover up and want him to resign. Malone disputes the characterization, saying he "acted immediately" to put priests on leave and investigate complaints of abuse.

Earlier this week, The News sat with the spiritual leader of more than 600,000 Western New York Catholics for an exclusive interview – Malone's first in-depth discussion about the scandal since a March news conference. Malone answered questions about why the diocese paid $1.5 million to settle a lawsuit, what he knew about child sex abuse among clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston and how the Buffalo diocese investigates allegations of abuse.

Question: The narrative of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the U.S., as revealed through lawsuits, is that bishops did whatever they could to keep it hush.

Malone: Some bishops. You don't want to generalize too much. But I agree with what you're saying.

Q: Given the history, why should people believe it when you say you're trying to be transparent?

Malone: I understand the question, because of what's gone on around the country. There is a deficit right now in the trust that people place in the church and in many of her leaders. I know that. That's been going on for some years tragically. But I just hope people have come to know me enough to trust me – that my word is good – and to see that on my watch, when we've had a number of priests who we've discovered anew have been accused during my time here, very recently, of abuse, that we've acted immediately. We put them on administrative leave, as you know, and we have a professional investigator who is not a member of our staff, who is doing very thorough investigations of those people, and we will announce publicly the results of those investigations when they're concluded.

It takes time to do them. Sometimes they're trying to track down some key people. You know the story that they're hard to reach and all that stuff. So that's the main reason that when these things have been coming to us now, I feel that I am, and I've always tried to do this, even before I came here, I'm following the protocol that the church insists we follow with these matters. It's only right to do it. There's nothing being hidden, that's my point. Sometimes the story takes a while to develop because the investigation has to proceed in a way that's confidential for obvious reasons. But when we get a judgement, it will be public.

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Q: The deadline for filing for the diocese's compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse is June 1. Do you have a sense of what …

Malone: What the numbers are? No, I don't. They keep telling me even though now it's just a few more hours, that we're still in the intake period and then I'll be getting a report very soon on the numbers.

Q: Why was the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) constructed to allow only those who had previously informed the diocese before March 1 of their abuse? Some victims have called it a disingenuous approach, because you had a press conference announcing the program, asking victims to come forward and then essentially shut the door on them getting a settlement.

Malone: First of all, it's only a minority – there are 197 Roman Catholic dioceses in the country – it's a minority of dioceses who have done anything like this IRCP thing, and it began with a discussion of the New York state bishops over a year ago, I think now. All of us, the bishops of the eight dioceses, communicate very frequently, either in person or by teleconference. We have a teleconference tomorrow morning to keep up to date on different state issues, not just this thing. So in light of the fact that very few have done it but the New York bishops over the course of time decided we would all do something like that. We're doing it a little differently than downstate is doing it. We decided that we had to be cautious in how we set it up so that, No. 1,  victims who have waited the longest, whose claims might go back a couple of decades, that they could come forth again. These are people who have already come forth, most of them. So those claims have pretty much been investigated. We know who these people are. We have information on them already and we hope that helps in the process of bringing them some healing and some justice. And those are the ones in this project. We had to be careful that we didn't open it up totally into the future. We have to be careful about what we can do and what we can't do.

But you ask me, "Why do you still say, bishop, you want victims to come forward?" We want victims to keep coming forward because we have always, we have for a long time offered pastoral outreach to anyone who has come to us with a complaint. As soon as a complainant calls, even if they didn't get to us before March 1, our victim assistance coordinators will always offer outreach. They always offer immediate counseling, even if we haven't investigated the case yet. Do they need some help? We pay for that. We will pay for medications, if they may need that to get through and help them back on their feet. It was more of a way of helping people who came to us to the extent that we could do that to get back on their feet.

And we have several instances where that has happened very well and they've even expressed gratitude to us for the way it helped them. They weren't asking for anything more than, you know, please help me get back to work. These folks who go through this trauma – and I've met with a number of victims – it takes them a while, with their own hard work, with some therapy and with God's grace, to move – and I think it's a subtle distinction – to move from being a victim to knowing they have become a victim survivor. In other words, 'I'm moving now forward.' I've looked this grisly past in the eye – and people really do suffer through doing that. Sometimes we'll encourage people to get into counseling and they'll say I know it's good I'm doing this bishop but it's grueling. You can only imagine to have to relive all the details with a counselor. But it’s a freeing thing for them we hope.

Q: Some of the other dioceses in New York are doing a second phase.

Malone: We haven't come to the point of deciding on that yet. What we're doing right now is we're focusing on these past cases and trying to help those folks who have been waiting the longest and continuing to reach out in the way we always have to the new ones. And sometimes that does involve some financial assistance for them to get back on their feet, to get back at their job again. We've been doing that for a long time and we do that despite how far back the complaint goes. It could be 20, 30 years.

Q: The case in which David Husted sued, alleging abuse by former priest James Spielman. Why did the diocese settle the case for $1.5 million? [Husted claimed in a federal lawsuit in Hawaii that Spielman repeatedly molested him while he was a teenage student at Archbishop Walsh High School between 1979 and 1982. The settlement is the largest known for a clergy sex abuse case in the Buffalo diocese.]

Malone:  I honestly don't know all the ins and outs of it. Part of it was this was going on in Hawaii, so the counsel that was involved in this case from Hawaii worked out the details of that settlement. Most of that money, by the way, came from insurance, not from the diocese, happily. If you ask people around here, you'll find out I'm not known as a micromanager, so I don't always know all the little detail. But on this kind of a situation, the attorney working on this in Hawaii worked that out at that number and we settled and said, hey, let's let it be. That was the recommendation to me. Not having any expertise in that stuff, I said let's do it if it's going to end this situation. But that was an unusual case.

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Q: Some of the outrage around the country with regard to clergy abuse cases was as much around settlements and the quiet nature of them, how they weren't revealed. And this particular case seems to be sort of like that. Parishioners weren't told the diocese paid out a million and a half to settle a case.

Malone: Keep in mind more than half was from insurance, not from our resources. That's an important distinction. It still was a lot of money, though.

Q: Sure. But just the nature of that, given the context of where we came from, where it was the settlements that people were learning about and saying, "Hey, you're paying people to be quiet about this." This seems to fall into that pattern.

Malone: I disagree with that entirely. There's never on our part, and we can't have it. We can't and we would not have any kind of an insistence that people involved in these cases who get the settlement have to keep quiet about it. Even in the IRCP, by the way we, the diocese, are bound never to ask for confidentiality.

Q: So there was not a confidentiality agreement in that settlement?

Malone: I don't think so. We can double check it, though, for accuracy. That's something that was repudiated at the time we did the Dallas charter. I was at the meeting you know in Dallas, 2002, and the norms that have come out since then. The way the IRCP works, the people receiving the so-called settlement can ask for confidentiality if they want, but if they don't, they can say anything they want, anything, about the whole process, about how they felt they were treated. But we will not require [confidentiality] and we can't require it. And it was a mistake in the past if it was required.

Q: Looking back at this particular case, would you have done it differently in 2016 and simply announced the settlement?

Malone:  You know, to be honest with you, and this might be a bad thing to say, but the question about whether to make that public never even occurred to me.  People knew that this case was going on. There's a different story about these new cases that are coming up now that are new to me, that are coming up under my watch. This was something left over from years ago and had been in process, so it never occurred to me. Maybe if I went back and took a look at it I would approach it differently. But they were working on that a long time and they said, 'We think we have reached a settlement. Let's do it and help the victim move on and get it past us." There was nothing that I was trying to hide from it.

Q: It was an unusual case because it was in a far-off jurisdiction and it wasn't right under our noses. Is there the potential for that anywhere else?

Malone: Not that I'm aware of. Of course, there always are surprises these days. But I'm not aware of anything like that that's looming. I have not heard anything like that at all. And, of course, I hope I won't. If we do, we'll deal with it.

Q: Some readers want to know more about what you knew in Boston at the height of the scandal there.

Malone: I will tell you honestly I knew nothing. When I was secretary for education, we had one case. One time there was a question of a lay teacher in one of our Catholic schools. I don't even remember right now because I haven't thought about this for years. There was some kind of a concern about that, which we dealt with appropriately. But that was the only time. I was a theology professor at St. John Seminary and Emmanuel College. And then in diocesan administration I was only involved in the educational and the catechetical, religious ed part of it. I was never in one of those positions – I look back thankfully – one of those chancery positions that was responsible for dealing with abuse allegations or deciding what should happen to a priest. I was involved in curriculum and all that stuff, which I look back at with great gratitude.

Even as an auxiliary bishop – I became an auxiliary in 2000 – and then as we all know in 2002 the terrible news struck. The way it was set up in Boston, not to bore you with details, but it's important for context. The Archdiocese of Boston was – and maybe still is, I'm not sure – it was divided into five pastoral regions, and each one had an auxiliary bishop, called its regional bishop. My region was the south region, which was everything south of Boston, like Quincy, Milton, Braintree, down as far as the Cape Cod Canal. That was my region. I had about 85 parishes, schools, prisons, the works. And the cardinal insisted that that be our region, that we live in a rectory there. I lived in a parish rectory in Whitman. And my office was in Weymouth. And we didn't even keep priest personnel files. They were all in Boston, at central.

The only involvement I would have had when the scandal erupted – and thank God I was only there for two years of that and then I was assigned to Portland – these are the two examples I can give. I would be at my desk in the morning and I would get a phone call from the cardinal's headquarters and they would say, "We're looking through the files again and we found a file on Father so and so and it seems like there's an allegation here from the past that needs to be investigated." And it would be news to me, because we didn't keep those files. My job – and that of the other regional bishops, there were five of us – would be to call that guy in, confront him with it, and then he would be put on administrative leave. And my job would then be, this is the way we all did it, I would go to that parish the following weekend personally and I would speak at all of the Masses and tell the people that their priest had an allegation, like we do now in writing, an allegation of abuse of a minor. It needs to be investigated. He will be off the job here while we do that. It's neither a judgment of truth or falsity of the claim . . . Then later that week if we could – or the week after – we would host a listening session for everyone in that parish so they could come together and kind of process what they had just heard. Those were really the only involvements I ever had in this whole thing. I was never around the table. However decisions were made at archdiocesan level about these things, I was never privy to any of that stuff.

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Q: The allegation against the Rev. Wolski, did that come through the IRCP?

Malone: Yes.

Q: Do you have any other instances like that, in which a priest that we had not known about before was accused of abuse?

Malone: The Wolski one caught us totally by surprise, but it has to be investigated. In other words, we're not judging that it is valid, but it has to be looked at. I can't remember if the other ones came through the IRCP or not. These claims have come in through various routes. Sometimes people call directly to my office, and Siobhan takes the call. They're supposed to go to victim assistance coordinator Jackie Joy, whose job it is to process them. But you know they're going to come in various ways, whatever works for the person.

Q: How concerned are you that there will be more instances, once all the claims are gone through, after June 1? Are you aware of other priests who have never had an allegation before and now because of this IRCP program and people being emboldened to come forward, victims are saying so and so did this to me 20 years ago?

Malone: I don't have any sense that that's about to happen. It could happen. If it does, we'll deal with it as well as we can. If there are people out there who have been abused by a cleric or another member of the church's ministry, we want them to come forth. We really do.

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