Call it what you want – spin control, crisis management or welcome candor – but Bishop Richard J. Malone deserves credit for addressing the clergy sex-abuse scandal head-on.
In last week’s interview with The Buffalo News, Malone addressed many of the questions surrounding the Diocese of Buffalo’s handling of the scandal that has been troubling the Catholic community. At least 58 priests who worked in the Buffalo area have been linked to sex allegations.
There has been suspicion that the diocese tried to keep sex-abuse victims quiet, but the bishop denied that is the case. The largest settlement for any clergy sex-abuse case is the $1.5 million the diocese paid to David Husted, who claimed he was molested at Archbishop Walsh High School from 1979 to 1982. Malone said he took lawyers’ advice to make the settlement. He said it did not occur to him to announce the payment due to the fact that it was a case from 35 years ago, and that insurance covered most of the payout, rather than the diocese itself.
Malone, of course, was installed as the Diocese of Buffalo’s bishop in 2012, before many of the alleged abuse cases took place. There are sure to be skeptics, but he demonstrated through his words a genuine concern for those who were harmed by clergy sex abuse.
“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,” Malone said.
The bishop said accusations against “a number of priests” have surfaced during his time in the diocese and in each case, “we’ve acted immediately,” putting them on administrative leave and launching an investigation.
Malone spent many years working in Massachusetts. He was an auxiliary bishop when Bernard Cardinal Law presided over the Diocese of Boston, which was rocked by a clergy sex abuse scandal that ended in Law’s resignation in 2002 and became the basis for the movie “Spotlight.” Malone insists he was not part of Law’s inner circle or in a policy-making position.
“I will you tell you honestly I knew nothing,” he said of his Boston days. When a priest in Malone’s region of the Boston diocese was accused of sexual misconduct, Malone would put the priest on administrative leave, then explain to the parish what had happened. He insists he had no part in reassigning accused priests, rather than disciplining them, a custom that led to Law’s career in Boston ending in disgrace.
Some church leaders around the country have been in denial about the sex-abuse scandals, refusing to acknowledge their existence. It’s encouraging to note that Malone is well aware of the public reaction to the terrible events. In his interview with The News, Malone said there is “a deficit right now in the trust that people place in the church and in many of her leaders. That’s been going on for some years, tragically.”
He said he hopes that people who have gotten to know him will trust that his “word is good.” He can encourage that belief by acting boldly, taking advantage of the fact that what happened here occurred before he arrived.
Malone made no mention last week of the Child Victims Act, a state bill that would lift the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse. The bill has passed in the Assembly but stalled in the Senate.
The state’s Catholic Conference has spent $1.8 million over six years lobbying in Albany to defeat the bill, which they fear could potentially devastate church finances. However understandable that position may be, the needs of victims are the compelling issue and it does not help the image of the state’s bishops to be seen standing against a law that would compensate people who are victims not only of priests but, in many cases, of church policies that hid their abuses.
Victims who have been traumatized by childhood sexual abuse will likely never be fully satisfied with the actions taken by the Diocese of Buffalo in response. But the more that Bishop Malone recognizes their grievances and moves toward full transparency around some of the heinous acts that took place, the more swiftly he and his priests can get on with the task of comforting the afflicted in their church.