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Bishop loses top administrator, executive assistant

A top administrator for the Buffalo Diocese has resigned the position, less than three months after starting as Bishop Richard J. Malone’s second in command.

The Rev. Mark J. Noonan was Malone’s surprise choice in May to become vicar general and moderator of the curia – the chief operating officer for the diocese. He started in the post June 1 and asked the bishop last Friday to be returned to a parish.

Malone granted Noonan's request and assigned him to be pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Orchard Park for a six-year term, effective Sept. 7. Noonan will continue as vicar general through the end of next week, said diocesan spokesman George Richert.

"He felt a strong pull to go back to parish ministry," said Richert.

The move is the second departure of a key member of Malone’s central office within days, as the diocese struggles with budgetary challenges and a scandal over a cover-up of clergy sexual abuse.

Siobhan O’Connor, the bishop’s administrative assistant, also is leaving today for a job with a private company. O’Connor had worked for Malone since 2015.

In recent months, O’Connor fielded many calls to the bishop’s office from childhood victims of clergy abuse. This past May, she wrote about her experiences talking with abuse victims in an opinion column in The Buffalo News. She called it an "immense privilege" to speak with victims and urged "compassionate support" for them.

O’Connor declined to comment on her departure, but a source told The News that the ongoing priest scandal played a role in her decision.

Malone said in a statement that O’Connor “served me and the Diocese very, very well, and we wish her well in the future.”

Some clergy were shocked when Malone picked Noonan to succeed Monsignor David S. Slubecky, who retired June 1 after 13 years in the post.

The job of vicar general typically goes to a seasoned administrator who has an advanced degree in canon law, sacred theology or business. Noonan, 42, was ordained in 2007 and was pastor of two small rural parishes before becoming vicar general. He has a bachelor's degree in political science and philosophy from the University at Buffalo and a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Christ the King Seminary.

Clergy sources described Noonan as a bright, solid young priest, but they said the job was probably overwhelming for someone with such little administrative experience. Malone has yet to name a successor to Noonan. Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz also is a vicar general for the diocese and could be called upon to assume more administrative duties, sources said.

The diocese recently laid off eight employees who were part of the Daybreak TV production team and closed the SUNY Fredonia Newman Center as part of $1.6 million in cost-cutting efforts.

Malone said in a recent column for the Western New York Catholic that the diocese will have reduced investment income available to support ministry in the coming years because it is diverting some general and self-insurance investment reserves to cover the costs of a new program that will compensate childhood victims of sexual abuse. The diocese also is aiming to reduce by 10 percent the amount of money it takes from each parish for central administration, so that more money will stay in parishes for parish-based ministries, Malone said.

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