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Bishop Malone stands firm as critics renew calls to resign

Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone admitted Sunday that he made mistakes in handling sexual misconduct claims but said he would not resign.

Reading a statement Sunday afternoon but refusing to take questions, Malone said he would create a task force to change church procedures, establish a new office to oversee ethics and cooperate with prosecutors if they investigate.

But, Malone said, "the shepherd does not desert the flock in a difficult time."

Two prominent critics reacted sharply to Malone's statement and reiterated their calls for him to resign.

"It's an extraordinarily disappointing day in the history of our diocese," said Paul L. Snyder III, a church deacon and chief executive officer of the Snyder Corp. "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That is what we are hearing from these bishops."

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat whose district runs from Buffalo to Niagara Falls, said: "Abuse is a sin and a crime. You don't need a task force to tell you that. Covering it up is a sin and a crime. Reassigning a priest is a sin and a crime. You don't need a task force to tell you that."

The chancery of the Buffalo Diocese. (Sharon Cantillon/News file photo)

For six months, the Buffalo diocese has been roiled by Buffalo News reports documenting decades of priests sexually abusing children. Last week, WKBW-TV reported that Malone kept two priests in ministry despite misconduct allegations. One of the accused priests, the Rev. Robert Yetter, served as pastor of St. Mary's Church in Swormville for many years. Yetter is alleged to have made unwanted sexual advances on two adult men, including one who said the priest tried to kiss him and grab his groin area.

Reading from a prepared statement Sunday afternoon, Malone said his handling of claims "concerning sexual misconduct with adults unquestionably has fallen short of the standard."

Referring to the policy the Catholic Church adopted after the Boston sex abuse scandal broke, Malone said he failed by not applying those standards to adults.

"Reflecting on my handing of recent allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, I fear that in seeking to uphold the charter to the letter — and remember the charter is for young people — I may have lost sight of the charter's spirit, which applies to people of all ages.

"All of God’s children deserve the same protection from sexual harassment or contact, including adults."

Malone's statement did not address his handling of the case of Rev. Arthur Smith, who remained in ministry until recently despite warnings from a school principal that Smith had acted inappropriately with a child.

Malone said the diocese would:

• Form a task force to examine procedures about handling allegations of clerical misconduct involving adults and said he would invite members of the clergy, laity and "an elected official or two" to be on it.

• Establish a new office of professional responsibility that would oversee enforcement of the diocese's code of ethics.

• Pledge to fully cooperate with any investigation started by either the state Attorney General's office or the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

Higgins said establishing a task force fell far short of what was needed.

"The Bishop has lost the confidence of the Catholic community, and the larger community of Western New York," Higgins said. "He should have stepped down."

Buffalo Common Council member Christopher P. Scanlon, who also reiterated his call for Malone to resign, said in a statement that "while I appreciate his willingness to better address sexual misconduct involving adults, his silence on his mishandling of the abuse of children and his enabling of these predators is deafening."

Transcript of Bishop Malone's statement regarding abuse, calls for him to resign

During Sunday’s statement, Malone apologized to victims of clerical abuse. He asked people to pray for the victims and also to pray for him.

"Please find it in your heart to pray also for me and for all those who are trying to overcome the darkness of this sin and bring back the true light of what the church should be forever," he said.

At 7 p.m. Mass Sunday at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in South Buffalo, Rev. Msgr. William Gallagher told a crowd of about 100 people that Catholics are struggling with the news of "awful, terrible, reprehensible" issues. And, he said, "Our real problem right now is with these so-called leaders who hid this information.

"It's important that our leadership be very, very careful in handling accusations," he said. "For those who have hidden this stuff for years and years, in my opinion they should resign and get out. We have a right to demand the very best standards of trust from those who are our leaders. If they aren't doing the job, they need to get out."

Gallagher encouraged the congregation not to give up on the church. "Are we going to quit? No. Are we going to leave one another? I hope not," he said, giving examples of other institutions rocked by sexual abuse reports.

But, he said, "We're not saved through the Catholic Church. We're saved through our relationship with Jesus Christ."

The congregation applauded at the end of his homily.

After Mass, Gallagher said that while he hadn't mentioned any names in his homily, he believed that his message was clear.

Maki Becker and Anne Neville contributed to this story.

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