It is a sign of the Catholic church’s peril that the question of who leads the Buffalo Diocese is among the least of its worries. Any organization that countenances pedophilia among its leaders is on the road to perdition. For a church to have done it is unimaginable.
Nevertheless, local leadership matters and, for the second time, a deacon has called for Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone to resign over his handling of credible accusations of sexual abuse by clergy. Malone, who has previously declared his intention to stay on, needs to heed the advice. He is a symbol of the church’s unwillingness to confront its culpability.
Following the August call of deacon and businessman Paul Snyder III for Malone to resign, another church leader this weekend added his voice, and it is an especially powerful one: Paul C. Emerson is not only a deacon at St. Joseph University Church in Buffalo, but a victim of sexual abuse by two area priests. He understands, as do Snyder and many other influential people, that Malone has lost the confidence of parishioners.
As a report on WKBW-TV noted, internal church documents show that Malone kept two priests in ministry despite misconduct complaints against them. Either the bishop didn’t grasp the severity of the crisis enveloping the diocese and his leadership, or he thought some other issue was more important. Regardless, his actions undermine his insistence that “The shepherd does not desert the flock in a difficult time.” Malone took the side of the wolves.
Now, with Emerson joining those calling for his resignation, Malone must recognize that his time here is up.
As a young man, Emerson had to fight off molestation by a priest his family trusted. He later went to another priest for guidance and was victimized again. None of that happened on Malone’s watch, of course, but the diocese – and, frankly, the community – need to know that someone who can make right decisions is in charge.
The larger question is how the church survives the scandal that first broke in Boston 16 years ago. It has resurfaced here in Western New York and, with devastating impact, in Pennsylvania, where the state attorney general has released a damning report about child sexual abuse by priests.
Since then, New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has launched a civil investigation into abuses in this state and is partnering with district attorneys to look into possible crimes.
The church's standing is at risk. It’s the inevitable consequence of a decades-long effort to protect the faith by sacrificing children to unspeakable abuses. Any other organization would have been prosecuted out of existence.
If the church is to continue as a force for good, it has to change, and the clock is ticking. Crucial to that work is to have the right leaders in an extended time of crisis. Malone is not among them.