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Catholic group urges Buffalo's bishop to adopt reforms in wake of abuse scandal

The Buffalo Diocese must do more to assist clergy sex abuse survivors and to disclose the depth and scale of abuses perpetrated on children and vulnerable adults, according to an organized group of Catholic worshippers.

Those are among nine key recommendations from the group, which has been meeting since December to find ways of rebuilding trust in the diocese in the wake of a clergy sex abuse scandal that has rattled the faithful.

The group calling itself the Movement to Restore Trust urged Bishop Richard J. Malone to offer one-on-one and group listening sessions with sex abuse victims, as well as a full spectrum of “independent, trauma-informed counseling services, treatments and therapies” and a more sensitive and responsive intake program.

The recommendations were released Saturday morning in a five-page executive summary distributed at a symposium in Canisius College’s Montante Center.

The report said a lack of confidence in the institutional Catholic Church and its leaders has resulted in lay people "feeling disillusioned, frustrated and alienated." It also called for transforming church culture from one that assigns greater authority to ordained clergy to one where clergy and bishops work in partnership with lay people.

“The embrace and implementation of the recommendations in our report will be an important step in breaking old habits driven by clericalism,” the report said.

The group called upon Malone to commit to a new type of partnership with lay Catholics so that they are not just represented, but are also consulted, heard and engaged.

The group noted that a lack of transparency in addressing sex abuse has significantly eroded trust in the diocese, which needs to reveal the full depth and scale of the abuse in a manner similar to what the Archdiocese of Boston has done on its website.

A new Buffalo Diocese list of accused priests is a response to accusations that Bishop Richard Malone hasn't been transparent. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Since 2011, the Boston Archdiocese has kept a list of accused clergy in five categories, including those found guilty of sexually abusing a child in church (canon) law, criminal law or both; those who were laicized after having been accused of sexual abuse of a minor; those who have been publicly accused of abuse where canonical proceedings remain to be completed; and those who are deceased and were publicly accused of abuse but where criminal or canonical proceedings were not completed.

The list on the archdiocese website includes links to priests’ assignment histories.

The Buffalo Diocese over the past year has publicly acknowledged the names of 80 priests who served in the diocese and were found to have had credible allegations of abuse against them. But the diocese has provided no additional information beyond the priests’ names.

Malone responded to the report in a letter this week to John J. Hurley, president of Canisius College and one of the original organizers of the Movement to Restore Trust.

Malone said he was “happy to offer general support for the main principles and the nine foundational themes of the initial report of the Movement to Restore Trust.” He also proposed establishing a “joint implementation team” of lay people, priests and perhaps diocesan staff “that would work out particulars regarding feasibility, prioritization, sequencing and action steps for each recommendation.”

The Movement to Restore Trust was launched in October by an organizing committee of prominent local Catholics in response to a clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Buffalo Diocese and the broader church in the U.S. The group's work was not done in concert with the diocese, although Malone indicated at the time the group formed that he supported it.

Revelations of clergy sex abuse and cover-up have plagued the diocese since February 2018, when a retired priest, the Rev. Norbert Orsolits, admitted to The Buffalo News that he had molested "probably dozens" of boys decades ago.

The admission led to accusations of abuse against dozens more priests, many of whom were still in active ministry and are now suspended; multiple calls for Malone to resign; a civil investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office; more than $8 million offered in compensation payments to victims of abuse; and a federal probe including a subpoena of diocese records and FBI agents interviewing victims of abuse.

About 150 people met an average of five or six times from December to February in one of six work groups to research best practices and develop the Movement to Restore Trust recommendations.

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