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Editorial: Lay Catholic group drafts a blueprint for trust

The Movement to Restore Trust is a panel of influential local Catholics working to suggest reforms to the church in Buffalo in the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal that opened wounds in the diocese.

The panel, after convening six different work groups that each came up with its own recommendations, this month delivered a report with nine key recommendations for the Buffalo Diocese. They deserve to be implemented.

The nine points urge the diocese to: work with the laity to restore trust; make changes voluntarily; address the needs of survivors for support; provide full transparency into the scale of the sexual abuse; ensure “the faithful” are central to the church’s organizational structures; delegate more authority to consultative bodies in the diocese; schedule periodic reviews of implementation; engage the leadership roundtable and “revive the Spirit of Vatican II.”

Bishop Richard J. Malone would do well to see that all nine are implemented. The Vatican II ideal, according to the Movement to Restore Trust website, is that “the Church is not simply the clergy, it is not simply the hierarchy, and it is not just the Vatican or the Chancery; the Church is the people of God.”

That statement articulates the reason for the movement’s existence: to give faithful Catholics a role in helping the church in Buffalo heal its wounds. The insularity of the church hierarchy contributed to a cover-up culture that allowed crimes to go undetected or unpunished for decades. As reports surfaced last year about accused abusers who were transferred from one pastoral assignment to another, or victims whose accusations were brushed aside, there was a public backlash that hurt the diocese. High-profile members of the community called on Malone to resign, and the public relations fallout did nothing to alleviate already declining church enrollment.

Canisius College President John Hurley and his wife, Maureen, helped convene a group of nine lay people for the movement’s board last October. Volunteers from throughout the region joined the effort, and six work groups were convened to study various areas of concern. They produced more than 50 pages of documents that went into the organization’s list of recommendations.

The bishop’s response to the Movement to Restore Trust is promising. Malone, in a letter sent to Hurley, wrote that he is happy “to offer general support” to the principles outlined, and he proposed a “joint implementation team” of lay people, priests and perhaps diocesan staff “that would work out particulars” for each recommendation.

There’s plenty for such a team to implement. It’s an open question if the diocese – and the church in general – will ever fully regain their credibility, but they surely won’t without consultation and cooperation driving the work.

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