Was it sensitivity to the victims of sexual abuse or another slap in their faces? The history of the Catholic Church and the Buffalo Diocese practically shouts the latter. And if it wasn’t, then it’s at least a lesson in the price of holding terrible secrets.
The question is how the local church went about acknowledging the deaths of priests credibly accused of molesting children. The 2013 policy implemented by Bishop Richard J. Malone handled those deaths differently from those of other priests, denying the use of the title “Reverend” or “Father” in death notices – though allowing it on gravestones – and prohibiting a Mass of Christian Burial in the parishes where those priests had been assigned.
In a 2013 internal memo obtained by The Buffalo News, Malone explained that the new policy was to be more sensitive to survivors of clergy sex abuse. Events such as the death of an abuser could trigger survivors to suffer the trauma of their abuse all over again. In that regard, Malone’s policy makes sense. Indeed, if those priests had been afforded the usual funeral, critics would later have howled.
Nevertheless, the explanation would be more plausible if the church had already been acknowledging the abuses committed by many priests. It wasn’t. Instead, it was trying to keep its dirty secret.
Victims of priests certainly don’t see the policy as a kindness. Some of them see it as part of a continuing effort to shield the church from public accountability.
“This, it seems, is another method to keep it under cover. To me, it’s a consistent policy of the church, going back decades, of hiding and covering up,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “At all costs, the reputation of the church is more important than anything.”
It’s a defensible conclusion, given how the church has handled a crisis that dates back for decades, if not longer. Perhaps Malone really did enact the policy to protect victims. The problem is, it also fits a long-standing pattern of concealment.
Now, the church’s reputation is tattered by its history of concealing criminal conduct that prolonged the abuse of children. Recovering its good name will be a long-term project that won’t be helped by continued revelations of policies that continue, or appear to continue, the practice of keeping parishioners in the dark.