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Buffalo Diocese announces reforms in handling sex abuse cases

Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone has agreed to review the diocese’s approach to releasing names of clergy accused of sex abuse and to hold a series of “listening sessions” on the abuse scandal.

Those are among several reform initiatives announced Monday morning in cooperation with a group of lay Catholics called the Movement to Restore Trust.

Other initiatives include:

• Establishing regular hours on the bishop’s schedule for individual meetings with survivors of clergy sex abuse and formalizing a process for meeting with victims;

• Reviewing how the diocese handles sex abuse claims to ensure victims receive proper pastoral care;

• Establish a new process for handling allegations of sex abuse or misconduct made against a bishop;

• Expand the Diocesan Finance Council to have laypeople as a majority of members and a layperson as chair;

• Expand the use of an ethics hotline, beyond reports of financial fraud or irregularity, to include all reports of any ethical improprieties, sexual abuse or harassment or financial fraud.

The diocese is expected to announce the first two dates and locations of the listening sessions with Malone by the end of this month, and the first session could be held as early as May.

The initiatives followed the release in March of nine recommendations from the Movement to Restore Trust, a group formed last 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.

“We fully recognize that these first steps are not complete solutions, but the process of restoring trust is underway,” said Canisius College President John J. Hurley, a member of the organizing committee.

Malone said he embraced efforts by the Movement to Restore Trust to assist victims and to help the diocese heal.

Malone’s unwillingness to release the names of all accused clergy has come under fire. While Malone acknowledged in November that 176 priests in the Buffalo diocese were accused of abuse, he’s identified just 80 of those priests. Many of the unnamed priests are deceased, and the bishop has maintained that it is unfair to identify them as abusers unless there is more than one abuse allegation against them.

Last week, the names of 27 priests who were accused of misconduct and were not on the list of 80 emerged in leaked diocese documents, igniting more criticism of the bishop’s handling of abuse claims.

The bishop said names are not publicized if the diocese investigates the claim and determined it was unsubstantiated or if the diocese can’t thoroughly investigate a claim because the priest is dead. He also maintained the Buffalo Diocese's public list of abusive priests is more comprehensive than that of other dioceses.

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.

A year later: More than 100 Buffalo priests linked to sex allegations

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