By Adam A.J. DeVille
The phrase “ground zero” is rapidly being worn out when discussing the Catholic sex abuse crisis. Was it Boston in 2002? Pennsylvania or West Virginia in 2018? Or perhaps in 2019 it’s Australia, where for the first time in history a sitting cardinal’s conviction has been upheld.
But what about Buffalo?
Buffalo is different in that its bishop is with us still, alas. Richard Malone’s continued presence is a source of despair for Catholics everywhere. The revelations from his chancery, seminary and parishes have continued to emerge for well over a year now. Until and unless Malone goes, nobody – not a single sentient person – will believe for one instant that Pope Francis or anybody else is serious about eradicating these abuses of sex, power and money oozing from Malone’s office and house.
The despair Catholics feel is not just because of the endless parade of evil acts but also because the current structures are monopolistic, unjustifiably concentrating power in the hands of bishops who are essentially accountable to nobody.
Thus the church is paralyzed and cannot come up with a better vision of the future. As Scripture warns us, “where there is no vision the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).
If the Catholic people of Buffalo and elsewhere are not to perish, then the whole church needs to begin envisioning a different future and undertaking the long-term work to implement it.
Part of the solution is a neglected institution, the diocesan synod.
Such synods, when properly constituted, gather voting delegates from every part of the diocese first to elect the bishop, and then to hold him accountable (financially and otherwise) in meetings held every spring and fall.
Such a practice is ancient and widespread, going back to at least the year 325. Other Christians have rightly retained real synods. They were familiar to Catholics until the 19th century, when a centralizing papacy muscled in, unilaterally and unjustifiably appointing bishops to function like absolute monarchs.
Synodal governance is time-tested and desperately overdue for recovery today. Catholics in Buffalo and elsewhere who are serious about reform must begin relentlessly and loudly to push for the recovery of local synods, making it clear to Pope Francis that never again can a future Bishop Malone be inflicted on a people perishing under such degraded leadership.
No less a figure than Pope Celestine I said that “the one who is to be head over all should be elected by all. No one should be made a bishop over the unwilling.”
Adam A.J. DeVille, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, Ind., is the author of “Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power.”