The pressure is building on Bishop Richard J. Malone, leader of Buffalo’s Catholic Diocese.
Over the past 13 months, two of his most trusted confidants — people who worked side-by-side with him for years — have turned against Malone, publicly demanding that he resign from the job he has held since 2012 over his handling of sexual abuse allegations involving priests.
In recent months, some local priests and deacons took the extremely rare action of calling for him to leave office. So did a congressman, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.
Another painful blow to the bishop came Thursday afternoon, when a group of prominent, influential and wealthy Catholics — the Movement To Restore Trust — also abandoned its support.
Soon after that, the diocese announced that a Sept. 11 “listening session” at Niagara University has been canceled because the university no longer wants to host the event. Malone also canceled his annual appearance at a Catholic Charities dinner Friday night, saying he did not want protesters to tarnish an event meant to honor volunteers and donors.
With all these negative developments, how long can the 73-year-old bishop hold on?
“I intend to continue the ministry to which the church has called me for as long as I can,” Malone said Friday afternoon. “I want to be leading us forward.”
The bishop made those comments to Tom Bauerle Friday afternoon on WBEN radio. The embattled bishop said he has no intention of resigning and feels he still has strong support from “a lot” of priests and church members in the region.
Malone later said he had received “12 or 13” emails and voicemails earlier in the day from Catholics who encouraged him to stay on.
“I want to be part of the renewal of the diocese of Buffalo,” Malone said, despite “this terrible situation we’re in.”
But his detractors say Malone, who has been criticized for his handling of priest sexual abuse cases, is hurting the diocese by refusing to abdicate.
“To use a phrase I’ve often heard him use, I am disappointed and dismayed that he is not resigning,” said Dennis R. DePerro, president of St. Bonaventure University, who has been calling for Malone’s resignation since April.
“He just doesn’t recognize that, as leader of this diocese, he has lost a lot of his credibility,” DePerro said. “We really need to rebuild our church, and it’s not going to be possible with a leader who does not have credibility with many Catholics, including myself.”
“I can’t imagine him holding on for more than another month,” said Judith Burns Quinn, local coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “I think there’s going to be an uprising if he doesn’t step down.”
“I speak to Catholics from all walks of life every single day — priests, deacons, lay people, community leaders — and I have absolutely no doubt that most of the Catholics in this diocese want him to resign,” said Paul L. Snyder III, an Amherst businessman and church deacon. “There are discussions going on right now among all these people about a way for us all to speak with a united voice and ask for him to step down. He’s becoming the poster child for bishops who abuse their power.”
Snyder has been calling for the bishop’s resignation since August 2018, when he became the first local church official to take that position. He said he feels it is “very significant” that the Movement To Restore Trust, which had supported Malone, has turned against him.
Although he feels that public opinion has turned against Malone, Snyder said it will be hard to dislodge the bishop if he insists on staying.
“The problem with the way the Catholic Church is set up, only the pope can remove a bishop,” Snyder said. “There are so many bad bishops all over the world, we have to wonder where Bishop Malone stands on the pope’s list.”
Snyder added that he’s spoken to “many” Buffalo Diocese priests who want Malone to resign but are “terrified” that he will punish them if they voice their opinions in public.
One priest who does support Malone is the Rev. Thomas F. Maloney, a retired pastor who still serves at St. Gregory the Great Church in Amherst. Maloney said “I just don’t know” when asked if he thinks Malone will be able to continue as bishop.
So much has happened in the past few days, that “I still need time to process it all,” said Maloney. He added that he believes Malone is being held to blame for sexual misconduct by priests that occurred long before he became bishop.
“I do feel badly for him. He has made some mistakes, but I still believe the bishop is a very good man who is trying to deal with a bad situation because of things that happened long ago,” Maloney said.
Maloney added that, in his opinion, Malone is “not a vengeful man,” and he said he thinks Malone still has the support of many priests in the diocese.
“That’s a very unscientific opinion,” Maloney said. “I speak to about a half-dozen priests on a regular basis.”
Criticism of Malone reached a fever pitch this week after his priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard S. Biernat, who recently went on leave for personal reasons, revealed that he has secretly recorded conversations with the bishop on several occasions.
Biernat released the tapes to the local news media and called on Malone to resign, saying he “doesn’t care about the victims” of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. Biernat told The Buffalo News that the Buffalo Diocese has a long history of ignoring complaints about molester priests and belittling the victim. He said Malone has continued that policy.
Similar statements were made last year by Siobhan O’Connor, who quit her job as Malone’s executive assistant, turned over diocese records on molester priests to a Channel 7 news reporter and the FBI. O’Connor also called for Malone to resign.
Although the pressure continues to intensify, it will probably take a lot more before Malone will resign, said O’Connor, who worked closely with Malone for three years before she quit.
“He has surrounded himself with people who tell him every day, ‘Bishop, you’re doing a great job, you have to hang in there,’ ” O’Connor told The News Friday afternoon. “I think he’s going to launch a whole new crusade for himself. We haven’t seen the end of his arrogance.”
She said it is significant that the Movement To Restore Trust has dropped its support of Malone. “Those are people the bishop feels are very important,” she said.
During Friday’s radio interview, Malone said he was “very disappointed and saddened” when the group’s leaders told him they were withdrawing their support because they feel the diocese is in “chaos.”
Like Snyder, O’Connor said she wonders where Malone and the Buffalo Diocese crisis sit on the radar of Pope Francis.
“I think Pope Francis is probably aware of the blaze that’s burning here in Buffalo, but he’s got a lot of other fires to put out,” O’Connor said.
Malone is the 14th bishop in Buffalo’s history. The first, John Timon, was appointed in 1847.