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Editorial: In Bishop Malone, denial or ego

“ … if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story.”
– Bishop Richard J. Malone, explaining on Sept. 4 why he had no plans to resign, despite the crisis in the Buffalo Catholic Diocese

“There’s so many, you know, so much wiggle room in how polls are done, and what are people thinking when they respond to a poll?”
– Malone, 14 days later, rejecting the findings of a professional poll in which nearly 86% of 473 Catholic respondents said they wanted him to resign

So, who is it that is looking for wiggle room here?

Malone, who has shown that he lacks the skill to guide the church through its crisis, said the confidence of his flock would make the difference, but then rejected clear evidence that he not only lacks that confidence, but lacks it in numbers so overwhelming as to be indisputable.

And while he insists, against the evidence, that he retains the support of the church, his own leaders are also telling him otherwise. Among them is Paul L. Snyder III, a church deacon who previously called on Malone to resign and who this month said that feeling among Catholics here is both broad and deep.

“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,” he said.

With even more authority, a prominent lay group this month called on the bishop to resign. The Movement to Restore Trust, formed to help guide the church through the crisis of the sexual abuse of children and the diocese’s response to it, issued its call following revelations involving relationships among clerics associated with Malone. It had previously declined to call on the bishop to step down.

In a statement, the group said that Malone “has not handled current cases properly and as a result, there is a substantial risk of harm to the diocese and the good works that the Church does in this region.”

Priests have called on him to resign. Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo has called on him to resign. His former priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard S. Biernat, who secretly recorded Malone, said he must resign “because he just does not care about the victims. He is a talented guy in many ways, but he does not care about the victims.”

Is there something worse that could be said about Malone’s leadership? Maybe this: Referring to the diocesan headquarters, Biernat said, “At 795 Main, there is no bigger crisis than when the truth comes out.”

Malone’s former executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, another whistleblower, doesn’t expect him to quit anytime soon.

“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 earlier this month. “I think he’s going to launch a whole new crusade for himself. We haven’t seen the end of his arrogance.”

What we have seen is either denial or ego, and possibly both. It’s not surprising, speaking as it does to the weaknesses of our shared humanity. It’s hard to let go, especially when the stakes are high and where self-interest plays a role.

But it’s not good – not for the church and not for the community. Those who know better should keep up the pressure.

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