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Bishop Malone's letter to priests: 'A time for action going forward'

In a letter to priests, Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone indicated no plans to resign, despite a poll this week that showed 86% of area Catholics wanted him to step down and a New York Times story published Wednesday that characterized him as “approaching persona non grata status in his own diocese.”

Malone sent area priests this week a five-page memo in which he indicated he plans to press forward despite calls for his resignation from a variety of Catholics, including some priests and members of the Movement to Restore Trust, a group that had been working in tandem with the diocese to implement reforms in the handling of clergy sexual misconduct cases.

“In this message, I express again my sincere apology for any of my own failures to move more decisively, and I resolve to do everything in my power to restore the confidence entrusted to me,” Malone wrote in the memo, which priests received Wednesday. “This is not a time for me to defend the errors of the past. This is a time for action going forward.”

Malone also noted that he had received a vote of confidence from the Diocesan Pastoral Council, an advisory group of Catholic parishioners.

Malone, embattled over his handling of complaints of clergy sex abuse and misconduct, for more than a year has resisted calls for his resignation. Those calls intensified in the past two weeks, with the release of private audio recordings that suggest the bishop tried to keep a lid on an alleged sexual harassment by a priest of an adult seminarian and on another priest’s love letter to the seminarian.

The surfacing of the embarrassing recordings was the latest in a series of developments in which the bishop’s public statements on handling clergy sex abuse and misconduct accusations appeared to contradict what he was saying and doing in private.

Adding to Malone's woes this week were The Buffalo News poll, which found that only 3% of 473 Catholics and lapsed Catholics surveyed wanted him to stay on as bishop, and a New York Times story on Wednesday that depicted him as the bishop who is perhaps the most "embroiled in scandal" in the entire country.

On top of that, more Child Victims Act lawsuits have been filed against the Buffalo Diocese than against any other defendant in New York State, The News has determined. From Aug. 14 through Sept. 16, 138 lawsuits were filed against the Buffalo Diocese alleging it negligently allowed priests or other employees to sexually abuse children.

Buffalo Diocese facing more Child Victims Act suits than any other defendant in NY

Malone said in the memo that he hoped that the diocese could continue to work with the Movement to Restore Trust, which recommended on Sept. 5 that the bishop resign immediately.

Malone also said he was committed to at least 10 new initiatives, several of which were planned for 2020, including scheduling a second round of listening sessions and setting a regular schedule of “pastoral visits” around the diocese for the remainder of his tenure as bishop.

He also said he wanted to gather leaders of the diocese in 2020 to consider ways to move the diocese beyond “this time of ‘breakdown’ ” and plan a strategy for “breakthrough.”

The bishop also wrote that he was seeking to approve a new strategic plan for Catholic schools that addresses affordability and sustainability; calling upon priests and parishioners to join in a “public display of penitence” for Lent in 2020; and proposing new recommendations for enriching formation for men studying for the priesthood at Christ the King Seminary.

Priests at their ordination promise obedience and loyalty to the bishop, and most of them in Buffalo have not publicly called for Malone’s resignation.

A letter is circulating among priests, similar to one signed in 2002 by 58 priests in the Archdiocese of Boston that led to Cardinal Bernard F. Law stepping down over his mishandling of child sex abuse cases there.

Eighteen priests and several deacons so far have signed the letter calling for Malone to resign. Several other priests wrote their own letters urging the bishop to step down.

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