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Vatican directs Brooklyn bishop to investigate Buffalo Diocese

The Vatican directed Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn on Thursday to investigate the Buffalo Diocese through an "apostolic visitation.”

A Buffalo Diocese spokeswoman released a statement saying that Bishop Richard J. Malone welcomed the visitation.

“Bishop Malone has committed to cooperate fully and stated that this Visitation is for the good of the Church in Buffalo,” spokeswoman Kathy Spangler's statement reads. “The purpose of the apostolic visitation is to assist the diocese and improve the local Church’s ability to minister to the people it serves.”

Some Catholics have been calling for months for the Vatican to intervene in the Buffalo Diocese, which has been besieged by scandal over revelations of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. Malone has been under fire for more than a year over his handling of complaints of abuse and other matters.

In a statement, DiMarzio said he pledged to “keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this Apostolic Visitation.”

The Vatican has assigned Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to investigate the Buffalo Diocese through an "apostolic visitation." (Getty Images file photo)

DiMarzio said he will submit a report to the Congregation for Bishops, an office at the Vatican, when he completes his visitation.

A memo from the office of U.S. Apostolic Nuncio Christophe Pierre described the visitation as a “fact-finding mission” and a “non-judicial and non-administrative process that requires confidentiality.”

The memo also said that the visitation is “not subject” to the recent papal document, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” that put in place protocols for investigating bishops alleged to have covered up cases of clergy sex abuse.

DiMarzio, 75, has been Brooklyn bishop since 2003. He will be assisted by the Rev. Steven Aguggia, judicial vicar of the Brooklyn Diocese.

None of the communications issued Thursday afternoon by the Buffalo Diocese, the Brooklyn Diocese and the Nuncio's office specified if or when DiMarzio will be in Buffalo.

The Buffalo Diocese has been in crisis for more than a year and a half, since the retired Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits admitted to The News that he had molested “probably dozens” of boys from the 1960s through the 1980s. The admission led to revelations of cover-ups of clergy sex abuse from decades ago that resulted in $17.5 million in settlement payments to 106 childhood sex abuse victims, a civil investigation by the state Attorney General's Office, an FBI probe including a subpoena of diocese records and more than 165 lawsuits filed against the diocese under the Child Victims Act.

Nearly all of the cases of alleged child sexual abuse by priests occurred decades before Malone arrived in Buffalo in 2012, and there is no evidence showing he actively covered up new allegations of child abuse against a priest. But Malone has been accused of ignoring complaints about priests misbehaving with adults and of allowing a priest who had made inappropriate comments on Facebook to an eighth-grade boy to return to "limited ministry."

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Calls for Malone’s resignation intensified following the release in September 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.

A lay group of prominent Catholics called the Movement to Restore Trust pulled its support of Malone and urged him to step down immediately. A subsequent Buffalo News poll found that only 3% of 473 Catholics and lapsed Catholics surveyed wanted him to stay on as bishop.

Malone repeatedly has said he plans to continue as bishop until he’s required to submit his resignation when he turns 75 in 2021.

Pope Francis in June implemented new rules to investigate bishops accused of covering up for abusive priests, and the bishop of the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., is being investigated under those "Vos Estis" protocols.

Catholics have urged Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York to launch a Vos Estis investigation of Malone. Dolan responded through a spokesman that he has been “consulting extensively” and “closely monitoring the situation in Buffalo for over a year” in regular discussions with clergy and laity in the Buffalo Diocese, as well as with Malone and with Pierre.

In a statement, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group that advocates for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, said the vatican's move was the minimum it could do regarding the Buffalo Diocese. But the group questioned whether DiMarzio was a good choice to conduct the inquiry and said it would rely more on the results of investigations by federal and state authorities.

Past Vatican practice suggests Buffalo's bishop won't be ousted soon

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