While most of the U.S. Catholic bishops are gathered in Baltimore this week for the 2019 Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone and other bishops from New York State traveled to Rome to meet with Pope Francis.
The “ad limina” visit to the Vatican, today through Friday, comes as New York bishops grapple with hundreds of new child sex abuse lawsuits allowed under the state’s Child Victims Act.
Malone and the heads of the seven other dioceses and archdioceses in New York prior to the visit each prepared quinquennial reports giving a detailed overview of the life of the Catholic Church in their diocese. Various departments of the Vatican reviewed the information and will meet with the bishops to discuss the material.
It’s not clear if Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Brooklyn Diocese, who was tapped by the Vatican to conduct an investigation into Malone and the Buffalo Diocese over a clergy sex abuse scandal, will deliver a report on his findings to the pope.
DiMarzio made three trips to Western New York and spent seven days interviewing area clergy and lay people before wrapping up the Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation at the end of October.
Buffalo Diocese spokeswoman Kathy Spangler said she didn’t know if DiMarzio’s report will be given to Pope Francis during the ad limina visit. An email and a phone call on Monday to the Brooklyn Diocese were not immediately returned.
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.
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 has 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.
Ad limina visits are held every five to seven years between the pope and the bishops of each of 14 provinces, or geographic regions, in the U.S. Bishops in the other provinces also will be participating in their ad limina meetings with the pope and Vatican departments this year and into 2020.
The USCCB fall meeting runs today through Wednesday. The bishops are expected to elect a new president, vice president and six new committee chairmen.