Bishop Richard J. Malone and a Buffalo Diocese spokeswoman on Thursday pushed back harder against a report that Malone’s resignation was imminent.
“Absolutely false. Thank you very much, that’s the end of our conversation,” Malone told a Vatican reporter Thursday morning when asked about rumors he planned to resign.
But Malone and his spokeswoman also declined to answer questions about whether the bishop’s tenure in Buffalo was nearing an end.
Chris Altieri of the Catholic Herald reported on Twitter his brief interaction with Malone outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where the bishop has been since Monday with the other bishops of New York State for their Ad Limina visit with Pope Francis and the various departments of the Holy See.
Another Vatican reporter, Christopher Lamb of The Tablet, had tweeted Wednesday that Malone’s resignation was imminent, citing unnamed sources, setting off speculation in Western New York.
The Buffalo News and other media organizations published stories Wednesday about the drama in Rome, but diocese spokeswoman Kathy Spangler did not address whether Malone's resignation was imminent until Thursday, when she verified that Malone made his remarks to Altieri and said in an email that “we emphatically deny the content of yesterday morning’s tweet by Mr. Lamb.”
Spangler also was asked by The News if Malone had met with Vatican representatives this week regarding an "Apostolic Visitation" report recently submitted by Brooklyn Diocese Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who was appointed by the pope to investigate the Buffalo Diocese and its sexual abuse scandal.
DiMarzio, who wrapped up his Apostolic Visitation in Buffalo at the end of October, only recently submitted his report to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office that handles matters related to appointing and disciplining bishops.
Apostolic visitations in the past have led to the removal or resignation of bishops in other dioceses, but the process leading up to those bishops stepping down took months.
“We do not know the status of the report in light of the Ad Limina visit," Spangler said in her email Thursday.
Spangler did not answer several other questions from The News, including one seeking an explanation for why the diocese didn’t issue a more immediate denial of Lamb’s tweet.
Lamb also said in a tweet that U.S. Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre was informed last week of Malone’s decision to resign.
NEW: Hearing from reliable sources that Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation is imminent @BuffaloDiocese
The apostolic visitation into the troubled diocese has been completed by Bishop DiMarzio
Bishop Malone is under fire for mishandling sexual abuse in his diocese
— Christopher Lamb (@ctrlamb) November 13, 2019
Saw Bishop Malone coming out of St Peter's this morning. Asked him if there's any truth to rumors he has submitted his resignation. "Absolutely false," he said. He then said, "Thank you very much, that's the end of our conversation."
— Chris Altieri (@craltieri) November 14, 2019
The Tablet is an international Catholic news weekly published in London. No other Vatican journalists have reported that Malone's resignation was imminent. The Catholic Herald is a competing Catholic weekly newspaper, also published in London.
Malone has been under pressure to resign for more than a year over his handling of the Buffalo Diocese's clergy sex abuse crisis.
Malone had said he plans to continue to stay on as bishop until March 19, 2021, when he turns 75 and is required under Catholic Church law to submit his letter of resignation to the pope.
Spangler said Malone would provide more information about his meeting with Pope Francis when he returns to Buffalo.
"He is currently engaged with the other bishops of New York State in their Ad Limina visit, discussing with officials of the Holy See and with Pope Francis the areas of challenge and progress of the Catholic Church in New York State and the scope of the vibrant ministries serving the needs of New Yorkers, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike," Spangler said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.
Malone has been bishop since 2012 of the Buffalo Diocese, which has more than 500,000 Catholics.
Other Apostolic Visitations that have led to the removal or resignation of bishops in other dioceses, include:
- Bishop Martin Holley was removed from the Diocese of Memphis in October 2018 after a June investigation into his leadership of the diocese. A Vatican spokesman said the decision to remove Holley was about management of the diocese and was not related to any sex abuse scandal.
- Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri resigned in April 2015, seven months after an Apostolic Visitation conducted by an Ottawa archbishop.
After an Apostolic Visitation, the Congregation for Bishops makes recommendations to the pope, who has the authority to remove bishops.
If the pope wants a bishop to step down, the Congregation for Bishops typically will work through the office of the papal nuncio to relay the request for resignation, according to Vatican observers.
The bishop then submits his letter of resignation to the nuncio, who forwards it to the Congregation for Bishops and the pope.
It would be unusual for a bishop’s resignation to be announced while he was participating in an Ad Limina visit with the pope, according to Vatican watchers.
Story topics: Clergy sex cases