Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone said Wednesday he wasn't forced to retire.
In fact, though, Vatican officials had begun preparing to replace Malone at least three weeks ago.
He and the other bishops in New York were in Rome Nov. 11 to 15 for what is known as an ad limina visit, a trip that occurs every few years to update the pope on the status of their dioceses.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States, contacted Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger prior to the trip to Rome to ask whether he would be willing to take on a temporary role in Buffalo if Malone stepped down.
Pierre said that “he would take that to the Holy Father, this recommendation, and that probably an announcement would be made shortly after the ad limina visit,” Scharfenberger said Wednesday.
In a statement released Wednesday announcing his departure, Malone said he had made the decision voluntarily. He referred to his departure as a retirement, whereas the statement released by the Vatican called it a resignation.
Malone said in his statement that some people would surmise his decision resulted from a Vatican-ordered investigation about the handling of sexual abuse allegations in the diocese. The investigation concluded at the end of October. Its findings were submitted to the Vatican sometime before Nov. 13.
“While I was made aware of the general conclusions of the report, which were a factor in my discernment, my decision to retire was made freely and voluntarily,” Malone wrote.
Pope Francis appointed Scharfenberger as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo effective Wednesday, immediately following Malone’s resignation. Scharfenberger addressed the media for about an hour during a press conference at the Catholic Center on Main Street.
He said he spoke with Malone on the bus in Rome one day during the ad limina visit.
“I was aware at that time, I guess, that he knew something was happening,” Scharfenberger said. “The only communications I had was with (Pierre), to be alert something may happen.”
Scharfenberger said Malone approached him on the bus in Rome, “assuming that I knew something,” but said he did not ask Malone any specific questions.
“I didn’t ask him who else knows,” Scharfenberger said. “I didn’t ask him whether (Auxiliary) Bishop (Edward M.) Grosz knows or not – apparently, I found out, he didn’t.”
Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz at the “ad limina” in Rome. pic.twitter.com/WT9OLrWV4k
— Diocese of Buffalo (@BuffaloDiocese) November 15, 2019
In Rome, Malone emphatically denied that there was any truth to the rumors that he had submitted his resignation to the pope.
“Absolutely false,” Malone said as he was walking out of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, a Vatican reporter tweeted on Nov. 14.
During the trip to Rome, Malone asked the pope to grant him an early retirement, according to a statement issued Wednesday by Pierre.
Scharfenberger said he did not know when Malone learned that the Vatican was preparing for his departure. Scharfenberger said he was told sometime last week that Malone would retire.