Four hundred and nine days.
For the last 409 days, Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo have been struggling with how to heal as allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy have piled up.
That healing was supposed to begin with the release of the names of 42 priests who were removed from ministry due to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone.
But then, it spun out of control.
Now -- 409 days later -- that initial list of 42 has swelled to over 100 after 25 more names were released on Wednesday night following an investigation by WKBW’s I-Team and chief investigator Charlie Specht.
As a student at St. Bonaventure University, one of six Catholic schools in Western New York, who was confirmed in my faith in this diocese, I am saddened, I am disappointed, and I am looking for leadership in a time of crisis.
I am not alone.
The Catholic Church has had its accountability questioned too many times now and while our leaders in Vatican City are slow to recognize the steps needed to move forward, our local faith leaders have continued to balk at the opportunity to be forthcoming with its parishioners.
That’s why I’m proud of Dr. Dennis DePerro, St. Bonaventure’s president, for calling on Bishop Malone to step down so as to allow a new voice to lead our faith community in the healing process.
“In any other entity, a leader that would see this, a strong leader, would have the courage to recognize that they are unable to solve the problem and they would step down,” DePerro told The Bona Venture, the campus newspaper, Thursday after WKBW’s release of the new names.
I can imagine how difficult this is time has been for DePerro: he was born and raised in South Buffalo and has spoken of his devout Catholic faith. Malone was a central part of his installation as president of the university in November 2017.
But, as the leader of an institution that molds the minds of the next generation of Catholic lay people, DePerro’s decision to call for the Bishop’s resignation shows that he realizes the church’s future is at stake.
Malone’s decision not to step down shows that he does not.
In a study released by the Pew Research Center in October of 2018, 13 percent of adults in the United States identified as former Catholics, while two percent identified as converts to Catholicism. That means that there are 6.5 former Catholics for every new Catholic.
As allegations continue to surface without full transparency, the church will be hard pressed to see those numbers improve.
Malone had the opportunity to rectify this situation when he was installed as bishop in 2012.
A transplant to Western New York from New England, Malone served as auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston as the investigation by The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team unfolded, ending in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law.
In 2004, he was installed as the Bishop of Portland in Maine, coming to Buffalo in 2012 following the retirement of Edward Kmiec.
Certainly, he inherited the lack of oversight caused by prior church leadership. But having seen first hand the pain caused to victims in Boston, why not get in front of the situation in Buffalo and begin the healing process as soon as possible? Had he chosen to, he almost certainly would have been regarded as a hero.
Instead, there has been public relations failure after public relations failure and committing itself to full transparency, the diocese has instead opted for transparency at its convenience. And, while Malone has claimed he will not ‘abandon his flock,’ he seems not to realize that the ‘flock’ has almost nearly abandoned him.
One of my favorite television shows of all time is The West Wing. It’s also the source of a very poignant quote:
“A leader without followers is just a man taking a walk.”
The sooner His Excellency realizes this and acts accordingly, the sooner the faithful of this diocese will be able to move forward.