Catholic lay leaders in the Olean community supported former Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation on Wednesday.

Dennis R. DePerro, president of St. Bonaventure University, was one of the region’s first Catholic leaders to call upon Malone to resign in the face of ongoing criticism over the handling of claims of sexual abuse by priests.

DePerro released a statement regarding Malone’s decision:

“This is an important moment in the history of the Catholic Church in Buffalo and it’s incumbent on lay Catholic leaders and organizations to work very intentionally with new leadership in the Diocese to heal our wounds.”

At a Wednesday press conference in Buffalo, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, appointed apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese, said he looked forward to meeting with Catholic higher education officials, like DePerro. He also mentioned his willingness to work with the Movement to Restore Trust. Canisius College President John Hurley serves as the leader of the movement.

James Bardenett, who serves as chairman of the finance council and lector at the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Olean, said he agrees with the bishop’s decision to retire early. He noted he is more involved with the temporal issues of the Basilica than the spiritual.

“If that was the thing to do at this time, I would agree with that,” Bardenett said. “If that’s his decision, it would be appropriate for the diocese to accept it at this time.”

Bardenett said he also believes Malone’s decision was wise as the Catholic Church is “facing a troubling time right now.”

He added, “If anything impedes transparency and truth and resolution to issues currently facing the Catholic Church and diocese — and if it helps in the resolution of issues — then, yes, it is probably good. The judgment of the bishop, himself, is that this is a good time to retire. I would agree with his actions.”

Bardenett added that there are “just some times in history, especially in the Catholic Church, that some issues rise above personalities.”

At Southern Tier Catholic School and Archbishop Walsh Academy, Principal Thomas Manko said he respects Malone’s decision to step down.

“It could not have been an easy one to have come to terms with,” Manko said. “It’s something that the bishop felt was appropriate for the diocese to move forward.

“As sad as it might be, and as difficult as it probably was for him to arrive at the decision, we respect it and we’re poised to work with the diocese whatever way we can as they consider the process to select a new bishop.”

Manko said he appreciated the support Malone had provided to the campus in Olean.

“He was a champion of Catholic education,” Manko said. “He had a lot of balls to juggle in the air with different aspects of running the diocese. Catholic education was a priority (for Malone), from my point of view.”

He said Malone hired Dr. Michael LeFever, a former Olean teacher, as the superintendent of schools for the diocese about two years ago.

“He’s very well-suited for the job and the bishop hired him,” Manko said. “We couldn’t be happier with Dr. LeFever; he has the students’ best interest at heart.”

The Movement to Restore Trust issued a statement saying that news of Malone’s resignation is received “with a mixture of sadness and relief. From the start of our reform efforts in October 2018, the MRT stressed that the problems that the Catholic Church in Buffalo faces were not caused by a single person. In our view, this was less about Bishop Malone and more about a culture and a way of operating that predated the bishop’s arrival in Buffalo.”

In recent months, however, MRT leaders saw Malone had become the “lightning rod for all that was wrong in the diocese and that progress toward the healing, reconciliation and reform that the diocese so desperately needs was impossible while he remained in office.”

MRT will host a public symposium at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College at 9 a.m. Saturday. Among the sessions at the symposium will be a communal discernment of the qualities desired in the next bishop of Buffalo, the results of which will be shared with the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, which will have a critical role in the selection of the next bishop.

The symposium will also include a discussion of what will likely happen should the diocese file for bankruptcy. The symposium will be livestreamed on the MRT website at https://movementtorestoretrust.org.

Scharfenberger said that he had no intention of doing a sweep of other diocesan officials without first examining the individual intentions of administrators and officials.

“Treating persons as a whole class of people, tainted in some way … is an approach some people take,” said he said. “I don’t know that that’s fair. I like to see people as individuals and hold them personally to accountability.”

Scharfenberger indicated that he has not received word from Pope Francis about how long his appointment as apostolic administrator is slated to last, but he said he looks forward to listening to the people of Buffalo and determining the best ways in which to help the city’s Catholic population heal.

Jim Eckstrom is executive editor of the Olean Times Herald and Bradford Publishing Co. His email is jeckstrom@oleantimesherald.com.)

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