Under siege over the Buffalo Diocese's handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests — with many of the allegations dating back decades — Bishop Richard Malone stepped down Wednesday.
"As you are well aware, we have faced tremendous turmoil over the past year and a half," Malone said in a statement released Wednesday morning by the diocese. "Some have attributed this to my own shortcomings, but the turmoil also reflects the culmination of systemic failings over many years in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. The crisis our Church is facing relates not only to the immoral and criminal acts of those who committed unconscionable offenses toward the most vulnerable, but also to the failure to regard these violations as grave offenses that warranted the full weight of civil and ecclesiastical justice."
Malone had resisted calls for his resignation for months, but he asked Pope Francis to accept his retirement after an apostolic visitation earlier this year was made to assess the situation in the diocese.
Francis has appointed the Most Rev. Edward Scharfenberger, bishop of Albany, to serve as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese until the appointment of a new bishop. Scharfenberger will continue to serve as bishop of the Albany diocese as well.
Malone, 73, who was appointed bishop in Buffalo in 2012, said in his statement that he acknowledges his mistakes in regard to the scandal.
"I have met with many survivors of child sexual abuse and felt deeply their anguish, which words and gestures alone are inadequate to soothe," he said. "I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made in not addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults.
"In extensive listening sessions across our Diocese, I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns. I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness."
For his part, Malone said the diocese has made progress in ensuring safe environments for children and accountability among clergy and religious educators, lay church ministers and volunteers.
"We now have rigorous protocols, an independent review board, as well as reporting systems that allow any and all to come forward and report concerns over real and perceived improprieties by Church personnel of every rank and status," he said.
Malone noted that during his tenure, not a single priest ordained in the past 30 years has had an allegation of child sex abuse substantiated.
An admission by a former Archbishop Walsh Academy priest, the Rev. Norbert Orsolits, in 2018, began the diocese’s crisis. Orsolits admitted to abusing boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Meanwhile, the diocese settled two lawsuits totaling over $1.6 million for another former Archbishop Walsh priest’s abuse of two boys in the 1970s.
The diocese reported in May that it had paid $17.5 million to date to 106 childhood victims of clergy sex abuse, rejecting another 135 applicants for lack of evidence. In September, it was reported at least 170 lawsuits concerning sexual abuse had been filed.
The Movement to Restore Trust, a group of influential Catholics in the diocese, 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.
(The Olean Times Herald will provide more coverage of this story as it develops.)