Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone speaks at St. Mary of the Angels

Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone addresses the congregation during a special Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary of Angels in 2017. 

OLEAN — Following months of criticism, Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone will be in Olean this weekend to listen to parishioners’ concerns about the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo’s clergy sexual abuse crisis.

The “listening session” will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Archbishop Walsh Academy and feature Malone praying with parishioners, hearing their thoughts and comments, and offering summary remarks regarding the mission of the diocese, according to the diocese.

It will be the fourth of seven listening sessions held throughout Western New York over the next two months. The events are a byproduct of Malone’s discussions with The Movement to Restore Trust, an initiative of lay people led by Canisius College President John J. Hurley.

“The 2019 Listening Sessions are designed for the bishop to hear the concerns of the engaged parishioners,” a diocese press release stated, “and for them to offer recommendations for future initiatives regarding pastoral care, spiritual care and ministry.”

It appears Malone, who has faced widespread calls for him to resign in light of his handling of allegations against clergy, will not answer questions from attendees Saturday.

A press release from the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels stated the event’s “format is not one of question and answer,” while meeting notes from a previous listening session June 15 in Niagara Falls, posted on the Movement to Restore Trust website, state Malone made general comments but “did not answer specific questions that were raised.”

Media will not be permitted to attend the listening session. Diocese officials said this is to “respect people’s privacy and allow them to speak freely.” However, there will be a place reserved for the media should anyone like to speak to them after session, the diocese added.

The session will be held in the cafeteria of Archbishop Walsh, which seats approximately 200 people, said Archbishop Walsh and Southern Tier Catholic School President and Principal Thomas Manko.

“My sense is it’s going to be a pretty big event and people will share what they think, where we are and what the diocese can do to regain trust, faith,” Manko told the Olean Times Herald Monday.

Manko said Archbishop Walsh is simply the host site and is not involved in the program itself, adding his private, Catholic school was asked to host several weeks ago by the Rev. Patrick Melfi, pastor of St. Mary’s.

Archbishop Walsh, the high school portion of the campus, has been independent from the diocese since the 1990s and last year lost its approximately $100,000 subsidy from the diocese amid budget cuts. However, Manko said Archbishop Walsh still “takes spiritual direction” from the diocese, while Southern Tier Catholic, the K-8 portion of the campus, is still supervised by the diocese.

The Olean area, via Archbishop Walsh as well as St. Mary’s, has at times been front and center in the diocese’s clergy sex abuse crisis.

It was an admission by a former Archbishop Walsh teacher and St. Mary’s priest that began the crisis and helped encouraged dozens of abuse victims to come forward, as the Rev. Norbert Orsolits told The Buffalo News in February 2018 he sexually abused “probably dozens” of teenage boys during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

And there are several more former Archbishop Walsh and St. Mary’s priests included on the diocese’s list of approximately 80 priests credibly accused of child sex abuse.

Another Olean-area Catholic institution, St. Bonaventure University, has also seen its former priests swept up in the scandal. The diocese — despite protest from St. Bonaventure — identified a now-deceased university friar as being credibly accused of abuse, while a WKBW-TV report in April found the diocese never publicly identified two other now-deceased university friars who were also accused of abuse.

St. Bonaventure President Dr. Dennis DePerro called for Malone’s resignation shortly after the WKBW report, saying Malone “hasn’t been transparent enough along the way for Catholics in Western New York to continue to have confidence in his leadership.”

DePerro will not attend Saturday’s listening session because he will be out of town, said St. Bonaventure Chief Communications Officer Tom Missel.

In addition to a lack of transparency, Malone has been criticized for either returning or keeping priests in ministry despite misconduct allegations. This includes, according to reporting by WKBW, allowing a priest to continue serving after an elementary school teacher reported the priest was grooming a child for sexual relationship, while allowing another priest to serve after the priest was accused of unwanted sexual advances on two adult men.

His handling of abuse allegations was the subject of a CBS “60 Minutes” report in October.

Malone released a 2,600-word letter in April that, while acknowledging some of his own shortcomings, called certain media reports about he and the diocese “false.” Last month, the diocese announced it has paid out more than $17 million to 106 victims of clergy sexual abuse, while rejecting the claims of another 135 accusers.

Following Saturday’s Olean session, the remaining sessions will be held Aug. 3 at Sacred Heart Social Center in Batavia; Aug. 10 at Nativity of Our Lord in Orchard Park; and Aug. 17 at Holy Trinity Parish in Dunkirk. All will last from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at tdinki@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)