The resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo has been greeted with a mix of emotions. There is sadness, of course, at the events that have brought the venerable Diocese of Buffalo to this place: reports of clergy sex abuse long covered up by the diocese, the mishandling of current cases of abuse and misconduct by Bishop Malone and the realization that this is the first time in the 172-year history of the diocese that a bishop has been pressured to leave office.
There is unresolved anger as well, among victims whose reports of sex abuse were ignored or handled poorly and now find themselves as plaintiffs in lawsuits with a long road ahead; Catholics who have made Bishop Malone the lightning rod for everything that has happened; priests who have felt alienated from the chancery and their bishop; and Catholics who have watched parish life around them disintegrate as people have marched out the door in response to the scandal.
Are we still doing things the “old way” in the church? Does the Vatican still not get it?
And there is confusion. Why was Bishop Malone permitted to resign or retire early? Does not the concern with bishop accountability in light of the McCarrick scandal and Pope Francis’ motu proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi,” dictate that Bishop Malone should have been fired? Are we still doing things the “old way” in the church? Does the Vatican still not get it?
But there is also a palpable sense of relief and, appropriate to this season of Advent, a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, the church in Buffalo can turn the page and look forward to a new day.
There is also a palpable sense of relief in Buffalo and, appropriate to this season of Advent, a sense of hope.
The path forward looks long and arduous. There is the matter of more than 200 sex abuse lawsuits filed under New York’s Child Victims Act that will result in the diocese seeking federal bankruptcy court protection (as has already happened in the Diocese of Rochester). Bankruptcy will mean a financial reorganization of the diocese, which will likely eliminate some important ministries. But there is still work to be done on how the diocese handles victims of sex abuse. And there is the task of rebuilding the church from the ground up and helping it to bring the message of the Gospels to new generations.
The Movement to Restore Trust was founded in 2018 by concerned, committed lay Catholics in Buffalo to channel the faithful’s reaction to the clergy sex abuse scandal and to encourage the laity to exercise the responsibility conferred upon them at baptism, a responsibility for the future direction of the church. A central theme in the Movement’s reform agenda is that we must revive the spirit of Vatican II in Buffalo and develop in the church a true culture of co-responsibility between the ordained clergy and laity.
There is much work to be done to move our diocese toward this new day when sexual abuse and misconduct is unthinkable, when victims of sexual abuse achieve a measure of justice and healing from the church that has wronged them, when our bishop operates with a level of transparency and openness that inspires trust and when the laity are welcomed as equal participants with the clergy in the task of bringing about healing, reconciliation and reform.
The season of Advent is a time of lengthening shadows and dark nights as we wait for the light of the world to come into our lives once again. As another winter in Buffalo approaches, the light of Christ has never been more essential in our lives.