The Diocese of Buffalo has issued a response to a whistleblower who called for Bishop Richard Malone to resign, after he was publicly accused of allowing priests credibly accused of sexual abuse to remain in ministry.
The diocese released a statement late Tuesday night, after Siobhan O’Connor, a former diocesan employee, said on “60 Minutes” Sunday that the diocese had knowingly omitted some priests from a list it published in March of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse.
The list included 42 names; documents leaked by O’Connor included 118 priests credibly accused of misconduct.
The Oct. 30 diocesan statement said that Malone was “stunned and dismayed” by comments O’Connor delivered at a local press conference held that day. The diocese called her remarks “plainly and embarrassingly contradictory.”
At the press conference O’Connor reiterated her earlier claims, and called for “a complete change in leadership here,” calling for the resignation of Malone, and urging the intervention of Pope Francis, “because it’s just not going to get better.”
The diocese said that “her comments directly contradict her comments to him while she worked at the Chancery and even after she left. In fact, her prior, written communications to the Bishop demonstrate her complete admiration for the Bishop and his efforts to lead the Diocese.”
The statement did not directly address the veracity of O’Connor’s claim that Malone worked with diocesan lawyers to parse down the list of accused priests published by the diocese.
The list, released March 20, “identifies diocesan priests who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor,” according to the diocese. It “also includes deceased priests with more than one allegation made against them.”
“It was a very carefully curated list,” O’Connor said.
“To my mind the overarching attitude seemed to be to protect the Church’s reputation and her assets,” she added.
The Oct. 30 diocesan statement included a release of emails sent from O’Connor to Bishop Malone and her former diocesan co-workers, including one sent Aug. 9, 2018.
“Thank you, Bishop, for all of the opportunities I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned while working for and with you,” the email read in part.
“You have my heartfelt gratitude. I will always pray for you and your Chancery staff as I know so well the burdens you carry!”
In an email dated Aug. 21, O’Connor wrote: “I will always be deeply grateful to have worked with you Bishop…in truly countless ways you have inspired and edified me.”
During her “60 Minutes” interview, O’Connor said she loved Malone as her bishop and as her boss, and that her decision to leak documents was not motivated by personal animus for him.
“The reality of what I saw really left me with no other option,” she said. “Because at the end of my life I’m not going to answer to Bishop Malone, I’m going to answer to God.”
Malone has issued three public apologies and has offered to sell his residence to help to compensate abuse victims.
Malone declined to be interviewed by “60 Minutes,” saying in part: “it is clear to me and my staff that your roster of interviews did not include those who are aware of the full extent of the efforts of our Diocese to combat child abuse. Nor does it include those who urge me every day to stay the course and restore the confidence of our faithful.”
The Buffalo diocese was issued a subpoena in June as part of a federal investigation into clerical sexual abuse.
Fr. Robert Zilliox, an abuse victim himself, lamented on “60 Minutes” that it seemed the diocese and the bishop were not being transparent and holding abusive priests accountable.
“It’s beyond troubling. That’s not the Church. The Church is holy. Those are individuals in the Church who are weak, and who have made very bad decisions. And because of that, they need to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Father Zilliox said.