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Poll suggests a majority of Buffalo Catholics want Bishop Malone to resign

Bishop Malone (CNS)

Just three per cent of those surveyed said they want him to continue as bishop

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York is facing fresh calls for his resignation, after a local news organization commissioned a poll that suggests a majority of Catholics and lapsed Catholics in the diocese would like to see him step down because of his alleged mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cases.

A poll commissioned by The Buffalo News has found that among a sample of 473 Erie and Niagara County residents surveyed, nearly 86% said they believe Malone should step down. All of those surveyed self-identified as either “Catholic” or “lapsed Catholic.”

Of those surveyed, just 3% said they thought Malone should continue as bishop.

The diocese is home to over half a million Catholics out of a total population of 1.5 million.

In addition, local reporter Charlie Specht reported September 17 that St Joseph University Parish in northeast Buffalo took a poll at Masses last weekend, and found that of those surveyed, 504 parishioners wanted Malone to resign and 24 parishioners want him to stay.

Malone has so far remained firm in his conviction to remain as bishop, at least until he reaches the normal retirement age for bishops at 75. He is 73 now.

“I’m here because I feel an obligation as the one who was sent here to lead this diocese, to carry on, and once again, if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story,” Malone said at a September 4 news conference, as reported by The Buffalo News.

At least two whistleblowers with high-level access in the diocese— Malone’s former executive assistant and former priest secretary— have gone public with accusations that Malone mishandled several cases of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese, some of which involved minors.

One such case involves a priest accused of sending inappropriate Facebook messages to a minor. Malone reinstated the priest, Father Art Smith, to ministry in 2012 and allowed him not only to work at a diocesan Catholic youth conference, but also to minister at a nursing home, where reports of inappropriate conduct with adults later surfaced. Smith is currently listed on the diocesan page for clergy with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor.

In September 2019, local news station WKBW released recordings of private conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr Ryszard Biernat, Malone’s former priest secretary, which appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.

Biernat recorded the conversations as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who in a January letter to Malone accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.

In an August 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

In another, earlier conversation from March, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bojanowski’s accusation against Nowak months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

WKBW published a report about allegations against Nowak in May. Nowak was not removed from ministry until August 7, after the seminarian’s mother accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.

Biernat says he made the secret recording after Nowak became jealous of Biernat and Bojanowski’s close friendship.

According to a conversation taped on August 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.

Biernat also says he was a victim of sexual abuse by Father Art Smith. He alleges that Auxiliary Bishop Grosz threatened to halt his ordination as a priest and have him deported to Poland after Biernat complained in 2004 to Buffalo Diocese administrators that Smith sexually assaulted him, according to The Buffalo News. Grosz denies this.

Biernat was also vice-chancellor of the diocese for a time, and was required to notarize documents from Bishop Malone keeping Father Smith in ministry.

Biernat is currently on a voluntary leave of absence.

Smith denies the allegations of abuse made against him. The diocese includes Smith’s name on its list of clergy with credible allegations of abuse of a minor.

The diocese has responded to various allegations of mishandling abuse cases by Malone, stating in August that “Bishop Malone has never allowed any priest with a credible allegation of abusing a minor to remain in ministry.”

“The bishop very much respects area Catholics’ right to express their opinion,” diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler told The Buffalo News in response to the poll.

The diocese did not respond to CNA’s request for further comment on the poll by press time.