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Despite resignation rumours, the Malone story won’t go away soon

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo (CNS)

The embattled bishop of Buffalo, New York, Richard Malone, on Thursday morning flatly dismissed rumours he had submitted his resignation to Pope Francis. The Catholic Herald met Malone as the bishop emerged from St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, following the New York bishops’ ad limina Mass, and asked him directly whether there is any truth to rumours he had submitted his resignation.

“Absolutely false,” replied Bishop Malone. Then he said, “Thank you very much. That’s the end of our conversation.” Malone was walking with his auxiliary, Bishop Edward Grosz. The two Buffalo prelates were walking together, otherwise unaccompanied. The pair were several dozen paces behind a loose group of perhaps a half-dozen New York bishops, one of whom was Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Bishop Malone and the diocese he leads have both been in the spotlight for at least eighteen months, after investigative reporter Charlie Specht made allegations about serious mismanagement. In August of last year, whistleblowers including Bishop Malone’s former administrative assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, began coming forward with stories and documentation.

Malone, who inherited what by all accounts was already a very disorderly diocese, has been accused of mishandling several abuse cases himself, and of failure to deal appropriately with cases he inherited – cases involving both the protection of minors and legal adults – as well as unresponsiveness and even disregard for the good of the flock. He has strongly defended his record and denied the misconduct allegations, but admits to some “mistakes”.

In addition to paper documents, recordings of senior staff meetings, made surreptitiously by Malone’s former priest-secretary, Fr Ryszard Biernat, have been published in which Bishop Malone discusses one aspect of the allegations. “We are in a true crisis situation,” Malone can be heard saying on one of the recordings. “Everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop,” he adds. He has since defended his handling of the case.

Rumors of Bishop Malone’s resignation have been swirling for weeks, since the apostolic nuncio to the United States announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn would be conducting an apostolic visitation to Buffalo. Speculation intensified after DiMarzio announced he had concluded his inquiry into the troubled Buffalo diocese and its leader, and reached its apex when The Tablet’s man in Rome, Christopher Lamb, reported – late Wednesday, on the basis of unnamed sources – that Malone’s resignation was “imminent”.

Now, both reports could quite well be true. On a very close reading, reports he has submitted his resignation will be absolutely false until they’re absolutely true. Any such development could come with surprising speed. As one Roman curial official archly suggested to this reporter: “It’s entirely possible that no one has told him yet that he’s submitted his resignation.”

There was surprise at Pope Francis’s decision to conduct an apostolic visitation – essentially a fact-finding mission – which the nunciature described as “non-juridical” and “non-administrative. Whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and Church-watchers expected Francis’s reform law streamlining reporting and investigation of abuse and especially coverup, Vos estis lux mundi, to be activated in Buffalo. That did not happen.

The details of an apostolic visitation are confidential, as is the report of it which Bishop DiMarzio reportedly submitted to Rome earlier this month, ahead of the New York bishops’ ad limina visit this week.

The Catholic Herald reported earlier this week on serious questions regarding modes, methods and persons employed during the visitation, which had a broad mandate to assay the condition and circumstances of a diocese rife with rot and crippled by decades of ineffective leadership. It was conducted in three brief trips totaling seven days, in which the visitor conducted nearly 80 interviews.

Late Wednesday, news broke of an abuse complaint against Bishop DiMarzio, the man Pope Francis tasked with the conduct of the apostolic visitation. DiMarzio’s accuser is 56-year-old Mark Matzek, who says DiMarzio was one of two priests who repeatedly abused him in the 1970s, when Matzek was an acolyte at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Newark. Matzek is bringing his complaint under a recently-passed New Jersey law extending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims.

Bishop DiMarzio strongly denies the charges, and the Archdiocese of Newark says they reported news of the allegation to law enforcement in accord with Church policy.

The filing window for such complaints opens next month, but the complainant’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, told the Catholic Herald he informed the Archdiocese of Newark on Tuesday, of his plan to file suit. “I am not aware of when anyone in the Church first became aware,” Garabedian said in response to email queries. “I can only tell you that I notified the Attorney for the Archdiocese of Newark on November 11th, 2019, via email.”

At this point, there is no telling how the complaint against Bishop DiMarzio will unfold, nor does there seem to be any telling whether – and if so, how – the news of the complaint will influence Pope Francis’s decisions with regard to Bishop Malone or the Diocese of Buffalo. One thing, however, is clear: If, by ordering an apostolic visitation in lieu of a criminal investigation under his own signature reform law, Pope Francis desired to deal quickly and quietly with the situation, that hope has been dashed.