Vatican appoints Brooklyn bishop to investigate Buffalo diocese amid abuse scandal
BUFFALO, New York, October 4, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Following a Vatican directive, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y. will investigate the Diocese of Buffalo as part of an “apostolic visitation.”
In an official statement, Bishop Richard J. Malone welcomed the visitation. The statement read that the papal nuncio in Washington, D.C. will join Bishop DiMarzio in the review of the Buffalo diocese. Released on Thursday, it said Bishop Malone is “committed to cooperate fully and stated that this Visitation is for the good of the Church in Buffalo.” It defined an apostolic visitation as “an exceptional initiative of the Holy See which involves sending a visitor or visitors to evaluate an ecclesiastical institute such as a seminary, diocese, or religious institute” on behalf of the pope. The stated purpose is to assist the diocese in carrying out “its function in the life of the Church” and “improve the local Church’s ability to minister to the people it serves.”
Following revelations of alleged misconduct and sexual abuse committed by clergy, Bishop Malone has been the focus of criticism for more than a year over his handling of the claims. He has been accused of ignoring complaints about priests’ misbehavior with adults and alleged inappropriate comments by a priest on Facebook to an eighth-grade boy. In September, private audio recordings appeared to show that Malone had tried to hide alleged sexual harassment by a priest of an adult seminarian, as well as a love letter to that seminarian from another priest.
Bishop DiMarzio will submit a report to the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican once the visitation is complete. He declared in a statement on Thursday: “This is a difficult period in the life of the Church in Buffalo. I pledge I will keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this Apostolic Visitation.”
"I welcome & need the support of the priests & deacons, religious and lay ecclesial ministers, & all concerned people of our Church in this effort to restore credibility and confidence. I ask you to hold me accountable for these priorities as we move forward.” @BishopRJMalone https://t.co/oZWXIEO1zX— Diocese of Buffalo (@BuffaloDiocese) October 3, 2019
According to a memo from the Vatican’s diplomatic representative in Washington, D.C., apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the visitation is a “fact-finding mission” and a “non-judicial and non-administrative process that requires confidentiality.” However, the memo said the visitation is “not subject” to Vos Estis Lux Mundi, a Motu Proprio and set of protocols implemented in June by Pope Francis for investigating alleged cover-ups of sexual abuse committed by clergy.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York said through a spokesman that he has been “closely monitoring the situation in Buffalo for over a year” and consulting with clergy and laity in Buffalo, in addition to discussions with Bishop Malone and papal nuncio Pierre. Under terms outlined by Pope Francis, metropolitan archbishops are responsible for conducting the appropriate investigations. Dolan is the metropolitan archbishop for dioceses in New York State, including Buffalo.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June approved a new document, “Affirming Our Episcopal Commitments,” in addition to Vos Estis Lux Mundi, in which the bishops said they would “respond directly and appropriately to cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, sexual misconduct, and the mishandling of such cases by bishops.” The USCCB noted that some bishops failed in their oaths of ordination “by not responding morally, pastorally, and effectively to allegations of abuse or misconduct.”
The 75-year-old Bishop DiMarzio will be assisted by Monsignor Steven Aguggia, judicial vicar of the Brooklyn diocese and pastor of St. Margaret parish in Queens. The statement did not note when or if Bishop DiMarzio will go to the Buffalo diocese.
Retired Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits told the Buffalo News that he had sexually abused “probably dozens” of boys, starting in the 1960s and through the 1980s. This was followed by news of clergy sex abuse that was covered up decades ago. A $17.5-million settlement ensued to satisfy the claims of 106 childhood sex abuse victims. There was also an FBI probe and an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of New York. This included subpoenas of diocesan records. There were also more than 165 lawsuits filed against the diocese under the Child Victims Act.
Bishop Malone assumed the see of Buffalo in 2012, and there has been no evidence that he covered up any new allegations of clergy abuse. Almost all of the cases of alleged sexual abuse committed by clerics date from before 2012. The most recent known accusation of child sexual abuse in the diocese dates to 2001, more than a decade before Malone’s arrival.
Last month, Malone said at a news conference that he had received no request from the Vatican to resign despite growing complaints about his administration. He has insisted that he will remain in the see until he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2021, notwithstanding that a group of lay Catholics known as the Movement to Restore Trust has called for his resignation.
Learn more about Bishop Malone’s views and past actions by visiting FaithfulShepherds.com. Click here.
Malone has placed 22 priests on administrative leave due to allegations of abuse lodged since March of last year. Claims against nine of the priests have been substantiated, and they remain suspended while the Vatican reviews their cases. An investigation cleared nine other priests, while four more are still on leave while the diocesan probe advances.
The experience of another diocese may be an indication of how long any process to remove Malone from Buffalo may take. Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City–St. Joseph became in 2012 the first Catholic bishop in the United State to be convicted of protecting a priest from prosecution over child pornography charges. Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanor for failing to tell police that one of the diocesan priests had images of nude girls on his computer. Despite an online petition signed by 263,000 people demanding his resignation, and widespread media attention, Bishop Finn remained in his see for almost three more years. In 2015, Pope Francis accepted his resignation without explanation.