BUFFALO — A day after Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone said he believes most of the Catholics and priests he leads still support him, the Movement to Restore Trust announced it was calling for his resignation.
The group of lay Catholics who had been working with the diocese on reforms joined critics in calling for the bishop to resign.
"The sex abuse scandal in the diocese dates back several decades, long before Bishop Malone arrived here. But it is also true that he has not handled current cases properly and as a result, there is a substantial risk of harm to the diocese and the good works that the church does in this region," the Movement to Restore Trust said in a statement.
The latest call to resign comes a day after news broke that Malone's former secretary secretly recorded him discussing a priest's alleged sexual harassment of a seminarian and fretting about his own future.
It is the second time that a key member of the Rev. Richard Malone's staff has gone public with concerns about his handling of reports of clergy misconduct.
Malone responded during a news conference on Wednesday, telling reporters that while the Rev. Ryszard Biernat's decision to record confidential conversations was disappointing, he believes he still has the support of Catholics and priests.
"If I felt like a majority of my clergy felt I could no longer properly lead the diocese with them ... then I'd have to re-think my commitment," he said.
In a statement, members of the Movement to Restore Trust wrote, "... recent events and disclosures have led us to conclude that the diocese is at a critical point and that further progress is not possible. We believe that continuing to press forward under these circumstances jeopardizes MRT’s comprehensive reform agenda and compromises our ability to be agents for positive change."
The letter also stated, "At this time, we are formally pulling back from all of our commitments with the diocese until the bishop resigns. For that reason, MRT will not be participating in the next diocesan Listening Session scheduled for Sept. 11."
Thursday night, the Buffalo Diocese announced that the Sept. 11 listening session at Niagara University has been canceled after college officials decided not to host the event following internal discussion.
"It is our hope to reschedule sometime in the future," a diocese spokesperson wrote.
Biernat has told WKBW-TV that he was troubled that Malone had allowed a priest whom the bishop referred to as "sick" to stay in ministry for months following a seminarian's complaints that the priest had made unwanted advances and became vindictive after being rejected. The recordings show Malone and others worried about the priest's state of mind and potential impact on people. Parishioners were not told of the allegations.
"It's not only that they kept it from the people but Bishop Malone put people in danger," Biernat told WKBW.
Malone said he first directed the priest to undergo a behavioral assessment and then suspended him after he failed twice to go. In a statement earlier this week, the diocese said it has never received any allegation that the priest engaged in sexual contact with any child or adult and that the public was never at risk.
Last year, Malone's aide Siobhan O'Connor quit her job and released internal diocesan documents related to the bishop's handling of misconduct allegations against two other priests.
Allegations of widespread clergy abuse of children dating back decades are under investigation in more than dozen states, including New York, where the state's passage of the Child Victims Act earlier this year opened a one-year window for the filing of abuse claims that otherwise would have been too old to pursue.
In its statement, the diocese said Malone recently told Biernat to take a personal leave of absence as the seminarian's allegations were gaining public attention. He said that a letter Biernat had written to the seminarian had the potential to embarrass Biernat and the diocese.
Biernat and the seminarian said the letter reflected a friendship, WKBW reported, but Malone worried on the recording that the situation would hurt his credibility.
"It sounds like a soap opera. It sounds like a love triangle," Malone said to Biernat "... And you know what the media can do with that."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.