Attorney and abuse survivor reflects on Malone's exit

The Associated PressIn this Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, speaks during a news conference in Cheektowaga, N.Y. Pope Francis on Wednesday, accepted Bishop Richard Malone's resignation following widespread criticism over how he handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. 

When Niagara Falls attorney Paul Barr arrived at the Buffalo International Airport on a red-eye flight from Denver early Wednesday morning, he had no idea what was unfolding half-a-world away in Rome.

A survivor of the Catholic Church's child sex abuse scandal, and advocate for other survivors, Barr went home and went to bed without knowing that the bishop of Buffalo's Catholic Diocese, Richard Malone, had stepped down from his post. The announcement of his "early retirement" coming in a brief communique from the Vatican.

When Barr awoke to the news at mid-afternoon, his reaction was visceral.

"My blood was boiling," he said. "He's not taking early retirement, he resigned. He was forced to resign."

In fact, the Vatican communique, in its final line, referred to Malone's departure as a resignation.

"The way it sounds, it's like he's trying to preserve his reputation," Barr said of Malone. "There was no contrition. It doesn't change anything."

Malone, 73, is stepping down two years before the mandatory age at which bishops must offer to retire. 

After seven years as Buffalo's catholic bishop, Malone leaves behind a diocese that is facing an investigation by the FBI and more than 200 lawsuits filed under the New York State Child Victim's Act. Barr has filed some of those lawsuits on behalf of survivors. He is also a plaintiff in one of them.

The Vatican named Edward Scharfenberger, the current bishop of Albany, to replace Malone on an interim basis. After hearing excerpts from a late morning news conference by Scharfenberger, Barr said he doesn't expect dramatic change in the diocese.

"I'm afraid we'll end up in the same situation (as Malone)," Barr said. "Just a lot of lip service to survivors."

Over the last year, Malone has been hounded by accusations that he engaged in a systemic coverup of sexual abuse by priests in the diocese. Scharfenberger said at his news conference it will be a challenge to restore trust with local church congregations. 

He likened the challenge to rebuilding trust between an unfaithful husband and his wife.

"He is minimizing (the sex abuse scandal)," Barr said. "He's comparing (infidelity) to raping a child."

Malone's departure follows an inquiry into the handling of sexual abuse cases by the Buffalo diocese. The inquiry was conducted by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.

His report was submitted to the Vatican and discussed with Malone. The findings have not been made public.

The diocese has paid over $18 million to more than 100 abuse victims under a compensation program established last year. Barr doesn't believe a change in bishops will change the diocese's approach to the eve increasing number of Child Victims Act lawsuits.

"They're looking to protect resources" Barr said. "The church still treats priests like royalty. It's still going to be a matter of retaining power and money."

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Buffalo, welcomed Malone's decision to resign, saying the people of Western New York deserved "transparency and honesty" from their church.

“While this Bishop was lacking in the ability to provide that leadership, the Western New York community is grateful to the incredibly brave survivors, principled whistleblowers, and persistent journalists who were willing to bring truth to light," Higgins said.

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