Embattled Buffalo bishop defends position in radio interview

This file photo from Nov. 5, 2018 shows Bishop Richard Malone of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese as he discussed clergy abuse during a press conference at the Infant of Prague Church in Cheektowaga. Malone appeared on WBEN on Friday where he once again said he has no plans to step down as bishop despite calls for him to do so. 

Richard Malone, the embattled bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, appeared on a local radio talk show on Friday where he stood firm in his decision to continue to lead the diocese despite a chorus of calls for his resignation. 

Malone, who on Thursday lost the support of the Movement to Restore Trust, an advisory group of local Catholics that was formed in response to a recent rash of sexual abuse allegations facing members of the clergy, answered questions from talk show Tom Bauerle on WBEN News Radio 930 AM. 

"I was very disappointed and really saddened by that," Malone said, referring to the members of the Movement to Restore Trust's call for his resignation on Thursday. 

In a statement issued Thursday, the group of lay Catholics who had been working with the diocese on reforms joined critics in calling for the bishop to resign, saying the sex abuse scandal has set the diocese "back several decades." Members of the Movement to Restore Trust said they believe it was true that Malone failed to handle current cases properly and, as a result, raised the possibility of "substantial risk of harm to the diocese and the good works that the church does in this region."

Malone's radio show appearance came the same day he was scheduled to appear at the annual Catholic Charities dinner. He said decided not to attend the event because was concerned his presence would draw protests which would distract from the purpose of the dinner, which was to honor Catholic Charities volunteers and donors. 

The diocese also announced Thursday that the Sept. 11 listening session at Niagara University has been canceled after college officials decided not to host the event following internal discussion.

As he has in the weeks and months since questions and criticisms have swirled about his administration's handling of priests tied to allegations of abuse, Malone told Bauerle on Friday that remains steadfast in his belief that he is still the right person to lead the diocese through its current crisis. 

"I see it as part of my deep commitment on my part to be part of the solution and part of the renewal of the diocese," he said.

The latest call to resign follows a report on WKBW-TV that detailed audio recordings of Malone made by a former secretary. The recordings include statements made by Malone about a priest’s alleged sexual harassment of a seminarian. He can also be heard expressing concern about his future as bishop in Buffalo. 

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.

 

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.

 

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