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Bishop Richard Malone Of Buffalo Resigns Because Of Role In Clergy Abuse Crisis


Another bishop is stepping down because of his role in the Catholic Church's clergy abuse crisis. The Vatican announced today that it has accepted the resignation of Richard Malone. He's the bishop in Buffalo, N.Y. Here to fill us in on the story is Tom Gjelten. He covers religion.

Welcome back to the studio.


CORNISH: At this point, Tom, so many priests and bishops, even archbishops, have been forced to resign because of this seemingly endless abuse crisis. What are the details of the case with Bishop Malone?

GJELTEN: Well, you know, there are two ways Catholic clerics get implicated. They're either themselves accused of sexual abuse or they cover up the abusers and protect them. With Bishop Malone, it's the latter allegation. The diocese of Buffalo right now is facing around 200 abuse lawsuits. And it turned out that some of the accused priests remained active in the ministry even after they were accused. That's the kind of news that really angers abuse survivors and their advocates. Bishop Malone got a lot of the blame himself. And therefore, he lost the support of Buffalo Catholics. The FBI and the state attorney general's office both launched investigations, and then the Vatican did an investigation of its own. When Malone heard what that report concluded, he asked to be allowed to retire, and then his resignation was accepted.

CORNISH: Was there a particular moment that triggered this mass loss of support and faith in him?

GJELTEN: The key development was a woman who had been his executive assistant basically blew the whistle on him. Her name is Siobhan O'Connor. And what happened was early last year, Bishop Malone released a list of some 42 priests who had been accused of abuse. But then Ms. O'Connor came out and said she'd actually seen a list of 117 clerics who had been accused and that Malone wasn't being forthcoming about the extent of the abuse problem. She spoke to our member station in Buffalo, WBFO, about what it was like, in her words, to be on the inside looking out.


SIOBHAN O'CONNOR: I just remember feeling so conflicted because I believe in the Catholic Church, and I love my Catholic faith. But it was very difficult to observe what was going on and to see the disconnect from what Bishop Malone was saying publicly and what he was doing internally.

CORNISH: Fast forward to now, and Bishop Malone has actually written a letter to Catholics in Buffalo. What did he have to say?

GJELTEN: Well, he acknowledged he had been remiss in not addressing what he called personnel issues more swiftly. His explanation was the cases involved behavior between adults and, therefore, were complex and required time to sort out. He also pointed out that the troubles in his diocese were broader, related to what he said were systemic failings in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy.

CORNISH: Tom, what do you know about the person who will be replacing him?

GJELTEN: It's going to be an interim replacement, Audie. He's - it's Bishop Edward Scharfenberger. He's the bishop of Albany. He actually spoke to reporters today, and here's part of what he had to say.


EDWARD SCHARFENBERGER: My desire to be with you is as any father - or maybe more of a grandfather, I suppose - of a family that I know is hurting and in need of healing. So my first priorities will primarily be to listen.

GJELTEN: And for now, he'll be responsible for both Albany on the eastern side of the state and Buffalo on the western side.

CORNISH: Is there any more we can expect out of this chapter of the story?

GJELTEN: Well, one thing to keep in mind is that the vast, vast majority of all these abuse cases that have come to light happened years ago. There've been very few cases, at least that we know of, of priests abusing children - or seminarians - in recent years. In his letter, Bishop Malone said there's been no substantiated accusation of child sex abuse against any priest in the Buffalo diocese who's been ordained within the last 30 years. Of course, that doesn't mean we won't be hearing about more cases slowly coming out.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.