Buffalo, N.Y., Apr 12, 2019 / 10:52 am (CNA).- The Bishop of Buffalo said in a statement Thursday that despite media reports to the contrary, he has not been part of any cover-up of clerical sexual abuse, though he does intend to be more transparent about clerical sexual abuse and its financial impact on his diocese.
“For all the progress the Church and this diocese have made in preventing child sexual abuse today and in addressing abuse in the past, I recognize that more needs to be done. Of course, I am acutely aware of the times when I personally have fallen short,” Bishop Richard Malone said in his April 11 statement.
“On behalf of the diocese, I apologize to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of abuse in the past,” the bishop added.
The bishop’s statement did not respond directly to calls for his resignation, though it made clear that he intends to remain in his position.
The statement, Malone said, was a response to a local group called the Movement to Restore Trust, which has called the diocese to implement a slate of reforms, including greater collaboration with laity and financial transparency, while also calling the bishop to “revive the Spirit of Vatican II” in the diocese.
The group says it is comprised of “concerned, committed Catholics who are brokenhearted, disillusioned and, yes, angry about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States, and particularly in our Diocese.”
The group’s organizing committee is comprised mostly of business and non-profit leaders, along with John Hurley, the lay president of Canisius College, a Jesuit school in Buffalo.
The Diocese of Buffalo has said it will work with Movement to Restore Trust to discuss lay collaboration in the diocese, and Malone emphasized that in his statement.
Malone came under fire in Buffalo after a whistleblower — his own former secretary— leaked diocesan documents and alleged in August 2018 that the bishop had omitted the names of some priests accused of abuse or misconduct from a list the diocese released last March.
The bishop has since faced calls for his resignation; the president of nearby St. Bonaventure University issued such a call April 12.
Malone maintains that he acted in good faith, and did not cover up any allegations.
In his statement, he said that allegations of cover-ups were “demonstrably false,” and said that the criteria used in compiling the Diocese of Buffalo’s list “resulted in many more priests being disclosed than if we had applied the criteria used” in nearby dioceses, including, Malone said, the Archdiocese of Boston.
Malon said that some have even criticized his list for naming some deceased priests accused of abuse, “but I decided on the rule to err in favor of transparency.”
“I am also mindful of the requests by some for even more transparency. The Movement to Restore Trust has asked me to be more transparent about several issues, including the abuse crisis’s financial impact on the diocese. I have taken those requests to heart, and I intend to be more transparent on a number of those issues as well.”
The bishop’s statement, nearly 3,000 words in length, noted the good record of the Diocese of Buffalo in handling allegations of abuse, and said that most reports made about priests in recent years have concerned situations that allegedly happened decades ago.
The bishop also lamented the scope of child sexual abuse in upstate New York.
“One report of abuse by a member of our clergy is one too many, and every Catholic in this diocese, including me, is horrified by each report. But even if the diocese is aware of only half of the total number of people who were abused by priests as children, that total number constitutes only a small fraction of one percent of the child sexual abuse that has occurred in this area,” he said, estimating that as many as 121,000 adults in his region may have been the victims of childhood sexual abuse.
“Most abuse will never be reported because it was perpetrated by family members, family friends, or neighbors. Also, because there is no institution associated with those abusers, most of that abuse will never be the subject of a lawsuit or a front-page story. But to forget or to ignore the vast majority of victims of child sexual abuse would be a tragedy.”
Malone said that local media has “provided minimal reporting” on nationwide efforts to end childhood sexual abuse, “all while providing constant coverage of decades-old clergy sexual abuse cases in Buffalo. The 9,000 children being abused here every year deserve better, and our community deserves reporting on the full panorama.”
“I provide this perspective not to minimize the horrific scale of the abuse perpetrated by priests in the past but rather to place it in the context of a wider societal problem of child sexual abuse that deserves more attention from the media and from us all. Child sexual abuse definitely has received attention from the Church. While the Church in the United States can be faulted for not having done enough in the past to address child sexual abuse, no other institution has done more in recent years to prevent such abuse from occurring,” he added.
The bishop ended his letter apologizing for a particular incident: his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.
“Lessons have been learned,” Malone said.
“I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse.”