In 2019, a member of a Catholic parish’s pastoral council in Elma told The News that Bishop Richard J. Malone had “taken the blame here and the bullet for years of abuse, years of cover-up.” The state Attorney General’s Office’s investigative report on the Buffalo Diocese released this week suggests that Malone was not an innocent party, but an active participant in the diocese’s repeated instances of turning a blind eye to accusations of sexual misconduct against priests.
The long, devastating history of clergy sexual abuse of children in the diocese of some 600,000 Catholics stretches back decades, long before Malone was installed as bishop here. But as one of the case studies demonstrates in the court filing from Attorney General Letitia James, Malone was one of seven Buffalo bishops who covered up for Rev. Donald W. Becker, who was accused of molesting boys. The attorney general filed a civil suit this week against the diocese, Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz.
Malone resisted calls to resign for more than a year before quitting in December 2019. (Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger took over as apostolic administrator.) The tipping point was the release of private audio recordings in which Malone discussed keeping quiet about an alleged sexual harassment by a priest of an adult seminarian and on another priest’s love letter to the seminarian.
Malone also wrote a letter recommending Rev. Arthur Smith for a post as a cruise ship chaplain after Smith was accused of inappropriate behavior with two men and a boy. And during Malone’s tenure as bishop, Rev. Fabian Maryanski, accused of child sexual abuse many years ago, remained in ministry at Nativity Church in Clarence until a Buffalo News article in May 2018 revealed accusations against him. These events were reported before and led to Malone’s resignation. The details in the attorney general’s 218-page report, many obtained from the diocese’s own files, shed new light in Malone’s apparent complicity in covering up crimes and misdeeds by diocesan priests, despite his assurances that he did no such thing.
The Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, popularized the phrase, “the cover-up is worse than the crime,” referring to Nixon’s lying about the burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters.
The Catholic Church sex scandals were worse. Not only did they involve dioceses from around the world, but the cover-ups enabled more crimes, leaving thousands of emotionally scarred victims.
A Buffalo News story on Wednesday reported that the Buffalo Diocese’s files show that senior officials knew back in 1983 that Becker likely had molested boys, but covered it up for at least 35 years – long after The Boston Globe blew the whistle on priest sexual abuse in 2002. Even then, the Buffalo Diocese couldn’t get right with children, parents, parishioners and its own creed.
The attorney general’s lawsuit accuses Malone and Grosz of misusing charitable assets by supporting priests they knew had likely sexually abused minors, and accuses the diocese of protecting more than two dozen accused priests by not referring their cases to the Vatican for removal from the priesthood.
Had the bishops forwarded the sexual abuse cases to the Vatican, they would have been following official church policy, but not fulfilling the obligations of justice. Having sexual relations with children is rape, which should be reported to the police.
The Buffalo Diocese’s practice of designating accused priests as “unassignable,” and allowing them to retire or go on medical leave, was a clear dereliction of duty to the Catholic faithful, the “flock” they are supposed to guard as shepherds.
These illicit practices did not begin under bishops Malone or Grosz. Now we know for sure that they didn’t end under them either.