We’re about to find out.
ON BECOMING the bishop of Buffalo, Richard J. Malone let it be known that his episcopal motto would be “living the truth in love.” Now Mr. Malone, ensnared in scandals and buffeted by allegations that he has covered up for priests accused of sexual abuse, has become a test case of whether bishops, who report only to the pope, will at last become accountable under a new policy adopted by Pope Francis last spring.
It has been a year since the bishop acknowledged “inadequacies” in his handling of abuse complaints involving minors as well as adults targeted by clergymen. Since then, reports of those “inadequacies” have multiplied. But Mr. Malone, who insists he has instituted reforms, has refused to resign even as some clergy in his own diocese and other prominent Catholics have said enough is enough. His tale encapsulates a basic feature of the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals: professions of new procedures and policies to clean up the mess, juxtaposed with institutional inertia, resistance and denial.
When Mr. Malone assumed his current job, in 2012, it had already been a decade since the clerical abuse and coverup scandals, starting in Boston, had erupted across the country. Yet in Buffalo, one of the nation’s largest dioceses, with some 600,000 Catholics, it took six years and, finally, a barrage of accusations involving local clergy, before he posted a list of 42 priests credibly accused of child sex abuse.
Those cases covered the decades before Mr. Malone had arrived in Buffalo, and, it soon emerged, they represented a very partial accounting. The bishop’s own executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, had seen the original draft, with 117 priests named, along with hundreds of pages of diocesan personnel files and memos — including a 300-page binder she found in a cleaning cabinet — detailing the allegations.
Ms. O’Connor, who turned over copies of the documents to a local television station as well as CBS’s “60 Minutes,” realized the published list had been whittled down by the bishop and church lawyers to exclude, among others, accused priests who had been left in ministry or restored after a suspension. In one case, a church lawyer wrote to the bishop that a priest alleged to have had sex with a teenage girl in the 1980s should be dropped from the list because including him “might require explanation.” (The priest, Fabian J. Maryanski, who has since been placed on leave, denied the allegation.)
Under the church’s new policy on accountability for bishops, it has fallen to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to decide whether to launch an investigation of Mr. Malone. As Mr. Dolan mulls that question — his office says an announcement is expected soon — other revelations have surfaced involving Mr. Malone’s less-than-assiduous attention to abuse victims. In an audio recording of a conversation from August, leaked recently by one of his former top assistants, Mr. Malone is heard worrying that “this could be the end for me as bishop.”
Conceivably, it could be. Meanwhile, what’s striking in the sordid tale is the absence of proactive moves that would lend credibility to the church’s stated zero-tolerance stance.
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