Buffalo bishop resigns

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, speaks during a November 2018 news conference. Pope Francis Wednesday accepted his resignation following widespread criticism over how he handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct. 

Richard Malone, the embattled bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, New York, has resigned, the Vatican announced Wednesday.

The announcement said Pope Francis accepted Malone's resignation and that Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese will serve as a temporary administrator until a replacement for Malone is appointed.

Western New York Catholics had been calling for the removal of Malone for several months over his handling of the clergy abuse scandal. Despite the criticism, Malone said he would remain in office until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in 2021.

The Vatican recently conducted an inquiry into the Buffalo Diocese’s handling of sexual abuse cases. It was led by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who submitted a report to the Vatican. The report has not been made public.

The diocese has paid over $18 million to more than 100 abuse victims under a compensation program established last year. Since August, it has been named in a wave of additional  lawsuits filed under a new state law that suspended the usual statute of limitations and opened a one-year window for victims to pursue claims regardless of when the abuse happened.

Many of the claims date back way before Malone’s appointment as bishop of the Buffalo Diocese in 2012. But his critics said he mishandled the church’s response, including his decision to return to ministry a priest who had been suspended by a previous bishop.

Pressure for Malone to resign has been intense.

Over the past year, two key members of his staff have gone public with concerns about his leadership, including his former secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, who secretly recorded Malone calling a then-active priest “a sick puppy,” but taking no immediate action to remove him.

Earlier, his executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, leaked internal church documents after becoming concerned Malone had intentionally omitted dozens of names from a publicly released list of priests with credible allegations of abuse.

In September, a group of lay Catholics working with Malone to restore trust in the church instead joined in calls for his resignation.  There were also petitions of “no confidence” in Malone circulating in some parishes of the eight-county western New York diocese.

Attorneys general in several states, including New York, are conducting investigations into how the Catholic Church handled clergy sexual abuse accusations.

Details for this story were provided by the Niagara, New York, Gazette.

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