BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has begun his apostolic visitation of the scandal-hit Diocese of Buffalo.
A statement released by the Diocese of Brooklyn Thursday said that DiMarzio had traveled to the diocese of Bishop Richard Malone and interviewed more than 30 people earlier this week.
“The Bishop takes his role as Visitator seriously and is determined to continue the fact-finding mission he has been directed to carry out by the Holy See,” said the Diocese of Brooklyn in the Oct. 10 statement.
“Both lay faithful and clergy, members of the Diocesan staff, and others have been invited to be a part of this process so that Bishop DiMarzio can gather information from several perspectives as part of this fact-finding mission of the Buffalo Diocese.”
Bishop DiMarzio was appointed to inspect the Buffalo diocese by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, last week. In an announcement released Oct. 3, the apostolic nunciature to the United States released a statement underscoring that the process was “non-judicial and non-administrative,” meaning that no formal charges are currently being considered against Bishop Malone.
The statement also made clear that the apostolic visitation was not being conducted or authorized under the provisions of Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the policy document on sexual abuse and diocesan administration issued May 7 by Pope Francis, which came into effect June 1. That document provided new norms and mechanisms relating to misconduct by bishops who failed to act or attempted to cover up instances of sexual abuse.
Although the investigation is not being conducted under the terms of Vos Estis, Bishop Malone has repeatedly found himself at the center of media attention.
In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.
Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Bishop Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.
The contents of recordings of conversations between Bishop Malone and Father Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.
In the conversations, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Father Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Father Nowak from active ministry.
In an Aug. 2 conversation, Bishop Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”
The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”
Thursday’s statement from the Diocese of Brooklyn said that Bishop DiMarzio has “pledged to do his best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in Buffalo,” and that when he has concluded his work he will submit a report to the Congregation for Bishops.
At the time his appointment was announced, Bishop DiMarzio underscored his determination to get to the “truth so that justice might be served and god’s mercy experienced” in Buffalo, and invoked Pope Francis’ devotion to “Our Lady Untier of Knots.”
Bishop Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo Diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Bishop Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.