BUFFALO, N.Y. — The interim leader in the Diocese of Buffalo announced Tuesday that the diocesan seminary will suspend its operations at the end of the current semester.
Although Christ the King Seminary has been at the center of recent controversies in the embattled Buffalo diocese, the diocese said a financial deficit is at the heart of the decision.
“Over the past 10 years, Christ the King Seminary has experienced an operating deficit, amounting to $500,000 on average annually. In some years, the Seminary has been the recipient of extraordinary financial gifts which have served to offset the operating deficit, but which cannot be relied upon year-over-year,” the Diocese of Buffalo said in a Feb. 4 statement.
“The Members of the Corporation of the Seminary have determined that it is not responsible from a fiscal standpoint to continue to operate with such a structural deficit that requires extraordinary support to sustain operations,” the statement added.
Christ the King Seminary is an apostolate of the Buffalo diocese, which has faced serious challenges in the last year. Bishop Richard Malone resigned his leadership of the diocese in December 2019, after a Vatican-ordered apostolic visitation, or investigation, of Malone’s leadership.
The move to close the seminary was announced exactly two months after Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany was appointed temporary apostolic administrator of the diocese.
Bishop Scharfenberger initially emphasized the temporary nature of his position, explaining in December that he is not a “fix-it man” for the diocese and that he intended mostly to act as a pastor in Buffalo while preparing the diocese for the appointment of a permanent successor to Malone.
But in its Feb. 4 press release, the Buffalo diocese said that Scharfenberger is forming a committee “to ‘re-imagine’ and provide specific recommendations as to how priestly formation will continue for seminarians of the Diocese of Buffalo, while also providing ongoing education in pastoral ministry and theological training for lay women and men, as well as for those seeking ordination to the permanent diaconate.”
During Bishop Malone’s tenure, the diocese faced charges that Christ the King faculty engaged seminarians in salacious and inappropriate conversation during a party at a parish rectory.
In April 2019, Seminarians described the conversation as “pornographic,” and described lewd sexual references in a written report, other priests who attended the party told reporters they did not hear all of the salacious talk the seminarians claim to have heard, and say they wonder whether some aspects of the conversation were misinterpreted.
Bishop Malone removed the priests from ministry after the allegations of their misconduct was made.
Another seminary-related controversy began in August 2019, when Bishop Malone’s secretary leaked audio of conversations between himself, Bishop Malone, and diocesan lawyers and staff.
In the audio of the conversations, Bishop Malone admitted that a seminarian’s accusations of grooming and the violation of the seal of confession against a diocesan priest were probably true, but months later the priest remained in active ministry.
“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,” Malone said, noting that if the matter—which could appear to be a “love triangle” between the seminarian and two priests—were leaked to the public, “it could force me to resign.”
There are 26 seminarians enrolled at the seminary; 15 of them are studying for the Diocese of Buffalo. The diocese said it will look for other schools for its seminarians.