Buffalo Bishop: Pope Francis ‘Very Understanding’ After Scandals

Bishop Richard Malone releases video message, insists he is ‘wholly committed’ to the work of healing in the diocese.

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, celebrated Mass inside the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Region II during their ad limina visit in Rome Nov. 12.
Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, celebrated Mass inside the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Region II during their ad limina visit in Rome Nov. 12. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo has released a video statement following his recent ad limina visit to Rome with the bishops of New York. Bishop Malone used the message to insist he is “wholly committed” to the work of healing in the diocese.

In the video, released Monday, Bishop Malone said that each of the bishops was personally greeted by Pope Francis as they entered and left their audience with the Holy Father and that the Pope had shared his closeness to the people in the Diocese of Buffalo following a year of controversy.

“In a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the Pope understands the difficulties and distress we here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing,” Bishop Malone said. “He was very understanding and kind.”

Bishop Malone’s future has been the subject of speculation following months of scandal. At the end of the New York bishops’ ad limina, rumors surfaced on social media that the bishop’s resignation was shortly to be accepted by the Pope.

Last week, Kathy Spangler, spokesperson for the diocese, called the reports “false” and said Bishop Malone would be addressing his trip to Rome this week.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

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 seemed 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 Father Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

On Oct. 3, the apostolic nunciature in Washington, D.C., announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, has been asked to lead an apostolic visitation and canonical inspection of the Buffalo Diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

That review concluded at the end of last month, with Bishop DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.

On Monday, Bishop Malone addressed the status of that report, saying that he had met in Rome with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the bishops’ congregation, and that there would be “more on that to come.”

“I am, of course, aware of the intense interest in the results of the apostolic visitation recently conducted here and submitted to the Holy See,” Bishop Malone said. “The Congregation for Bishops has received the report, which is held in strict confidentiality. I had a brief discussion with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation. More on that to come.”

“I ask for your prayers and patience while the path forward is discerned. In the meantime, be assured that I am wholly committed to fostering the healing of victim survivors, rebuilding trust, and, with our clergy and other Church ministers, renewing faith and carrying on the essential ministries that serve the needs of Catholics and of the larger Western New York community.”

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.