On Tuesday, May 10, the Family Justice Center in downtown Buffalo, an organization that provides services for domestic violence victims and their children, welcomed Bishop Richard J. Malone and Bishop R. William Franklin of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York for a tour of the facility and a look at living rooms they sponsored to help the center in its 10th year of serving the community.
Each bishop was honored with a plaque on an individual room, featuring his name and the name of the diocese he serves. The collaboration was part of an ongoing partnership between Bishop Malone and Bishop Franklin in helping the city of Buffalo during its revitalization to ensure those who are less fortunate and less able to reap the benefits of growth in the city are able to receive help they desperately need.
"I'm just delighted that the Diocese of Buffalo can be part of this tremendous effort," Bishop Malone said. "It's a sad thing that this place has to exist, but thank God it does exist, because of the tremendous threat that so many people, especially women, of course, are experiencing in their families."
"He's a very fun-loving guy," Bishop Franklin said of Bishop Malone. "He can just walk (here) from his office. We have worked with him now for three years. I'm so proud that we've been able to have this sponsorship here, and in (the center's satellite offices) in Williamsville and Orchard Park. I'm so greatly proud of our relationship with Bishop Malone, because we're really trying to stand together."
The bishops and Father Ryszard Biernat, secretary for Bishop Malone, visited and received a tour from Mary Travers Murphy, executive director of the Family Justice Center, and Tiffany Szymanek, the center's development director. Murphy explained the services the center offers and walked the bishops down the halls and rooms, each of which includes an inspirational quote related to perseverance, courage, hope or other value appropriate to the nature of the services the center provides, painted onto the walls.
The room Bishop Malone sponsored has the quote, "You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection," on the wall. Bishop Malone noted Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of Love," speaks of marriage and family, but he also spoke of domestic violence. Bishop Malone stressed that, contrary to some interpretations, the Catholic Church does not encourage women to stay with abusive men, a belief that has resulted in some victims remaining in danger.
The Family Justice Center includes the only forensic medical unit in New York State dedicated only to domestic violence prevention. The center offers safety plans, a safe place for women and their children, and services that assist in prosecuting attackers. The center has two satellite offices, one in Orchard Park and one in Williamsville, and collaborates with Haven House, which is in charge of emergency shelter.
"We have personal items and, you name it, we have it for our clients. We have a little children's play room. Mom can be here for five or six hours if she's here for an order of protection so she doesn't have to go endure the chaos in the court. We like to separate the kids from Mom so they don't have to listen to the details that brought Mom here. They're already living with them," Murphy explained.
The center partners on-site with 13 other local agencies, which include the Sex Offense Squad of the Buffalo Police Department, Haven House, the Erie County District Attorney's office, Neighborhood Legal Services, the Erie County Probation Department and the International Institute of Buffalo. In addition to the on-site partners within the building, there are also many more off-site community partners.
Murphy showed the bishops and their representatives the forensic medical unit, which allows nurses to provide meticulous description of the injuries domestic violence victims have sustained, in combination with high-tech digital photos for use in court. If district attorneys use photographic evidence in court, this results in a 100 percent conviction rate, Murphy said as she showed the bishops photos of injuries.
"We have got to stop sugar-coating this," Murphy said of domestic violence. "Take this big, smelly, disgusting fish, throw it on the table and start talking about it. Both of our satellites have $100,000 worth of renovations, without using one penny of government money. It was the community. We raise money so fast that in Williamsville, we blessed, celebrated and cut the ribbon four months before we opened."
Bishop Franklin called the partnership between the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Buffalo historic since it is rare for the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church to collaborate. "Buffalo is showing the way," he said. "I'm proud that we could do this, because this is the most visible symbol of our relationship right now, against abuse. We're so in favor of the renewal of the city."
"I was delighted we were asked to do it, to just be a small part of such significant work as this is. It's a secular organization, but from our perspective, it's a ministry that's going on here, caring for these people who are in threatening situations," Bishop Malone said. "It's something we should be a part of."
If you or someone you know is in need of the Family Justice Center's services, call 716-558-SAFE (7233) for its Buffalo location, 716-662-0259 for the Orchard Park office or 716-634-4309 for the Williamsville office. The Family Justice Center's website is http://www.fjcsafe.org/.