Bishop Richard J. Malone said there are no priests currently in ministry that he is aware of with credible allegations against them. He also addressed plans expand current abuse safeguards to protect adults as well as minors. The bishop spoke with media on Nov. 5, to answer concerns regarding sexual abuse by members of local clergy.
The bishop, along with chancery staff, explained the history of abuse, steps taken to prevent it, and the diocesan compensation program for victims.
The conference, held at Infant of Prague Parish in Cheektowaga, followed a meeting between the bishop and many of the nearly 300 diocesan priests that serve the Diocese of Buffalo to express his concern about the difficulty they've had in carrying out their ministry in the "current atmosphere of crisis." He called it "a good meeting."
"Along with confusion and silence and misinformation, I know they have expressed deep compassion and attention to the people entrusted to their care. I assured them that together, we - priests, bishops, deacons, religious and faithful lay people, the Church we all love together will be purified, renewed and made stronger," the bishop told the press.
Bishop Malone along with diocesan lawyers addressed the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and specific cases in which priests were removed from ministry. A list of 36 names of priests, both diocesan and religious order, with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of a minor was released. The bishop had previously released a list of 42 names of only diocesan priests with substantiated claims.
Sister Regina Murphy, SSMN, chancellor of the diocese, pointed out that no priest ordained in the past 20 years has had an accusation of abuse against a minor.
Sister Regina explained how she organized and inventoried priests' files to create this second list. "The numbers that were out in the press earlier when that May 1, 2017, document was released are no longer accurate. Things are now much better organized and the continued updating of the database, which given the number of recent cases is very difficult to keep up with, but I think we're pretty well organized as of this moment."
The diocese is still not releasing names of priests with just one allegation or who have been cleared or that could not be identified.
Lawlor Quinlan, one of the diocese's lawyers, said the belief of "rampant child sex abuse going on right now in the diocese" is "absolutely not true."
He spoke on the history of sexual abuse in the diocese, saying the way abuse claims were handled changed in 2002 with the creation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Up into the 1970s, Church officials believed that a priest who abused could be rehabilitated and serve again with out an incident. That was found to not be the case for most priests. The charter developed a zero tolerance policy against abuse with a minor.
The charter, established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, also mandated that every diocese establish a Diocesan Review Board, composed of lay people, retired judges and medical experts, that would advise bishop on each abuse claim.
"We don't want the decisions of what to do with these priests being made by a bishop and someone else in a room in the chancery. We want the lay people to be involved in these decisions, and they have been since 2002," Quinlan said, adding the number of abuse cases has gone down considerably in recent years. The diocese has experienced only three cases of abuse of a minor since 1990.
Referring to a recent "60 Minutes" interview where Father Robert Zilliox mentioned "eight or nine" priests that should be removed. Quinlan clarified that the priests have not been removed from clerical state, but have been removed from ministry. "(Father Zilliox) has since confirmed that."
Questions from the 25 media personalities present involved specifics on several cases. One reporter asked if the current charter, which is a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegation of sexual abuse of minors, should be expanded to include adults.
"The charter does not go far enough," the bishop agreed, adding it was created in response to Boston crisis. "What we need now is some kind of similar protocol that would take more seriously the ways we ought to handle allegations of misconduct of a priest with an adult." The diocese is designing a protocol that Bishop Malone will introduce to the USCCB.