BUFFALO – Bishop Richard J. Malone, head of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, issued a statement late Thursday defending his Church’s reaction to sexual abuse, and attempting to clarify what he says is inaccurate media coverage. He also said “Lessons were learned.”
“The subject of child sexual abuse is one that rightfully has been the focus of intense media attention in recent years. It is a problem that, unfortunately, extends far beyond the Diocese of Buffalo and far beyond the Church. Yet despite the intense media coverage, many of the important facts regarding the scourge of child sexual abuse and the response of the Church and our diocese are either unmentioned or misstated in the news. I write today to correct some of those errors,” Malone’s statement read.
His first point in the released statement is that “Almost all the reported cases of clerical abuse involve conduct that occurred decades ago.”
“With almost daily media reports, some people might conclude (incorrectly) that the current crisis involves ongoing clergy abuse. That is not true. Since 2003, every diocese in the country has completed an annual audit of the newly reported cases of child abuse, regardless of whether those cases could be investigated or substantiated,” he said.
“In the last audit year, which included a wave of claims that followed the announcement of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, our diocese received 191 first reports of child abuse, which were more than had been reported in all previous audits combined. Significantly, not a single one of those new allegations involved an incident that occurred after 2000.”
Malone said all the new reports are from allegations about alleged events from decades ago.
“In fact, there have been only three diocesan priests against whom the diocese has received substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse that occurred in this century. All three of those priests were removed from ministry, and their cases have been widely publicized. And there have been no substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against any diocesan priest ordained in the past 30 years.”
Malone defended the policies implemented following the 2002 Charter.
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established a comprehensive set of procedures known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, he said.
“Following the Charter, every diocese in the country established a “Safe Environment Program” designed to prevent and respond to any incidents of child sexual abuse and to ensure the safety of children and young people in three ways: by thoroughly screening and supervising all clergy and all employees and volunteers who work with children and young people, by providing appropriate training in recognizing and reporting child abuse to appropriate civil and Church authorities, and by holding all members of the clergy, employees and volunteers who work with children and young people to Christ-centered and professional codes of conduct. These policies have been implemented here and they have worked, as demonstrated by the fact that there have been very few actual cases of child sexual abuse in our diocese since 2002,”Malone said.
He noted that the independent Review Board process is working as well.
“When adequate information has been obtained, the Board will make a recommendation to me about whether or not the claim has been substantiated. No priest with a substantiated claim of child sexual abuse can remain in ministry,” Malone said. “The Review Board is always willing to consider new claims or new evidence. In some cases, the Board has reconsidered decisions made by bishops before the Charter, and, based on a new investigation, a priest who had been allowed to remain in ministry was removed.”
He said his decisions about who to remove from the ministry are often criticized by the media.
“Of course, the process needs to be confidential to protect the privacy of all the parties involved, and, as a result, the public may not hear all that went into each decision,” Malone said. “What I can share is that the diocese is fortunate to have the expertise and collective wisdom of the people who volunteer to serve on the Review Board. I observe their deliberations and can assure you that they recognize the important responsibility with which they are entrusted, and they do not make a recommendation without serious deliberation.”
The Diocese has, Malone said, made significant strides to increase transparency regarding child sexual abuse.
“A Buffalo News editorial printed on Jan. 28, 2019, alleged that the diocese has engaged in a “cover-up of the names of the accused [priests].” This is simply not true. To begin, I would note that by publishing names of credibly accused priests, this diocese was doing the very opposite of covering up. Last March, I decided, for the first time in the history of this diocese, to publish a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse,” Malone said.
“Our updated list also reflected the numerous new reports of decades-old abuse that we received between March and November, and this resulted in an expanded list. Despite these revelations, the Buffalo News recently wrote on April 3, 2019, that beyond releasing these names, “Bishop Richard J. Malone has refused to provide more information to the public about the depth and scope of clergy sexual abuse of minors in the diocese.” Again, that statement is demonstrably false. In November, the diocese held a press conference during which we not only disclosed additional names of priests, but the diocese specifically announced it has received reports of sexual abuse of minors against more than 130 diocesan priests and over 40 religious order priests. The very purpose of making that announcement was to disclose the depth and scope of the allegations received,” Malone said.
Malone said it is important to appreciate the scope of the abuse crisis among priests, it is important to consider the number of priests who have served in the diocese during the same time period. Since 1950, there have been more than 2,300 clergy assigned to the diocese.
Malone also said child sexual abuse is a problem within all segments of society, not just the Catholic Church. He said the issue deserves more attention than it gets, no matter where it happens.
“This horrible crime cuts a wide swath across all areas of our society, and its scope is staggering. Even assuming conservatively that 10 percent of the adult population suffered sexual abuse as a child, then in the eight counties that comprise our diocese approximately 121,000 living adults were sexually abused as children. Most abuse will never be reported because it was perpetrated by family members, family friends, or neighbors. Also, because there is no institution associated with those abusers, most of that abuse will never be the subject of a lawsuit or a front-page story. But to forget or to ignore the vast majority of victims of child sexual abuse would be a tragedy,” he said.
“For all the progress the Church and this diocese have made in preventing child sexual abuse today and in addressing abuse in the past, I recognize that more needs to be done. Of course, I am acutely aware of the times when I personally have fallen short. I deeply regret and apologize for having signed those letters in support of Father Art Smith. I also regret not being more transparent about claims involving abuse against adults.
“In this season of lent, we are reminded that being a Christian means becoming a Christian ever anew. That requires repenting and struggling to remake ourselves with humility, prayer, and love. I personally need to repent and reform, and it is my hope that this diocese can rebuild itself and learn and even grow from the sins of the past. I ask you to pray for me, pray for the Church, and pray for all those who suffered and suffer as a result of abuse as we go forward together to address the worldwide problem of child sexual abuse,” he said.