BUFFALO — The Vatican authorized an investigation Thursday into the embattled Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, whose bishop has been fending off calls to resign over his handling of clergy misconduct allegations.
The “apostolic visitation” will take place in the near future, led by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, according to the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., which is coordinating the visit for the Holy See. DiMarzio will submit his findings to the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Vatican City.
Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone said he welcomed the visitation and will cooperate fully.
The western New York diocese is the subject of dozens of lawsuits by people who claim to have been sexually abused by priests as children. Although most of the abuse occurred long before Malone’s arrival in Buffalo, he has acknowledged mishandling claims involving adult victims.
Over the past year, two key members of Malone’s staff have gone public with concerns about his leadership, including his former secretary who secretly recorded him calling a then-active priest “a sick puppy” and fretting about his own future.
A group of lay Catholics that had been working with Malone to restore trust in the church recently joined in calls for his resignation. A diocesan priest has been circulating a “no confidence” letter for signatures.
Malone has said he will serve as long as he can and wants to be “part of the renewal of the diocese of Buffalo.”
“This is a difficult period in the life of the church in Buffalo,” DiMarzio said in a statement. “I pledge I will keep an open mind throughout the process and do my best to learn the facts and gain a thorough understanding of the situation in order to fulfill the mandate of this apostolic visitation.”
A visitation is a non-judicial and non-administrative process that requires confidentiality, according to the Apostolic Nunciature. The office characterized the process as a fact-finding mission.
Malone’s office said he would not comment beyond a prepared statement Thursday.
“The mission of the church in Buffalo continues to be to seek justice and compassion for the victim-survivors of sexual abuse and their families and to continue the good works of the church, fulfilled on a daily basis by the faithful men and women who serve a wide spectrum of our diocese,” the statement said in part.
The diocese has paid out more than $18 million to more than 100 victims under a compensation program established last year. Since August, it has been named in a wave of new lawsuits under a New York state law that suspended the usual statute of limitations and opened a one-year window for victims to pursue claims regardless of when the abuse happened.
Attorneys general in several states, including New York, have begun civil investigations into how the Catholic church reviewed and potentially covered up abuse.