The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, Richard J. Malone, has been under siege for the way the Diocese has been handling the sex abuse scandals that are rocking the Church locally, nationally and internationally. The problems are substantial, and they are far from being resolved.
Bishop Malone on June 8th held the first of what is referred to as a listening tour to learn the feelings of Church members. The first session was at St. Gregory the Great Church in Williamsville. That’s my home parish and I attended the event.
The second session was held in Niagara Falls on June 15th. Notes on that session can be found on the Movement to Restore Trust’s website.
For the most part the laity in attendance at the June 8th session (about 250-300) did the talking and the Bishop did the listening.
In some respects it reminded me of a Trump rally (I have attended two of those). It’s not that the Bishop was acting like Donald Trump – far from it. He was apologetic. He expressed sincere sympathy for the victims of sexual abuse by clerics. He spoke about meeting individually with some of the victims. His appearance was of a man worn down by the events and activities that confront him.
Where the Trump rally similarity struck me, however, was in the response from the Church members in attendance. No one was yelling “lock her up,” but the mood and tone of the participants was mostly one-sided and defensive, which left me thinking that at least some participants did not want to know, or perhaps did not want to accept, the seriousness of the issues the Church is facing.
The room in St. Greg’s Ministry Center was set up with multiple folding tables (about 25 or 30) and chairs. The attendees chose their own seating. There more than a dozen priests and deacons present, and they distributed themselves among the tables. The Bishop sat a head table with some members of the Movement to Restore Trust group.
The average age of those present, I would guess, was at least sixty. Millennials were few and far between.
After opening prayers and some brief introductory comments, attendees were asked to hold discussions at their tables about the things that they wanted to bring to the Bishop’s attention. Each table then chose a spokesperson to present their comments.
My contribution to my table’s discussion, which besides me included a couple gentlemen, a priest and a deacon, was to suggest that when the Church identifies a credible possibility of abuse that the matter be referred to the police for investigation. That comment didn’t make the cut for what our table reported on.
What the Bishop heard had to make him very happy. Nearly every table complimented him for his work or sympathized with him for what he was dealing with.
Many table spokespersons attacked the Buffalo News, as well as TV news, for their reporting on the Church’s scandals. They considered the coverage to be out-of-line and over-the-top, and more than one spokesperson complained that the Roman Catholic Church scandals were being singled out. Maybe they haven’t read about the scandal in the Boy Scouts organization or about a similar scandal concerning the members of the Southern Baptist Church.
What the Bishop didn’t hear much about was concern for the victims of the sex abuse scandals. The Bishop himself, in his concluding comments, had more to say about that, it seemed, than all the table spokespersons combined.
The Bishop mentioned at the session that the American Church’s response to the growing problems would include a national program to report abuse as well as the continuation of the practice of the Church policing its own. That program was subsequently announced at a conclave of Bishops.
That is not going to cut it. The scandal is serious and no one has any way of knowing whether it is contained. It is suggested that the problems are in the rear view mirror. Perhaps with the increased exposure of the issue they are, or maybe they are just less prevalent. Who knows?
Actually, maybe the leadership of the Church knows.
As the unintended focus group that I attended revealed, the “base” of the Church’s leadership is strongly with them. But the base is older and largely set in their ways. The base is not the future of the Church.
The future of the Church is those missing millennials. And the Church will not win them back by stonewalling, hiding the truth or avoiding use of the police and the judicial system to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing.
The lay group known as The Movement to Restore Trust that was formed last fall has an admirable intent. But they have aligned themselves with the Bishop and the Diocese’s leadership, which appears to be a conflict of interest.
The only way trust will return in the Church, among the people who are its future, is for the Church leadership to earn that trust. That means fessing up to everything. It means the actual involvement of the laity in the management structure of the Church. The people are the Church.
There are five more listening events scheduled with the Bishop over the next several weeks. Here from the Movement to Restore Trust website is the explanation of what is included in the programs along with a list of the remaining sessions:
As a direct result of the MRT recommendation, Bishop Malone has agreed to a series of listening sessions across the diocese. The listening sessions will include Bishop Malone praying with the faithful, hearing their thoughts and comments, inviting discussion and offering summary remarks regarding the mission of the diocese and its parishes, schools and other organizations. The listening sessions are designed for the bishop to hear the concerns of the engaged parishioners and for them to offer recommendations for future initiatives regarding pastoral care, spiritual care and ministry.
- Thursday, June 27, 6:30pm – 8:30pm – St. Mark’s Parish (Buffalo)
- Saturday, June 29, 9:30am -11:30am – Archbishop Walsh High School (Olean)
- Saturday, August 3, 9:30am – 11:30am – Sacred Heart Social Center (Batavia)
- Saturday, August 10, 9:30am – 11:30am – Nativity of Our Lord (Orchard Park)
- Saturday, August 17, 9:30am – 11:30am – Holy Trinity Parish (Dunkirk)
If you have an interest in the Catholic Church’s future, please consider attending. And don’t be shy.