The Bishop as politician

As one news day rolls into the next the Buffalo News and many, many television and radio newscasts have become swamped with stories concerning the investigations of clergy accused of pedophilia and sexual abuse in Western New York. Increasingly the focus has expanded to the handling of such issues by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. The face of the Diocese, Bishop Richard Malone, has been at the eye of the storm.

Pretty much all stories manage to work in a comment about how the scandals go back decades, with the Diocese under the management of several bishops over that time. That being said, Bishop Malone is the man in charge now.

This blog is mostly about politics, and this is other stuff. This is a story, however, about how politics and other stuff seem to be merging as this sad and sorry tale continues to unfold. The fact is that the Bishop, as days go on, is acting more and more like a politician than a spiritual leader. Consider a few things:

  • The media frenzy is exactly like one might see when a major political scandal breaks involving dozens and dozens of players. Stories similar to this are being played out throughout the country, like multiple wildfires breaking out all at once.
  • The Bishop is the chief executive of the Diocese, and as such he controls the management of the Diocese’s response to the unfolding scandal. That’s not so good, since he himself has become part of the larger story. Unlike a certain other chief executive politician much in the news these days, however, rather than punch back, Malone has mostly assumed a curled up, defensive posture. His attempts to defend himself are weak and mostly ineffective.
  • Like some other political scandals that we have been observing of late, there have been “leakers” or “whistleblowers” in the diocesan news. The information that has leaked, however, has been much more pointed and therefore more effective than we have seen in most political scandals these days.
  • That is because the whistleblowers have sized up the situation and decided to courageously come forward with very damning information. The diocesan leakers have risked their own futures. There have been telltale books and commentary coming out of the scandals that envelop the Trump administration, but that information has generally been tabloid-style stuff. Most of the DC leakers are wimpy and more concerned with their own futures than that of the country.
  • Malone, as part of his effort to defend himself, has talked about a dozen or so emails of support – sort of like Trump always noting “people are saying…” to embellish his fabrications.
  • Malone has said that he has a majority of Catholics in the Diocese behind his actions. Did I miss something? When did management of the Diocese get turned over to the constituents as if their opinions matter in how the Diocese operates?
  • The Bishop does however has his supporters – his base. I noted that in a previous post when I reported on one of the Bishop’s listening sessions held in June. Most of the table spokespersons at that event supported the Bishop and many attacked the media.
  • The Bishop’s base, however, is swimming against the tide of reality in the form of smaller numbers of attendees at mass and smaller collections from Church members. The Catholic Charities organization has suffered collateral damage.
  • Malone seems to have gravitated to right-leaning WBEN Radio as his preferred media outlet.
  • Malone’s PR team has even taken to excluding Channel 7 investigative reporter Charlie Specht from Malone’s press availability last week – as if that somehow would lessen coverage of the session. Specht, of course, has done more than any other reporter to break and report on the story.
  • Calls for Malone to resign have intensified, and the effort seems to be pushed most strongly by a politician, Congressman Brian Higgins.
  • Malone has now turned on the lay group that set themselves up to improve things, the Movement to Restore Trust. The Movement has now fallen in line with other calls for the Bishop’s resignation. The efforts of the group were well-meaning, but the laity is not going to restore trust in the Church. That needs to come from the Church’s clerical leadership.

With the Bishop dug in and new information about the scandals coming out on nearly a daily basis, the siege is going to continue for a while. The Vatican, of course, could intervene, but the Buffalo Diocese will need to stand in line with other similar scandals throughout the United States and the rest of the world.

That leaves the Bishop (and I use these words lightly) “in control” of the administration and the defense of the Diocese. His management of the situation is poor.

Some key aides of the Bishop have resigned. Those who are remaining, including outside counselors, have been an integral part of the management of these issues. They are part of the problem, not the solution.

The solution would need to involve a radical change in how the Diocese management is set up and functions. Transparency is key. So is the involvement of the laity in all aspects of the management, and not in the form of some token advisory councils.

The thing is, Bishop Malone at this moment is “the chosen one” for the Diocese of Buffalo. One has to wonder, what would Jesus do?

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