Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone on December 4, 2019. Malone was the bishop of the Buffalo Diocese of New York State at the time of his resignation.
His decision came months after pressure from church leaders, priests and the public. Most criticisms against Malone revolve around his handling of clergy abuse allegations made while he was in charge.
Malone Retires Two Years Shy of Mandated Timeline
Malone, 74, maintains that his decision to retire early is voluntary and not forced. This move occurs two years short of the standard retirement age of bishops.
However, the Pope granted his request for early retirement. The Vatican did not initially reveal why Malone decided to retire early. This is standard practice for any bishop granted retirement.
In an independent statement, Malone revealed he chose to retire after reviewing the results of an internal church investigation against him.
Critics Condemn Malone’s Oversight of Sexual Abuse Cases
More than 220 lawsuits claim priests in the Buffalo Diocese committed acts of sexual abuse. The allegations span decades before Malone’s arrival in 2012. But, critics believe he exercised poor administrative judgment.
In one case, a priest sent an inappropriate message over social media to an eighth-grade boy. That same priest was allowed to return to the ministry under Malone’s discretion.
Malone later endorsed the unnamed individual to work as a cruise ship chaplain. He did this even after receiving multiple complaints of sexual misconduct by male minors.
Because of these discretions, Malone received pressure from local parishioners and church leaders to retire. More than 86 percent of Buffalo Diocese Catholics did not have confidence in his abilities to lead. They believed he should resign or be replaced.
Albany Bishop Replaces Malone
In the Vatican’s official press release, it named Monsignor Edward B. Scharfenberger as Malone’s immediate replacement. The Vatican prepared for this replacement as early as three weeks before receiving Malone’s formal resignation.
Vatican Officials appointed Scharfenberger to act in a temporary administrative capacity. Scharfenberger is a former Albany Bishop. This strategy buys the dioceses time as it handles appointing Malone’s permanent successor.
Sexual Abuse in Buffalo Diocese Reflects National Pattern
The circumstances surrounding Malone’s retirement are not unique. The Roman Catholic Church faces numerous allegations and legal claims regarding the misconduct of its bishops and priests. It has faced harsh criticism for failing to remove child sexual predators from its ranks. In multiple cases, people in positions of authority knew sexual abuse and misconduct occurred. Some lied to investigators. Others took no action to address a victim’s claims.
Allegations against the Catholic Church and other denominational congregations continue to develop as more information becomes available through investigations and lawsuits.
How Clergy Abuse Happens
Clergy members are in a position of power. When that power is in the hands of a sexual predator, it impacts the lives of children and other vulnerable church members.
Typically, these cases involve some level of coercion, deception or fraud to avoid a public scandal. These actions may keep victims from taking action against abusive church leaders.
Associated Press. (2019, December 4). Pope Francis accepts resignation of Buffalo bishop under fire over handling of abuse claims. NBC News.
Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. (2020, February 11). Most Reverend Richard J. Malone.
Dwyer, C. (2019, December 4). Buffalo, N.Y., Bishop Resigns Amid Controversy Over Clergy Abuse. NPR.
Harris, C. (2019, December 2). Bishop Scharfenberger to temporarily head Buffalo Diocese. Times Union.
Lovett, I., Rocca, F. (2019, December 4). Buffalo Bishop Resigns After Accusations of Covering Up Abuse. The Wall Street Journal.
Otterman, S. (2019, December 4). Buffalo Bishop Resigns After Scandal Over Secret List of Abusive Priests. The New York Times.
Pasciak, M. (2019, December 4). Vatican began preparing weeks ago to replace Malone as bishop. The Buffalo News.
Tokasz, J. (2017, September 17). Despite what bishop says, most area Catholics want him to resign, poll finds. The Buffalo News.
(2019, December 4). Pope grants early retirement to embattled Bishop Malone. The Niagara Gazette.