Bishop Richard Malone says he made mistakes in handling accusations of sexual abuse by clergy but those errors were not to a level that calls for his resignation. Hours before Malone's remarks to a local radio station, a group of Catholic lay persons stood outside the Diocese of Buffalo's downtown headquarters, renewing the call for change in local church leadership.
During Malone's radio interview, he admitted regret of how he handled accusations against one priest in particular, Father Art Smith, including his approval to serve as a chaplain on a cruise ship. He also acknowledged inappropriate communication between the priest and a student on Facebook but added that while it was "imprudent" it was not sexual abuse.
He also admitted his regret for allowing the priest to remain in limited ministry. Meanwhile, Bishop Malone disputed a claim that as many as nine priests accused of sexual wrongdoing may still be actively serving. That claim was made within a report broadcast last weekend by the CBS program 60 Minutes.
Malone also stated that while the scandal has been stressful for him, the suffering of victims is worse. He asked for forgiveness for any mistakes in his handling of alleged abuse cases within the Diocese of Buffalo.
Calls continue, though, for the bishop's resignation in the public, including many Catholic lay people. About a dozen of them stood outside the Diocese of Buffalo's headquarters during the noon hour, holding signs criticizing the bishop and suggesting verbally that he and other church leaders should be replaced.
"This is long overdue. The silence has got to stop," said Mary Ellen Sanfilippo, one of the protesters. "We need all priests, all deacons and we need lay people to come forward and demand that the evil be removed from our church, once and for all."
Some on the sidewalk defended former diocesan employee Siobahn O'Connor for her discreet sharing of confidential files to a local television reporter before resigning as the bishop's executive assistant this past summer. Peg O'Connor, no relation to the whistleblower, said the woman was acting properly to address what she thought was a problem not being handled adequately by her superiors.
"She was actually working on one of the church premises that most people aren't familiar with, called the Primacy of Conscience," she said. "It was Pope Benedict, back when he was Cardinal Ratzinger in 1968, who came out with so many words that your conscience, if something is there in your conscience, you have to act on it."
O'Connor suggested the bishop is not the only individual who should resign but also any other local church leaders who played a role in an alleged cover-up of information involving sexual abuse cases. Resignations of bishops and other church leaders are not finalized until approved by the Vatican and that process can be lengthy in time.
Protesters outside the diocesan headquarters, though, insist the recent broadcast by 60 Minutes and the growing disgust among many lay people should not be ignored by leaders in Rome.
"When you put on the armor of God, nothing is impossible," Sanfilippo said.