Catholic Charities USA, for its first time, is hosting its "Annual Gathering" in Buffalo. As events including the scheduled appearance by a high-ranking church leader were taking place inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, a small group of protesters were outside, renewing a call for the resignation of Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone.
Scheduled to speak to the audience inside the convention center was Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. News media were not allowed inside the convention center.
Outside, standing across Franklin Street, nearly a dozen protesters including sexual abuse survivors held up signs renewing their demand for Bishop Malone's resignation or removal.
Peggy Sperber was among those participating in the sidewalk demonstration. She stood behind a stroller in which her young son sat. A local Catholic, Sperber revealed she had been educated in Catholic schools, knew many good priests and intends to enroll her child in a Catholic school when he is of that age. She told WBFO she had been contemplating how to speak up in light of accusations of abuse by clergy and cover-ups by church administrators.
"I heard that the papal nuncio would be here. I know he does have the ability to remove the bishop," said Peggy Sperber, a local Catholic who participated in the sidewalk demonstration. "I thought this was a perfect opportunity to come out and make my voice be heard."
Speaking through a megaphone, Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery barked out several messages including one referring to a report by WKBW-TV in Buffalo that church records identify more than 100 priests as being accused of sexual abuse. Bishop Malone, when he released his list of accused priests earlier this year, identified only 42 individuals.
Buffalo Common Councilmember Chris Scanlon was also among the protesters. He, along with Congressman Brian Higgins and Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke, urged the bishop's resignation last month. Scanlon says it shouldn't necessarily stop there.
"It should be everyone, anyone who has had anything to do with it, whether it's committing one of these crimes of abuse, or covering up, whether they're complicit in the cover-up of it," Scanlon said. "Anyone and everyone who has had anything to do with harming these children, these teenagers, these vulnerable adults, anyone who has had anything to do with it should be removed."
As the Catholic Charities USA conference was commencing in Buffalo, Pope Francis was planning meetings with top US church officials in Rome, including one with Cardinal Donald Weurl, the archbishop based in Washington, DC who is accused of helping cover up priests accused of abuse. The Holy See, it was announced Wednesday, has also summoned the heads of all bishop conferences worldwide for a February summit to discuss the prevention of clergy abuse.
Do these developments raise hopes back on the sidewalk in Buffalo?
"I do hope but I'm pretty skeptical, unfortunately, at this time," Sperber said. "I think this is an issue from the top on down. I think it's systemic. I think the Catholic Church has allowed this type of environment, of secrecy, of pedophilia, of abuse, to run rampant for decades. It needs to end."