With his removal as head of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese, Bishop Richard Malone will hold an ignominious place in history. Professor Patrick Hornbeck, Chair of Theology at Fordham University, is an expert in canon law and has been following local developments. Putting his tenure into context, Malone's actions were not among the worst things bishops have done, Hornbeck said. "Unfortunately, far from it. But these are incredibly serious allegations that go to the heart of people's ability to trust."
In announcing his departure in a prepared statement, Bishop Malone said Pope Francis had accepted his "early retirement."
Hornbeck says that was not the case.
"Early retirement is the thing that a person does after he has put in a long and valuable career and has contributed to the building of a place and isn't able to go on," Hornbeck said.
"A resignation in the Catholic Church usually comes from some sort of need. As in this person COULD NOT go on. There's an important difference between those two."
For the foreseeable future, the Buffalo Catholic Diocese will be run by an apostolic administrator, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who also serves as the Bishop of Albany.
"An apostolic administrator acts just like the Diocesan Bishop. So, almost all the things the Diocesan Bishops normally do, the apostolic administrator is allowed to do," Hornbeck said.
"But the other principle, and it kind of cuts against the first one, that when there's not a permanent bishop in place--this is a direct quote from Canon Law--nothing is to be altered. And so the question becomes, well, what exactly does 'nothing' mean, and what exactly does 'altered' mean?"
With those restrictions in mind, Hornbeck believes Scharfenberger will not be selling off properties or taking the Diocese into bankruptcy. However, he's unlikely to accept the status quo.
"In a case in West Virginia recently where there was an apostolic administrator, he seems to have cleaned house within much of the staff of the chancery, the Bishop's staff."