Bishop says secret audio broke church law, restates he won't resign
Bishop Richard Malone, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, stated once again Wednesday he is obligated to lead the diocese through its tough times and, thus, he will not resign. Meanwhile, hours after WKBW-TV broadcast a story featuring audio secretly recorded by Malone's former secretary, the bishop suggested Fr. Ryszard Biernat broke church law by doing so.
Malone hosted a news conference Wednesday afternoon inside the rectory building located adjacent to St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown Buffalo. He opened by providing background information on former seminarian Matthew Bojanowski and his initial accusations of sexual harassment by Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, the latter of whom was serving most recently as pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Cheektowaga until he was placed on administrative leave.
Also mentioned in the story Malone shared in his opening statement was Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his longtime secretary who shared a growing and close friendship with Bojanowski.
"The relationship of these three men is very complicated," Malone said. "They have leveled, in one way or another, accusations among themselves which needed intense investigation. That investigation continues. None of the individuals have been totally forthcoming or cooperative. That's one of the reasons this thing has taken as long as it has, plus all of the other investigations we've been doing over this past year of allegations of abuse of children, of minors."
Biernat recently shared a secretly recorded audio of a meeting involving Malone and several staff, during which he expressed concern for the situation involving Nowak and Bojanowski. Also in that audio, which was made public by WKBW-TV reporter Charlie Specht, Malone expresses concern that allegations of sexual misconduct at Christ the King Seminary could force him to step down.
Malone restated Wednesday he has no intention to resign, insisting it is his obligation to carry on where he has been placed to see the diocese through its tough times.
"Once again, if I thought that if the majority of Catholic people in particular we're calling for my resignation, that would be a different story," Malone said. "But I don't feel that. I go out to parishes and schools all the time for visits. I am always well-received where I go. Who knows what people's thoughts are sitting in the pews that they don't articulate? But I do feel enough support, honestly, to continue on."
Outside the rectory standing along Franklin Street was Siobhan O'Connor, Malone's former assistant. She left that position last fall and turned whistleblower, sharing confidential documents about diocesan sex abuse cases with WKBW-TV. She does not share the bishop's opinion about his level of support.
"He doesn't want to be surrounded by anyone who might be critical," O'Connor said. "Priests who might have criticisms to offer, he would either shun them or ignore them or avoid them. And in terms of the lay people, all I'm hearing from people is how desperate they are for him to leave. He may certainly be speaking to some who would be on his side, but I really don't think that they're in the majority, by a longshot."
When the Diocese of Buffalo announced Biernat's leave on Aug. 20, O'Connor offered her praise for the priest, saying on Facebook, "I have total trust in Father Ryszard’s selfless commitment to the priesthood, our diocese and Our Lord." She defended the priest again on Wednesday.
"I'm so incredibly proud of him. He is truly the man I thought he was," O'Connor said. "The bishop is the opposite. With Fr. Ryszard, I always knew he had a good heart and he was striving for holiness. He was always focused on other people. In so many ways, he's the opposite of Bishop Malone. I worked closely with him and I saw his dedication to Jesus and to his people. Even without knowing the fullness of this story, I felt I could always be loyal to Fr. Ryszard because he is always committed to the good."
Meanwhile, Malone also stated that he is considering more than one option, as Child Victims Acft lawsuits threaten to strain the diocese's finances. There are insurance policies in some cases, he explained, but other possibilities remain on the table.
"We're looking at litigation and at the possibility of bankruptcy, or Chapter 11 reorganization, as we like to use the euphemism for it, which as you know is a structure and strategy that helps the church to go forth securely," he said. "Right now that's the honest truth. We're looking at both of those."
James Faluszczak, a former priest and child sex abuse survivor who has turned advocate for other victims, shared the thought about the possibility of bankruptcy in a reply to a Tweet by WBFO during the bishop's news conference: "Bankruptcy by choice will result in shutting down the discovery process for victims."
Elected officials who have previously called on the bishop to step down renewed their calls Wednesday. Assemblymember Patrick Burke stated in writing, "the Bishop must resign or be removed by the Vatican." Rep. Brian Higgins has also previously called on Malone to resign.
Malone was asked about Higgins' call as he was leaving the news conference.
"He's welcome to his opinion," he said. "It's interesting he feels that it's okay for him as a politician to tell a religious figure to step down. If I as a religious figure told a politician to step down, we'd hear all about separation of church and state. True? I think so."