BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Priests and prominent laity are signing new petitions calling for the immediate resignations of Buffalo's Bp. Richard Malone and his auxiliary, Bp. Edward Grosz.
Father Robert Zilliox, the outspoken pastor at St. Mary's Catholic Church in East Amherst, New York, circulated on Friday a "no confidence" letter for signing by diocesan clergy that demands Malone and Grosz step down.
"Most priests, deacons and the laity of the Diocese at Buffalo have lost trust and confidence in your ability to lead us forward," the letter reads. "Therefore, we reiterate our demand that you resign effective immediately."
Zilliox told media on Friday that Buffalo's clergy must act for the good of the diocese.
"It's time for my brothers in the clergy to step up, to truly examine their conscious, make a decision, and make a choice that we can no longer allow this to continue," said Zilliox.
Malone indicated to media on Friday that such a letter signed by his clergy would impact his decision to resign.
"I would pay very close attention to that," promised Malone. "I would consult with others about that, including some of the priests who theoretically sign the letter and other priests whom I know would never sign the letter because they express their support every single day to me."
Members of the clergy have stated publicly they'll sign Zilliox's letter. Father Jack Ledwon at St. Joseph's University Parish in Buffalo and Fr. Jim Kirkpatrick at St. Jude the Apostle in North Tonawanda both told their parishioners on Sunday they will sign the priest's petition.
Speaking to media on Sunday, Fr. Kirkpatrick related that his decision to sign the letter followed a call for Malone's resignation by Movement to Restore Trust (MRT), an influential group of lay Catholics formed in 2018. On Thursday, MRT abruptly decided to stop working with the diocese on matters of clerical sex abuse and began calling for Malone's resignation.
"I have to go along with them, they have worked very closely with the Bishop," remarked Kirkpatrick. "He's lost their confidence so I have to go along with them."
In its letter on Thursday, MRT asked the Vatican to appoint a temporary administrator to immediately replace Malone.
"MRT believes that the Vatican should appoint a temporary diocesan administrator, a priest with no ties to the Diocese of Buffalo, while it considers the appointment of a permanent Bishop of Buffalo," said the statement.
Lay-led efforts to remove Malone are gathering momentum as well. A petition launched by "The People of the Diocese of Buffalo, NY" on Sunday calling for Malone to resign has already gained more than 10,000 signatures.
The petition reads, "Though local politicians and business leaders have called for his resignation, the Bishop remains stubbornly indignant and seemingly unaware of his complete loss of credibility among the Catholics in the Diocese of Buffalo."
One of those local politicians from Western New York is U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins. On Wednesday, Higgins strongly reacted to recent audio recordings unveiled by WKBW showing Malone was complicit in covering up the sexual harassment of a seminarian by his priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak.
"There is compelling evidence," Higgins commented, "that includes the bishops own words and his own voice — that a priest that he characterized is dangerous and irrational was left in ministry — that is wrong and the people of Buffalo and Western New York deserve better."
The investigator for WKBW who exposed the recordings, Charlie Specht, on Sunday tweeted many comments from the public who are openly expressing their outrage that Malone is still in office.
"Former @BuffaloDiocese employee writes: 'I’ve been inside the fortress protected by lawyers, millions of dollars, staff willing to look the other way...That's why I left. And that's why I reported everything I saw to the @DAErieCountyNY and @FBIBuffalo" tweeted Specht.
Former @BuffaloDiocese employee writes: "I’ve been inside the fortress protected by lawyers, millions of dollars, staff willing to look the other way...That’s why I left. And that’s why I reported everything I saw to the @DAErieCountyNY and @FBIBuffalo." pic.twitter.com/SL86WzjGEh— Charlie Specht (@Charlie_Reports) September 8, 2019
News broke on Friday that both Malone and Grosz were accused of silencing now-Fr. Ryszard Biernat when he came to them in 2003 with an allegation of sexual abuse as a seminarian. Biernat claims he was sexually assaulted by accused Buffalo priest Fr. Art Smith but was threatened with being suddenly deported and never ordained. Biernat, a Polish immigrant, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in July and has since blown the whistle on Malone and Grosz.
Another priest that says he will sign Zilliox's petition for the removal of Malone and Grosz is Fr. Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette's Catholic Church in Orchard Park, New York. Speaking to media on Sunday, Seil explained to media why it's obvious that Malone can no longer lead his diocese.
"When the Bishop Can't [sic] go to Niagara University, can't go to Canisius College, can't show up at dinner for Catholic Charities, and doesn't have a public mass on a Sunday, that says an awful lot," noted Seil. "The Bishop is to be with his people. If you can't be with your people, how can you continue in any way to lead."