BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - More than 80% of Catholics surveyed believe Buffalo's Bp. Richard Malone should resign, according to a professional poll of local Catholics.
It's the first poll to target support for Malone among area Catholics and found that 86% of self-identified Catholics think Malone should step down. The findings were published Tuesday by The Buffalo News which hired local research firm Cornerstone Research & Marketing to conduct the poll last week.
A separate survey conducted by Fr. Eugene Ulrich, pastor of the Church of the Annunciation in Ulma, New York, had similar results. An e-survey of parishioners described by Ulrich as "very active in parish life" showed 85% are calling for Malone's "immediate resignation."
Summing up these results in a letter to Malone on Sept. 10, Fr. Ulrich writes, "It is difficult to see how, with continuing disclosures, that you can effectively lead the Catholic Church at Buffalo. For the greater good you should offer your resignation to the Holy Father."
Bishop Malone reaffirmed at a news conference Sept. 4 that he wasn't resigning and cited Catholic support as a deciding factor in this decision.
"Well, I haven't taken a poll," admitted Malone, but said he believed the majority of local Catholics backed him.
"Believe it or not," said Malone, "I get every week more positive mail — it sounds like I'm making this up, I'm not — than I do negative mail."
He then added, "I'm here because I feel an obligation as the one who was sent here to lead this diocese, to carry on, and once again, if I thought that the majority of Catholic people in particular were calling for my resignation, that would be a different story."
Within hours of Malone's statement, disgruntled Catholics began flooding his email urging him to resign. Soon after the email campaign began, Catholics began noticing their emails were being blocked.
John Polvino observed on Sept. 8 that his attempted email received an error message saying the bishop's email address "couldn't be found."
"I sent this email and it bounced [back] and so right there [it] indicates that they're fortifying the bunker," remarked Polvino.
Malone's support has been in decline owing to his widely criticized mishandling of the sex abuse crisis engulfing his diocese since March 2018. It began in February 2018 with the pubic admission by Buffalo priest Fr. Norbert Orsolits to molesting "probably dozens" of boys.
Calls for Malone's resignation began increasing in December owing to revelations that Malone grossly misrepresented the number of priests facing credible allegations of sex abuse. The diocese listed 42 priests credibly accused while diocesan insiders revealed that the list should include more than 100 clerics.
A continuing series of bad decisions kept Malone in the spotlight and kept calls for his resignation coming in. He allowed Fr. Dennis Riter to be reinstated to ministry in June 2018 before interviewing one of the alleged victims or a witness to the event.
The bishop also chose to restore Fr. Joseph Gatto to active ministry in May 2019 after it was determined that Gatto had been credibly accused by two men of making unwanted homosexual advances against them. Malone said Gatto "underwent professional evaluation and remedial measures" and his improper conduct "did not rise to the level that would require removal from active priestly ministry."
In the past two weeks, Malone's popularity has tanked owing to the release of private recordings by his former secretary that sparked the need for the news conference on Sept. 4.
The secretary, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, recorded Malone saying he wanted to cover-up allegations against one of his priests, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak. Nowak had allegedly broken the seal of confession and made sexual propositions to a second-year seminarian Matthew Bojanowski.
Biernat recorded Malone on Aug. 2 speaking of this incident as follows:
We are in a true crisis situation ... . And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop. ... With all the else that's going on in the diocese and all the, all the attacks on my credibility ... that I've known that something's going on here that shouldn't be and I let it go ... I mean this is a disaster.
These revelations were finally too much for the organization Movement to Restore Trust (MRT), an influential group of lay Catholics formed in 2018 to help the diocese recover its lost credibility. This group began calling for Malone's resignation on Sept. 5, which influenced multiple priests to then withdraw their support for Malone.
Father Jim Kirkpatrick at St. Jude the Apostle in North Tonawanda told media on Sept. 8, "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."
Ulrich also mentioned the lack of MRT support for Malone in his letter asking the bishop to resign.
Another priest calling for Malone to step down is Fr. Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette's Catholic Church in Orchard Park, New York.
Speaking to media on Sept. 8, Seil explained why it's obvious that Malone can no longer lead his diocese.
"When the bishop can't 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?"
New York's archbishop and Buffalo's metropolitan, Cdl. Timothy Dolan, is also weighing calls to rein in the growing scandal in Buffalo. He would do so under the new rules of Vos Estis Lux Mundi instituted by Pope Francis in May.
Dolan's spokesman, Joseph Zwilling, told media Sept. 9, "Cardinal Dolan is very aware of his responsibilities as Metropolitan under Vos estis."
He said he expects to hear from the cardinal about this matter "in the near future."