BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - After nearly two years of scandal involving clerical sex abuse and cover-up, embattled Buffalo Bp. Richard Malone is reportedly stepping down.
Citing multiple inside sources, on Monday Catholic journalist Rocco Palmo reported that Bp. Malone, 73, will resign on Wednesday. These same sources, Palmo noted, indicate that Malone will be replaced by Albany Bp. Edward Scharfenberger.
Buffalo investigative reporter Charlie Specht reported Monday that his 7 Eyewitness News team had confirmed through an independent source that Malone is out, and that Scharfenberger has been picked to replace him.
If Malone does step down, he will be the first bishop to resign in the 172-year history of the diocese.
The news comes just days after Malone returned from an ad limina visit to Rome, where he met with Pope Francis.
Dodging reporters and protesters at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Malone refused to answer questions about his future as bishop of the diocese.
Instead, the prelate portrayed himself as a victim. In a video statement, Malone claimed: "In a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the Pope understands the difficulties and distress we here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing. He was very understanding and kind."
For the past two years, Malone has clung to power in spite of growing anger over his mishandling of clerical sex abuse.
In September, a poll found that 86% of Buffalo Catholics thought Malone should resign over his pattern of cover-up. He refused, claiming: "Believe it or not, I get every week more positive mail — it sounds like I'm making this up, I'm not — than I do negative mail."
Those calling for Malone's resignation include high-ranking diocesan officials.
In September, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, the bishop's former priest secretary, exposed efforts to cover up his sexual assault at the hands of a diocesan priest. According to Fr. Biernat, Malone and Auxiliary Bp. Edward M. Grosz used threats to force him into silence after an alleged assault by Fr. Art Smith. The assault, he was told, was his own fault because he didn't "lock the door."
In August, Stephen Parisi stepped down as dean of seminarians at Buffalo's Christ the King Seminary, telling Malone, "My parents instilled in me a basic sense of faith and morals. I have come to the realization that the values and morals of this seminary and diocese do not correspond to my own."
Citing "continual cover-up ... of sex abuse, abuse of power, abuse of authority, abuse of seminarians," Parisi called for an apostolic investigation of the diocese: "We need change. We need somebody to come in and clean house."
Parisi urged area Catholics to cut off donations to the diocese: "The only way for the Church to survive is for good and honest lay people to reclaim their Church, and the first step is to stop putting money in the collection basket."
Parisi's resignation came just days after Buffalo attorney Kevin Stocker, who represents nearly two dozen clerical sex abuse victims, filed a RICO lawsuit against the diocese.
Stocker accused the diocese of running a racketeering enterprise that included payments to area "law firms and accountants to perform their roles in concealing the misconduct in the Diocese of Buffalo."
"In order to conduct these activities, you need professionals to advise and organize and carry [it] out," said Stocker. "But it appears that it was a very sophisticated, well-financed organization and a well-thought strategy on how to transfer funds and hide funds."
Siobhan O'Connor quit her job as Malone's secretary in August 2018, two months after the diocese was served a federal subpoena ordering it to turn over all documents pertaining to credible allegations of clerical sex abuse. Before leaving, O'Connor copied "hundreds of documents" from confidential diocesan files and went public with evidence of Malone's ongoing pattern of cover-up.
"Please know that my conscience compelled me to take action regarding Bishop Malone because of my profound concern for victims, the diocese and our community," she said later in a statement. "As a faithful Catholic, I could not abide by what I witnessed at the Chancery. As the whistleblower, my heart is heavy, but my soul is at peace."
Likewise, in October 2018 Fr. Robert Zilliox, the bishop's canonical advisor, revealed that he had counseled Malone to remove multiple abusive priests from ministry, but was ignored.
"A lot of cases probably should have gone to Rome at the time," he noted. "They did not."
When asked how many priests should have been removed from the priesthood, Zilliox responded, "eight or nine." He was then asked how many of these were still in the priesthood.
"All of them," replied Zilliox. "All of the guys that should have been removed from the priesthood are still priests."
Calls for Malone to resign erupted in earnest in August 2018, when Specht and his team published an investigation revealing that the bishop returned Fr. Smith to ministry in spite of allegations of inappropriate contact with a child; allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain in ministry in spite of multiple allegations of sexual impropriety involving young adult parishioners; and concealed sex abuse allegations involving more than 60 Buffalo-area priests.