St. Mark Parish, Buffalo, N.Y.
June 27, 2019

Attendees: 65-70, seated at twelve tables

  • Following a scripture reading and prayer, there was a Statement of the Goals and Objectives of the session by MRT member Stephanie Argentine guidelines for participation:
  •  All were encouraged to speak what was in their hearts during discussion at the table
  • Expressions across the spectrum from hopes and dreams to desired actions were invited. A report from each table summarizing comments would be given at the end of open discussion.
  • The presence of several priests was acknowledged, and they were invited to be seated with laity at the table of their choice.
  • It was pointed out that it was not to be an open microphone Q & A session but an opportunity to make oneself heard through the discussions at the table, and the reporting out of those discussions to the bishop and the group as whole.

REPORTS FROM THE TABLES FOLLOWING DISCUSSION FOR 20-30 MINUTES

Table Comments:

  • Expressions of anger and disgust about what has happened during and as a result of the scandal and how it has been handled
  • Acknowledged that there has been some improvement over time in the way matters are being handled but there remains widespread confusion and mistrust
  • There is great disappointment that policy seems to be that bishops will be policing themselves
  • There is great concern about the way matters have been covered up by Church leaders
  • It was thought that the truth should have been told, even if it is painful
  • Questions were asked as to why there has been no punishment of errant priests as there would be for others involved in such criminal behavior and why the matters involving abuse have been “watered down”
  • Behaviors involving pedophilia were described as savage and have resulted in a loss of prestige for our Church and a perceived loss of holiness.  It was questioned why the bishop is allowing homosexual priests in the ministry (seemingly tying homosexuality to pedophilia.). Note: there was loud dissent throughout the room after the comments about homosexuals.
  • With respect to the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT), it appears that its actions are not widely publicized; there is particularly a desire to know how offenses will be dealt with in the future
  • There was expressed a desire to be assured that seminary education and training will be such as to prevent such problems in the future
  • Concerns were expressed about how innocent priests who have been accused and found innocent have been dealt with and concern in general for all innocent priests who have had to function under a cloud of shame because of the behavior of others
  • Great disappointment with the manner in which the hierarchy have handled the problems was expressed
  • It was observed that the scandal has caused many to leave the Church or to withdraw support of its activities
  • Concurrence with the previous remarks was expressed
  • Concern and fear for the way young members of the Church have been affected by the scandal
  • It was observed that there appears to be hubris and a lack of humility in the behavior of bishops in the church
  • Concern about inaction on the part of leadership was expressed
  • There was expressed a desire to re-engage in matters of pressing importance to our faith, our Church and the community and concern that they are no longer getting the attention needed; there is a need to get focus again on pressing issues
  • It was observed that other dioceses have effectively dealt with the issues; why have we not been able to?
  • It was questioned why past leadership is not also “at the table.” They have been largely responsible and have left a “mess” for Bishop Malone to clean up.
  • Members expressed disappointment rather than anger at the way the situation has been handled
  • It was expressed that MRT is yet another layer in the organization that is not needed
  • It was further said that homosexuality in the priesthood is the real problem leading to pedophilia
  • There was a call for more offense rather than defense
  • Concern about silence from the leadership in the Church in face of passage of the new law governing and liberalizing abortion
  • Observed that the problems in the Church are more than about the role of women
  • Concerns were expressed about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East
  • The problems can be seen as a failure of education of Catholics through history, leading to the emergence of clericalism
  • There was expresses a need for more collegiality and acknowledgement of the priesthood of the laity
  • Concern about the future of the Church was expressed, particularly in light of the closing of many of our schools
  • A feeling that “we are tired of hearing about it all” was expressed
  •  There was concern expressed that so few were present at this session
  • “The Church has had many problems in the past; fix it and move forward”
  • The importance of the role of the laity in the Church was emphasized
  • Bishops must be held accountable
  • There must be zero tolerance of errant behaviors
  • The scandalous behavior has not been handled properly in the past
  • There is a need to provide support for the good priests in the Church
  • There was a call to provide better training to deal with and prevent such problems in the future
  • There is a need for all to show support for survivors of abuse
  • What has the Diocese of Buffalo and the Vatican done in response to the problem?
  • What is being done to bring more religious women into the diocese?
  • There is a need for more accountability
  • We are waiting for an apology from the diocese
  • Need for more focus and guidance in matters pertaining to the spiritual life of the Church as well as the institutional Church
  • We cannot change history but must do all that we can to better understand why this has happened
  • There must be help for the victims of abuse as well as for the priests who have been wrongly accused
  • Concern was expressed about the matter of practicing homosexuals in the priesthood
  • There was a reference to how the Diocese of Rockville Center has handled the sandal (unclear)
  • More attention must be given to young children in the Church
  • There is a need for more transparency
  • The Church could emerge as a leader in dealing with this problem; it is the second largest organization in the world, second to China

It was observed by a participant who has taken courses at the seminary as a layman that we should be sympathetic to the seminarians currently in formation with respect to new rigors in their training

It was stated that there must be an opportunity for survivors of abuse to meet personally with the bishop.

BISHOP MALONE’S RESPONSES AND COMMENTS

  • Bishop Malone expressed gratitude for the passion evident among the attendees and for their concerns about the issues and for the future of the Church
  • With respect for greater involvement of the laity, he stated that he had planned to have a Diocesan Synod involving clergy and laity, the last one being held in 1954. He complimented the efforts of Siobhan O’Connor, then his executive secretary, who had researched the matter and offered suggestions in the preliminary planning effort
  • He stated emphatically that he has been personally meeting with victims of abuse and will continue to do so
  • He stated that we must identify more opportunities for women in diocesan leadership positions, identifying that women now hold a number of important positions
  • He observed that the Movement to Restore Trust has been asking for greater involvement of women in various positions
  • He concurred that there must be co-responsibility of clergy and laity in decision-making within the diocesan governance structure
  • Bishop Malone stated that the Listening Sessions thus far have been very helpful and would like to have more such opportunities to interact with others
  • He noted that the bishops in the U.S. are united in their commitment to finding ways to assure that there will be no recurrence of abuse
  • He said that Catholic schools are now the safest of environments for children in light of the safeguards that have been put in place.
  • With respect to the handling of accusations of abuse, he stated that all cases are referred to the metropolitan (Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York) but that laity are also involved in the adjudication of cases. He committed to providing more information on the protocols being followed.
  • With respect to concern regarding ethical behavior, including his own, he observed that there is a forum for reporting and dealing with such concerns. It is described on the diocesan website which is undergoing revision. Any concern regarding the conduct of any person in the Church may and should be reported
  • With respect to the punishment of priests who have been convicted of crimes, he observed that some have gone to jail. Revised protocols, developed in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office, will better assure justice for offenders.
  • On the matter of homosexuality, he stated that all people deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation. He acknowledged that there may be homosexual clergy in the diocese but that such orientation itself is not a sin but rather failing to live up to one’s promises or vows of chastity. The bishop was forceful in his denouncing the comments.  He said the Catholic Church, the Catechism are crystal clear, and he said while he knows we have some homosexual priests in our diocese, he said to the best of his knowledge every one of them is living a chaste life.
  • He made clear that the studies by the John Jay Institute, commissioned by the bishops in the U.S. did not find evidence that homosexuality is a cause of pedophilia. He observed that there are more pedophiles among heterosexuals than among homosexuals.
  • With respect to the MRT, Bishop Malone said that he considers their work to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it is making good demands. As examples, he cited the Finance council which now has a lay chair and more women as members; the Independent Review Board which reviews allegations of abuse has one priest among the members, the remainder being professionally knowledgeable and experienced lay members.
  • Bishop Malone urged all to keep an eye on the overall mission of the Church and to be mindful with hope as well as fear.

Stephanie Argentine, member of the MRT and moderator, reported that the Joint Implementation team, appointed to implement recommendations from the MRT, has been active.

MRT member Michael Noe, who prepared these notes, said, “There seems to be a need for better communication on the issues in general. Steps in that direction are being taken as I understand it, but it would be good if the clergy in parishes were involved and given talking points on which they could authoritatively address issues from the pulpit or elsewhere. I have yet to hear any matters brought to the attention of parishioners in my parish by the pastor or associates. Many people are reading the from the lay press; probably fewer are reading the Catholic paper.”

Upcoming Parish Listening Sessions:

  • Saturday, June 29, 9:30am -11:30am – Archbishop Walsh High School (Olean)
  • Saturday, August 3, 9:30am – 11:30am – Sacred Heart Social Center (Batavia)
  • Saturday, August 10, 9:30am – 11:30am – Nativity of Our Lord (Orchard Park)
  • Saturday, August 17, 9:30am – 11:30am – Holy Trinity Parish (Dunkirk)

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