Holy Trinity Church, Dunkirk
August 17, 2019

Summary: 90 total attendees

The session opened with an opening prayer by Bishop Richard J. Malone, a reading from the First Book of Kings, intercessions, and reading of a prayer written by priests of our diocese.

The facilitator, Stephanie Argentine, discussed the structure, ground rules and other details of how the session would be run with emphasis on speaking what is in your hearts and speaking kindly. She highlighted the goal of allowing as many people as possible to be given the chance to have their voice heard by the bishop in verbal or written form.

She said these sessions allow the bishop to listen to people from across the Diocese as they speak what is in their hearts, so the bishop can take it in before forming recommendations.

Attendees were asked to work in groups, by table, to discuss and summarize thoughts from the group. Each table would have a couple of minutes to share the group’s thoughts. Once each table shared their thoughts, the facilitator would continue to go around the room until out of speakers in the given timeframe.

Participants were encouraged to record initial thoughts on post it notes before starting discussion at their table. They were provided with table discussion starters and encouraged to use their own ideas if they wanted to.

All were asked to respect the safe space and not record or post to social media but were encouraged to speak to media once the session was over. The group was informed of the availability of media representatives from Spectrum, WGRZ and ABC national media presence in another area of the building.

Fourteen groups reported out. Everyone who expressed a desire to speak was afforded the opportunity. Ideas expressed have been captured below. They have been grouped by topic, in no particular order.

General Themes Expressed

Feelings of concern over the financial impact:

  • Concern over whether the Church will go bankrupt
  • At least one parish is going through a major project in the church and fear seeing a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the Church
  • Worried about the financial impact – what if the diocese declares bankruptcy? How safe are the Upon This Rock funds?
  • Will we be able to maintain our Catholic schools? Subsidies are critical and young families will be impacted?
  • Concern over where funds are going.
  • Many contributions to Upon This Rock have been withdrawn – hope to restore trust and resulting financial support.
  • Parishioners are voting with their wallets and their feet – many people are leaving.
  • Will filing bankruptcy save the diocese?

General Feelings

  • Resignation, and we just need to just get through this.
  • We need closer community for the Church – we should be more family-like.
  • Young people feel the Church is hypocritical and use it as an excuse not to be involved.
  • Concern over the lack of action around the Journey of Faith & Grace from 10-15 years ago and that we haven’t moved forward.
  • Confessing of sins to a sinner doesn’t sit well with some people.
  • Cleansing/purging of the Church is not just negative.
  • Lots of anger, but we all have faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Generally, feel the Church is moving in a positive direction.
  • Settlements cause additional doubt.
  • Listening session format is not as expected.
  • Faithful will remain regardless – please give us hope!
  • Emotions include concern, anger and fear over the division.
  • We need to support our parishes, especially those directly impacted by allegations.
  • Southern tier feels a lack of support.
  • Issues of trust and anger over how we ended up here – lot of hope we’re moving in the right direction.
  • An individual expressed concern their voice was not heard at a previous session.

Questions about Media/Public Relations

  • We are not the only organization or profession to go through this and our media relations should point this out in the press.
  • Lack clarity on who is the official spokesperson for the diocese.
  • There are thousands of good stories for every bad story – we want to hear more good vs all of the bad news in the media.
  • We shouldn’t be solely focused on the sex abuse scandal.
  • Disheartened in the journalism – how to restore faith in the media?

Mental health

  • Profession guidelines have changed over the years – 30 years ago offenders were sent away vs. other means of supporting them recommended today. We know there is no cure.
  • Mental health issues need to be addressed in seminary training.

Children’s needs

  • Children look to priests to teach and coach, how can they trust priests when the respect is lost?
  • No sexual predator should be in a position of trust.
  • Stories of innocent children’s lives impacted by people in position of power and trust is heart-breaking.

Loss of Trust and Concern for our Catholic religion & Church

  • We’re losing so many your people, and this only adds to the diminishing of our parishes as more young people are falling away.
  • What will happen to the Catholic Church without major changes?
  • Great deal of anger and betrayal people are having difficulty getting past – worry over future of our Church.
  • Have we lost faith in the response of the Catholic institution to issues like this?
  • This is a big awakening with all of the awareness. What’s ahead if this is not put to rest in a firm fashion?
  • Can we trust the Church to follow up?

Changes to our Church

  • What specific changes need to happen? There are major issues and we need to establish priorities.
  • Does Canon Law still work, do the precepts apply in 2019?
  • Do vows of celibacy go against human nature? Celibacy should be looked at by the Church worldwide in general.
  • Consider allowing priests to marry.
  • Archaic structure of the Catholic Church and diocese is reflected in each parish – rules are archaic – problem keeping young adults active and concern over rate number of older adults joining the lawsuit going forward.
  • Our culture today makes it easy to replace Church with our focus on sports and other things. We should be focused on how to bring families back – parents need to bring their children to Church – strengthen the connection with families to make it a priority and at center of family life.
  • Doctrine is counter-cultural – how to bring your people back?
  • Poor catechesis is basis – doctrine vs culture – children can’t tell the difference.
  • Many people verbalize need for change that goes against Catholic doctrine (women to deaconate and priesthood)- reformation proposed – he will stay a traditional Catholic.

Diocesan Response to this issue

  • Punishment of offenders is not apparent – it should be.
  • When a priest has done wrong, any punishment is not apparent.
  • Offenders should go to jail.
  • We should make this more a a legal, and less diocesan, process.
  • Purging needs to be forced – hope – waiting for it and we don’t have it yet. the Church is responsible for seeking justice for all within the Church.
  • We should have a statistical analysis of the impact on the diocese.
  • Church needs to be loyal to the faith and we hope for honesty about the situation – we believe it will eventually be resolved.
  • Parishioners would appreciate a presentation of the facts.
  • Be truthful! Cover-up needs to stop. Help the youth as they’re the most affected.
  • How many real, proven cases are there?
  • Who are the guilty? Who are those not guilty?
  • Transparency is needed – put it out there so we can move forward.
  • No difference is felt with respect to transparency in the last year.

Priests and Seminary

  • Previously, the priesthood was a place for people to hide.
  • Separate theology from behavior.
  • It’s difficult to see good Shepard priests struggle – how is the diocese helping them and how can we help them?
  • Seminary should be screening for homosexuality
  • We need to support priests who are faithful – how do we support priests that have been cleared?
  • How does Bishop Malone know homosexual priests are not acting out? How can we stop sexual predators of any kind?
  • Have there been changes to the screening of seminarians (mental, homosexual, etc.) to prevent future occurrences?

Movement to Restore Trust (MRT) involvement

  • Appears MRT has two issues they are promoting:
    1. Permit females’ ordination as deacons and priests
    2. Eliminate papal appointment of bishops, giving authority to lay at a local level
  • MRT seems like a good idea
  • Lay stepping up to repair damage done – MRT good way to do that

General Opportunities

  • Prayer – encourage fasting, saying of the Rosary
  • Offer weeknight masses for those who work and get to daily Mass
  • What is the diocese doing to reach out to young families?
  • Moving beyond this issue – what about how to draw outer fringe in and get those who have left to come back?
  • Handling of fall-aways should be offered to parishes and smaller parishes work together
  • Confessing of sins and moving forward – a good confession can help people to move on
  • Smaller, holier Church – focus sacraments and need for prayer
  • How do parishioners help once a priest has been removed?
  • Parishes need to take to prayer – pray to Blessed Mary – Can’t stop prayer! All can be enjoined

Input regarding Bishop Malone

  • Be strong, lead the diocese
  • To restore trust, it needs to be from the bottom up vs PR
  • Bishop needs to accept responsibility and say we’ve screwed up, and state what we’re doing to move forward. He can’t push things off to committees
  • These meetings show recognition of the issue
  • Bishop walked into a cesspool – need swift and strong response
  • Thank you for holding this session

Bishop Malone’s Response

He thanked participants for coming to these sessions as a critical part of moving forward from the trauma to our whole Church that we are in together. He said he wants to stay on. He’s not a masochist, but with God’s help and determination, he feels responsibility to work with all to restore trust, reach out with compassion and understanding to move to renewal.

The Reformation led to counter reformation and God’s grace led a group of people to stand up, come together and do it right.  The MRT has been and is a movement of the Holy Spirit and is helping improve all the ways we handle things going forward in our response to victims. We’re changing the Church administration culture by involving more lay men and women going forward.

This is a global Church problem, and is a terrible, sinful deflection of all we are called to be.

Our Lord hears us. He doesn’t want to abandon us and wants us to move forward. The good thing is it comes out to move us to purification and healing.

In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a decree requiring substantiated allegations of abuse to minors be immediately sent to the Vatican for adjudication and dismissal from clerical state (what the media refers to as defrocking). This never happened here in the Buffalo diocese. There have been 7 to 9 cases that have since been sent on to Rome. The issue is it takes too darn long for the Vatican to address because there have been so many.  The bishop can remove a priest from ministry only, as he did in Maine.

Bishop Malone said he has learned from this session. He also asked to focus on Lord Jesus to get through it together.

These seven Listening Sessions are not a ‘one and done’. He is taking the material, praying, studying and consulting to take the path forward, out of crucifixion to resurrection. He knows where he failed and he wants to do the right thing going forward, after 50 years of bad things going on.

He noted there are homosexual people in every profession. This is not an evil thing, although to act out inappropriately is wrong. Studies, including one by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, show no intrinsic connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. Data show most pedophiles are married men. While one priest abuser is too many, there percentage of abusers is a small percentage among the 2,500 that have served this diocese in the last 50 years.

There is no particular test to absolutely identify a potential predator in screening. We have a very thorough screening process in the seminary including a full battery of psychological tests and interviews. There are four dimensions of priestly formation: Intellectual, spiritual, pastoral and human. The first major consideration is the human, and if they are healthy as a human and the second key is the spiritual.

Specific to financial issues, everyone is concerned. There will be no money taken from Upon This Rock or Catholic Charities. These have been set up, using a firewall of protection, to provide to the work of the Church. Bankruptcy is a possibility, although no decision has been made. Diocese across New York State are all in the same boat.

Two things are priorities:

  • Respond to this terrible moment in which we find ourselves by reaching out to victims and healing
  • Life of the Church – crisis of young people and their connection to our secular culture and fundamental vision of the Church

We’re at crossroads, preparing ourselves … re-organizing in bankruptcy to continue our mission versus settle cases as response. Insurance archeology is a process that investigates old insurance policies, when they were held and what was covered during the period years. We’re working to dig out old insurance policies. Some parishes have coverage. We need to dig into our archives and see what’s covered.

We want to move on to true renewal and purification.

Next steps:

  • Diocese and MRT are gathering notes and comments from these sessions for the bishop to study and reject upon
  • Joint team of diocesan and MRT formed

One group asked what they can do

  • Join the MRT
  • Start something in your own parish

Bishop Malone closed the session with everyone singing Our Father and requesting everyone pray for him.


Upcoming Parish Listening Sessions:

  • 8th session aimed at college students; details TBD

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