Several recommendations already implemented, others to follow

 The Movement to Restore Trust (MRT), a group of independent, committed Catholics formed last year to address the Diocese of Buffalo’s handling of clergy sex abuse cases, has released The Initial Report of the Movement to Restore Trust, a 68-page document seeks “increased support and compassion as well as justice for survivors of sexual abuse and recommends the implementation of meaningful reforms, with a goal of restoring the faithful’s trust and confidence in the Church and its leadership.”

In development since late 2018, six working groups addressed specific areas of inquiry contained in the report.  The groups met from December 2018 through March 2019, to develop the initial set of reports.  They consulted subject matter experts, studied foundational Catholic documents, and looked at best practices from across the United States.  Some work groups consulted Canon lawyers.

“The report represents the best thinking of the approximately 150 people who participated in the work groups,” said John J. Hurley, MRT Organizing Committee member.  “This initial report includes the Executive Summary that was prepared and released by the Organizing Committee in March as a way of framing the process, findings and recommendations of the work groups for Bishop Richard Malone.  It also includes a summary of the recommendations by work group, again prepared by the Organizing Committee, that have already been part of our discussions with the Diocese of Buffalo.”

The work groups addressed the following:

  • Transparency around the nature and scale of the abuse in the diocese and financial and spiritual reparations for victims/survivors
  •  Transparency about all diocesan operations
  •  Accountability for bishops
  •  Selecting and monitoring bishops
  •  Greater involvement by women and laity in the Church
  •  Improvements in the formation of priests & priestly life

Some common themes emerged from and are the basis for many of the recommendations.  

The Executive Summary states: “There is enormous anger in the diocese over the sex abuse crisis.  The wounds that priestly sex abuse has wrought are many: the broken lives of victims; indifference to their suffering on the part of fellow members of the Church; a dearth of accountability for priests and bishops involved or complicit in abuse; a failure to reveal the full truth about abuses; and a deficit of genuine apology, penance and reparation. 

The result has been a significant erosion of trust in the Catholic Church at large and in the Diocese of Buffalo and the laity have a lack of confidence in the institutional Church and its leaders. This has led to laity feeling disillusioned, frustrated and alienated.

“Throughout our meetings, we heard again and again about the need for the bishop to be committed to rebuilding trust. People believe that trust can only exist where there is honesty, openness, transparency and a commitment to authentic listening.”

“This report sets a framework for discussion with the diocese on necessary reforms.  We fully understand that some of the recommendations may already be in process, some may be impossible under current Canon law, and some may not be acceptable for other reasons.  We are committed to an open dialogue with the diocese about all of these recommendations,” Hurley said.

Upon receipt of the Executive Summary and the summary of recommendations in March, Bishop Malone suggested the creation of a Joint Implementation Team (JIT) comprised of MRT representatives and diocesan representatives and reporting to both Bishop Malone and the MRT.  

The JIT has held a series of meetings, with the MRT represented by Maureen Hurley, Paul Bauer and Nancy Nielsen, and the diocese represented by Father Peter Karalus (vicar general), Sister Regina Murphy, SSMN (chancellor), Dennis Mahaney (director, Parish Life) and Msgr. David LiPuma (pastor, Our Lady of Victory Parish/president of Our Lady of Victory Institutions, Lackawanna). 

To date, the MRT has achieved a number of milestones:

  •  At the recommendation of MRT, Bishop Malone agreed to a series of Listening Sessions across the diocese (four have already been held; three more are scheduled through August.  “There is much consistency between what is contained in report and the voices of clergy abuse victims and lay Catholics we are hearing from during the Bishop’s listening sessions,” Hurley said.
  • James J. Beardi, retired M & T Bank Executive Vice President, has been named by the bishop as chair of the Diocesan Finance Council, and three members of the laity were appointed to the council, which now has a majority of lay members.  Beardi, the first lay person to chair the council, was the leader of Work Group 2, which called for some significant changes to the policies on diocesan finances.    
  •  The diocese hired Leadership Roundtable, a renowned consulting firm working with over 70 dioceses across the country.  Dominic Perri of Leadership Roundtable Is working with the Bishop and the JIT to introduce best practices and promote the process of reform.  In a recent radio interview on WBFO, Leadership Roundtable noted the unique and groundbreaking process that the MRT has forged in Buffalo.   
  •  MRT played an active role in diocesan Priest Convocation in early June and summarized the work of the MRT and the important role that the priests and parishioners of the diocese will play in the process of reform going forward.  
  • The Diocesan Review Board was renamed Independent Diocesan Review Board (IRB) and the MRT is working with the chair of IRB to implement ongoing improvements to the process of investigating and evaluating claims.  
  • Members of the MRT are working with diocesan leaders to recommend how victim meetings with the bishop could be made more frequent and improved.

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