Even as the “Epstein didn’t kill himself” memes continue to fill up social media threads, quietly, in the background, the Catholic church continues to deal with the fallout from yet another child abuse scandal. The most recent high-profile priest to lose his job and reputation is Buffalo, New York diocese Bishop Richard Malone.
Malone resigned last week, after calls for his dismissal continued grew so loud that his superiors couldn’t ignore them. Chief among those criticisms is that Malone mishandled allegations of clergy sexual abuse. So serious were these allegations, that fellow priests and members of Malone’s own staff—in addition to the public—continued to call for him to step down or be forced out. In response, Malone did resign, and Pope Francis has reportedly accepted his resignation, before naming Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany, as a temporary replacement for the Buffalo diocese.
This might seem like an open and shut case, but it’s not. For his part, Malone maintains that he simply decided to retire early on his own. That it had nothing to do with pressure from outside or from his superiors. In a statement released to the press, Malone claimed that “The spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing, and renewal that is so needed …”
These comments appear to contradict those offered by the Vatican, which said Malone only offered his resignation after learning the conclusions formed after an investigation into the western New York diocese’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.
For his part, Scharfenberger said he hopes to be “a healer” who is “willing to develop trust” in a diocese torn by allegations. “I feel a little bit like the neighbor down the block … this family has been suffering, and my heart goes out to you. I see a need for healing and honest conversation.”
In addition to the divergent stories as to why and how Malone took his leave, there are still questions as to how the church as a whole will deal with these particular allegations. In that diocese alone, more than 200 lawsuits have been recently filed by people who said they were sexually abused by priests. While the veracity of these claims hasn’t yet been determined in many cases, the climate in society in relation to allegations such as these trends toward most people believing them without evidence. And, as more details surface of the specific allegations against Malone, as well as stories about the priests he allegedly protected, more credence will be given to the accusers and more doubt and aspersion will be cast toward Malone and any who support him. The diocese was left with little choice, especially from a perception of message perspective, but to cut ties with Malone publicly.