Bishop speaks about releasing list of priests accused of abuse

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) - Bishop Richard Malone is speaking for the first time since the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo released the names of 42 priests who were accused of sexually abusing minors.

The list dates back to the 1950's and includes priests that have multiple allegations against them. Some of the priests on the list have already passed away. All of the priests on the list were removed from ministry, were retired, or left the ministry since the allegations surfaced.

In an interview with 7 Eyewitness News, Malone admitted past policies were only partially adequate when it came to addressing cases of abuse, because they sometimes allowed for accused priests to return to ministry.

"When there was an allegation of abuse that had what we call a semblance of truth, that priest would be removed from ministry and usually sent for some kind of assessment by professionals," Malone said. "Sometimes in the past, the verdict would be that they could return to ministry."

Malone said the Diocese now exercises a "Zero Tolerance Policy" and would never allow a priest who has been accused of sexual abuse return to ministry.

Malone said the church now follows the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which mandates all people who work with children in some capacity, even volunteers, must undergo background checks and special training. He said children are also taught to recognize the signs of potential abuse.

"I honestly believe going forward because of our efforts across the country, our Catholic institutions should be among the safest places for children and teens, Malone said. "That's my hope and that's my commitment."

Malone also said there wasn't the same emphasis on transparency in the past, and the Diocese didn't feel the need to publicize cases of abuse as long as the accused priests were no longer serving.

"There's a tendency not to want to hang out the dirty laundry, just kind of let these things remain quiet," Malone said. "Everyone off the job, no longer serving as priests."

Malone said releasing the names was one way the Diocese is trying to address some of the anger Western New Yorkers have felt about the numerous allegations that have recently come to light.

"I just believe with all that's been going on it was time to bring out of the darkness into the light some of this tragic sin and crimes of the past," Malone said. "The only way you can have healing and move forward is to bring things into the light."

The Diocese is not releasing information about where the accused priests served throughout their careers, but Malone says that information is already public and can easily found by searching directories and other records.

The Diocese does have a responsibility through church law to provide for the priests on the list who are still alive, but the Bishop says they are "not living high and mighty." 

"I share many of the same emotions that others feel, whether they're Catholic or not. This is a traumatic moment. It's a moment of discouragement. People are angry. I'm angry," Malone said.

The Bishop added he feels he has been put here in Buffalo to try and deal with this situation and move the local Catholic community past it.

"But I do understand why peoples' faith is strained," Malone said. "I would always remind them that we should not place our faith in an individual person, even a priest, but only in Jesus."

Malone also refuted reports that he was in Albany Tuesday lobbying against the Child Victims Act. Malone said he was attending annual policy discussions with several lawmakers and other bishops from across New York State. He said the Child Victims Act was on the agenda, and the New York Bishops are 100 percent supportive of the law and long as it does not have "look back legislation," in other words, they would not support a law that would reopen the statue of limitations for abuse cases that have already expired.

"It could go back 40, 50, 60, 70 years when the alleged perpetrator is long dead," Malone said. "How does he defend himself? How do we defend this?"

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