BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — A prominent Catholic journalist is reporting that Bishop Richard J. Malone will resign on Wednesday, capping nearly 22 months of scandals and tumult in the Diocese of Buffalo centered on the bishop's handling of sexual abuse.
Catholic journalist Rocco Palmo -- who runs the influential news site "Whispers in the Loggia" -- is also reporting that Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany will be named by the Holy See as temporary administrator of the diocese until a permanent bishop is selected by Pope Francis.
"Anything can change, but the train is in motion for this to happen in the next 36 hours," Palmo said in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News.
7 Eyewitness News received confirmation from an independent source that Malone would step down on Wednesday, to be replaced by Scharfenberger, but was unable to corroborate the information with multiple sources.
Palmo, meanwhile, appears to have done so, publishing a story Monday afternoon on his website titled, "Dear Buffalo: It’s Over – Capping Year of Scandal, Malone Set To Resign." Click here to read the story.
Malone has fought hard to stay in power, striving to avoid the fate of his mentor, disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who resigned in 2003 when the worldwide clergy abuse scandal broke in that city.
Malone would become the first bishop in the 172-year history of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to resign from office.
Siobhan O’Connor, Malone’s former secretary who became a whistleblower when she provided secret documents to 7 Eyewitness News, reacted with guarded optimism that Malone could finally be gone.
“This is a huge step in the right direction and one that for a long time, it seemed like wasn't ever going to happen,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said she suspects that Malone -- who repeatedly said he would not resign as Buffalo bishop despite nearly 86 percent of Catholics wanting him to do so -- may have been asked to step down by Pope Francis.
“I certainly sense that he would never resign of his own volition, which makes me think that this was done by the powers that be telling him what was going to happen,” O’Connor said. “I can't imagine that he suddenly decided to resign.”
She added that Scharfenberger, the Albany bishop who stands to become temporary administrator in Buffalo, was not always favored by his fellow New York State bishops, including Malone -- which O’Connor views as a positive.
“I actually always thought that he seemed like a really great guy and I was thrilled when I heard that it might be him,” O’Connor said of Scharfenberger. “I can't think of any other New York State Bishop that I would want to come in here except for him.”
‘A five-alarm fire’
Palmo said he understands that Catholics in Buffalo have seemed exasperated at times at the lack of action by the Vatican despite a seemingly endless stream of scandals over the course of 22 months in the Buffalo Diocese.
But he said it's striking that just two months after the Vatican launched an investigation into the diocese, Buffalo could soon have a new bishop.
“In Vatican speed, this is breathtaking,” Palmo said.
Malone has been under pressure to resign since August 2018, when the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team published an investigation that revealed Malone:
- Returned Rev. Art Smith to ministry despite allegations of inappropriate contact with a child.
- Allowed Rev. Robert Yetter to remain in ministry despite multiple allegations of sexual misconduct with young adult parishioners.
- Concealed allegations against more than 60 priests when the diocese released a list of 42 accused priests (the diocese's internal list of clergy with allegations against them exceeded 100 and has now grown to more than 180).
But the pressure on Malone intensified in September, when the I-Team published secret audio recordings where Malone attempts to conceal sexual misconduct allegations involving Rev. Jeffrey Nowak. Malone called the priest "dangerous" but allowed him to remain pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians for more than six months with no notification to parishioners.
Bishops around the country, Palmo said, soon realized that the Buffalo Diocese was “a five-alarm fire” that eventually drew the personal attention of Pope Francis, who appointed Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to lead a Vatican probe of the diocese.
“This transcended sex abuse,” Palmo said. “This became an issue of governance. This became an issue of, ‘What kind of pastor do the people of Buffalo have?’”
The pope's involvement is likely to result in a fast-tracking of the search for a permanent bishop, Palmo said. The process usually takes up to a year, but a permanent bishop could be announced by Easter, he said.
“The fact that Buffalo has been so much on Francis' mind and Francis' agenda personally means that no expense is going to be spared,” Palmo said. “Buffalo is going to come immediately to the top of the pile.”
More reform needed
Attorney Steve Boyd -- who represents more than 100 alleged victims of child sexual abuse who are suing the diocese -- said the diocese needs more of a house-cleaning than the replacement of the bishop.
“The hope, I think, for most of our clients is that if someone new comes in, this will not just be a new name and a new face, but a complete sea change and how the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo does business,” Boyd said.
Boyd had direct advice for Scharfenberger and his successor.
“Release the secret files,” he said. “Transparency. Speak truthfully whenever you're speaking about abuse. Put the survivors and the Catholic community ahead of the administration and the priests. Heal this community, Shepherd this community. Do your job.”