BUFFALO, N.Y. — Reports from Rome that Bishop Malone could be resigning in the next few days were greeted Thursday with relief from an advocate for sexual abuse victims -- even if Bishop Malone is now denying the report.
“The people of Buffalo, especially the survivors of sexual abuse, should be rejoicing today and hoping and praying that what we're hearing out of Rome is true,” Robert Hoatson of the Road to Recovery survivors group said at a news conference. “[We hope] that Bishop Richard Malone may never, ever return to Buffalo, New York, except to move his belongings somewhere else.”
Wednesday’s report, from Rome correspondent Christopher Lamb of The Tablet newspaper, said Malone’s resignation was “imminent” due in large part to a recently completed Vatican investigation that he said paints a damaging portrait of Malone's management of the diocese.
“You know, when the chief shepherd of the diocese is not leading the flock or is actually causing damage, then there is a problem,” Lamb said. “And I think the Vatican is seeing that.”
But that report was refuted Thursday when Christopher Altieri, Rome bureau chief for the Catholic Herald, tracked down the bishop on the streets in Rome.
“When I looked up, there were Bishop Malone and Bishop Grosz,” Altieri said in a phone interview. “So I walked over to them and greeted them and asked Bishop Malone if there's any truth to the rumor that he had submitted his resignation. He told me that was absolutely false. And then said, ‘Thank you very much, that's the end of our conversation,’ and went on his way.”
Lamb said he suspected Malone was being encouraged to resign, since he had been "quite belligerent" in the past about remaining as Buffalo bishop. Pope Francis, of course, would have to accept Malone's resignation, or could simply remove the bishop if he refuses to resign.
Hoatson doubted the pope would refuse the bishop's resignation should he offer it, for fear of the pope himself being seen as "complicit" in the Buffalo controversy.
"No, he can't do that," Hoatson said. "He's got to make a change."
Hoatson said the removal or resignation of the bishop while he and other New York State bishops meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican would send a signal to abuse survivors that their voices are finally being heard.
With resignation, “the healing of the victims is assisted,” Hoatson said. “And people in the pews now can say, ‘Well at least we have a man who will tell us the truth.’ This man has done just the opposite, time after time after time.”
Diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Procedure aside, the attention of the American church is now focused on the actions of bishops like Malone.
“At some point, there has to be a reckoning, and the church’s house will be clean,” Altieri said. “But the question is whether it will be churchmen or Caesar who do the cleaning.”
“This is the next layer of outing, of exposition that we're going to see in our church,” Hoatson said. “And that's the hierarchy. We're finally getting to the heart of the matter. When you bury the truth...The truth will eventually come out. And it has... and here we are.”