Lay Advisory Groups

Who represented YOU at this meeting? Make phone calls! Ask questions.

These laypeople represent YOU, me, and our precious families. What informed their decisions in their vote on Saturday? FIND OUT.

[Please see UPDATE below]

Committed Catholics (pictured) were trying to send a message to fellow laypeople attending a meeting with Bishop Richard Malone on September 14. One of the people representing us at this historic meeting (I don’t think that’s hyperbole) was armed with the agenda and last-minute knowledge about the venue change but brought little else in terms of information. For example, this person expressed to me no knowledge of the Movement to Restore Trust before this day. Stop to think about that for a moment. The MRT was a key player in the diocesan plan to try to end the crisis and promote healing and trust. This lay representative also expressed no knowledge of the fact that the MRT had called for the bishop’s immediate resignation nine days earlier. This is the person who met with the bishop and participated in a no confidence vote on our behalf and on behalf of our families.

However sweet and well-meaning I know this person to be (we’re talking about a very committed Catholic), as a representative, the individual does not have rudimentary knowledge of basic elements of the diocesan sexual abuse crisis at hand. I am upset at the Vicar Forane*, not this good Catholic who struggles to prepare to participate in this crisis at this level. I understand this individual and others at the Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting on Saturday also got a big dose of explanations from the bishop’s point of view in their update on what’s going on with the current crisis situation. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they probably never mentioned the diocese’s coverup of the 2004 seminarian abuse scandal with Bishop Grosz’s alleged threats to the seminarian. Who, representing us at that meeting, is even versed in this case to bring it up?

These laypeople represent YOU, me, and our precious families. What informed their decisions in their vote on Saturday? FIND OUT.

To make matters worse, I found out that while our vicariates are permitted TWO lay representatives on this council, one vicariate only sent one representative FOR EIGHT SOLID YEARS. Last winter, this sole representative said it was decided that another Catholic who lives nearby could provide a ride to these meetings if that Catholic could only be appointed to fill the second spot. So the Vicar Forane gladly obliged (and in fairness that person serves on a parish committee). UPDATE: the Vicar Forane said that the choice was his. Be that as it may…

Do you know your representatives on this council and what their particular qualifications are to represent YOU and your family?


A lot of people dearly wish they could do something besides, pray, protest or withhold money from the collection basket. Here’s something simple and concrete you can do that can impact the future of our diocese.

Reach out to your Vicar Forane about Saturday’s meeting. Do this TODAY. Don’t wait. (See VF listing below) Then… Start asking questions. Who are your lay reps on this council? How long have they been doing this? If a long time, then be skeptical. Are they woefully indoctrinated in diocesan spin? Or do they intelligently seek information from other sources? One rep, north of 80 years old, has been on this council for a whopping 10 years! What are their qualifications for representing you and your family? How well-versed are they on this subject of sexual abuse crisis in our diocese? How interested are they in finding out TRUTH, no matter how difficult it is to hear? One of the leaders of another diocesan lay group, the Bishop’s Council for the Laity, told me emphatically in January that “we (indicating the entire group) support the bishop” in this crisis. How open-minded and intellectually honest is that? Is that a mindset we want representing laity and the interests of abuse survivors, much less the interests of the saving mission of Jesus Christ?

That room yesterday should have been filled with deeply committed Catholics including the most informed laity in our diocese on this crisis situation before they enter the room. They don’t need spin. They need the truth. We all do. After what I’ve heard from this meeting so far, they didn’t exactly get it. But I’m asking for our representatives’ report which, I understand, they give to our Vicar Forane. YOU SHOULD ASK FOR YOUR REPS’ REPORT.

UPDATE: The VF told me that he doesn’t receive their reports.

So, what were we dealing with in terms of yesterday’s meeting?

The Diocesan Pastoral Council is a diocesan-sponsored advisory entity for the bishop mandated by Canon Law. The Vicars Forane (pastors representing the bishop in each vicariate) choose the lay representatives. Among its members are two laypeople from each vicariate. This board is a mix of clergy, deacons and laypeople representing various constituencies which “carefully investigates, prayerfully considers and, in consensus, recommends action to the Bishop regarding pastoral concerns facing the Diocese,” according to the diocesan website. The DPC was the group meeting with the bishop on September 14, 2019 in which a vote of no confidence was to be taken, according to its agenda.

Let’s look at WHO among the laity voted. Because most laity in the diocese do not know about this group, and because its membership is selected by priests in the vicariate, we are not inclined to check to ensure we are properly, adequately and responsibly represented.

It is the responsibility of the Vicars Forane in our vicariates to ensure we are adequately represented on these various diocesan lay boards. To say they let laity in my vicariate down for a LONG time without our knowledge is an understatement. My husband is convinced this has been part of their plan all along over the years. While that may be a cynical view, we cannot ignore the fact that this negligence in failing to appoint a full complement of representatives is, frankly, unjust to we suffering laypeople and abuse survivors. It is unjust to our kids and grandkids who have to live with the influences (or lack thereof) of well-meaning people who might not be appropriate for this type of deliberation and consultation with our diocesan leadership. Bottom line:

Do NOT trust your Vicar Forane or pastors to look after lay interests
which include just representation
on diocesan committees which advise the bishop.

WE laity need to take these meetings with the bishop seriously. Are the folks representing us asking important questions, pressing for answers, bringing SERIOUS dialogue to the table?

If you are an official lay representative
in this diocese and cannot fulfill your duty appropriately and responsibly,
The bishop isn’t the only one who needs to resign. YOU DO TOO.

Now, I’m hearing that there is interest in starting up a lay board in our Vicariate, which we are entitled to have. In my opinion, we should oppose this. First of all, the lay board would be populated with nice Catholics that the priests like, regardless of qualifications to appropriately represent us. The priests in your vicariate, remember, are the ones who make the selections. That model is just insulting to our intelligence as laypeople. We can choose our own representatives. In this day and age, who would accept this model of representation in which the very men whose works and words we are evaluating/advising get to choose their evaluators/advisors? NO MORE.

Highly effective models of choosing representation in self-governing private entities are all around us. For example: condominium associations and board representation on non-profit agencies. In that model, interested Catholics (in this case) would submit their CV/bio to the Vicar Forane who would verify they are Catholics in good standing with the Church. Those Catholics would then be placed on a public list for us to choose from. Every candidate would list qualifications, interests, level of participation in faith life, age, education, etc. Armed with this information WE LAITY can choose our representatives from among those most qualified to represent us.

And that should be the case with parish councils and any other significant advisory entity made up of lay Catholics.

The point is, we need to CEASE our passive acceptance of the model of lay representation that the diocese feeds us. We do not need priests to make the selection from among us. That is CLERICALISM.

In my next installment, I offer a look at the Bishop’s Council for the Laity (I can’t link BCL to a web page explaining who they are because a web page doesn’t exist–the group’s link has been deactivated on the diocesan website) and how they factored into the crisis this year. Fasten your seatbelt. PRAY your daily rosary.

If I’m in error with anything stated, I invite clarification and correction. Go to Contact form and fire away. We are all about truth. Without truth, we cannot possibly heal.


*Vicar Forane is the pastor selected by the bishop to represent him in your vicariate. Undoubtedly, some of these are great priests who would try to send their best candidates, but in the end, it’s their choice, not ours. We can work to make this more just for laity. Catholics he nominated for the PDC are ultimately approved by the bishop.

UPDATE: Here’s the member roster and location map from the month the vote of no confidence was taken. In this listing, you see five vacancies of lay representatives which the Vicars have not bothered to fill so laity can have their just quota represented at these meetings with the bishop. That’s five people who could have had a voice for their vicariates during this horrific sexual abuse crisis. And we ask: Was the moral conscience of lay representatives listed not pricked before September to INSIST the diocesan officials at their meetings contact those vicars to provide a full slate of lay representatives at the next meeting? The irresponsibility in crisis response is heartbreaking on so many levels.


Vicars Forane (updated as of October, 2019)

Contact info directory here

  • Northwest-Central Buffalo: Rev. Joseph S. Rogliano
  • Southeast Buffalo: Rev. Bryan Zielenieski
  • Allegany: Rev. James Hartwell
  • Southern Cattaraugus: Rev. James Vacco, OFM
  • Chautauqua: Rev. Darrell G. Duffy
  • Eastern Erie: Rev. Eugene P. Ulrich
  • Northern Erie: Rev. Msgr. Robert E. Zapfel, S.T.D., MBA
  • Western Niagara: Rev. Robert S. Hughson
  • Eastern Niagara-Orleans: Rev. Richard A. Csizmar
  • Genesee-Wyoming: Rev. Daniel Serbicki
  • Tri-County: Rev. Mitch Byeck, OMI
  • Southern Erie: Rev. James Ciupek