They squandered enormous trust laity placed in the Catholic Church they love. And as details of horrendous acts of professional malfeasance by diocesan officials and Catholic hierarchy are revealed, it’s time to put faces to the betrayal in the Diocese of Buffalo–thanks to whistleblowers.
Insiders who disclose failings of their organization which betray the public trust are “whistleblowers.” Society generally applauds their efforts. In fact, lots of public entities, including the federal government, encourage whistleblowing. Each year, national awards are bestowed upon top whistleblowers in a variety of categories.
Whistleblowing is a SYMPTOM of an organization’s upper management crisis. You don’t solve such crisis by attacking the whistleblowers. You address upper management. Anyone in business knows this.
So when the Diocese of Buffalo had not one, but TWO WHISTLEBLOWERS, it was past time for top dogs in the Catholic Church in the United States to step in to address their regional manager (bishop). It is how the Church’s reporting system is supposed to work. Except it doesn’t when the top dogs don’t step in. And that too exacerbated the scandal of a diocese engulfed in clergy sexual abuse and management coverup of that abuse.
Those top dogs–Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archdiocese of New York, and Archbishop Cristophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States– betrayed us. The other priests pictured above who are still actively involved in diocesan leadership betrayed our trust as well, if we read the recent State Attorney General’s report with any honesty.
And until we recognize–by name and face– the true agents of betrayal, we won’t be able to begin to restore trust in this diocese.
Let’s start with the first two photos of the Cardinal (left) and Archbishop. Reports of a bishop’s abuse of power or other forms of malfeasance are supposed to go to the Metropolitan of the diocese in question. That would be Cardinal Dolan for us in the Buffalo diocese. If that doesn’t work, try the Vatican ambassador. That would be Archbishop Pierre. But according to the two whistleblowers, Siobhan O’Connor (executive assistant to disgraced retired Bishop Richard Malone) and Rev. Ryszard Biernat (Bishop Malone’s priest secretary), attempts by other individuals to report Buffalo’s bishop to the Cardinal and Archbishop had been dismissed–blown off (in Western New York terms).
As examples, both whistleblowers point to Deacon Paul Snyder’s box of evidence/reports of Bishop Malone’s abuse of power and mishandling of clerical sexual abuse cases. The deacon mailed boxes to Cardinal Dolan (and other bishops) which you can see in the CBS news report. Watch for yourself the Deacon’s vain attempt to get the Cardinal’s attention:
Any time a reputable agent of the Church sends out boxes of evidence to Church hierarchy about a rogue bishop, it is a cry for help. Diocese of Buffalo never received that help.
Whistleblowers said Deacon Snyder never received the courtesy of even receipt of his box of documents, much less any action towards accountability or hint of investigation.
Attempts to get the Vatican ambassador’s attention were no more successful. Fr. Biernat has spoken in the past of a diocesan seminary student’s report to that Archbishop detailing malfeasance of the cleric in charge of that institution. Archbishop Pierre blithely passed the report on to Bishop Malone (who allegedly refused to investigate in the first place) for his comment. According to Fr. Biernat, Bishop Malone then blithely passed the task of writing his official response to the very cleric named in the allegation.
Clearly, these do not meet anyone’s criteria for an “investigation” called for by the Church. But it doesn’t really matter to Church officials, apparently. That’s because when laity are kept in the dark about such things, the Church can roll along with business as usual. And if it’s ok with the bishop, it’s ok with diocesan officials on his staff.
That did not square well with either Ms. O’Connor or Fr. Biernat, both morally repulsed with the Church’s response to reports on their Bishop’s malfeasance. That’s generally how we expect people with moral integrity to respond.
With no other option at their disposal for remedying the situation of the plethora of unconscionable incidents they witnessed, they both chose to blow a very public whistle on how clergy sexual abuse cases were still being handled in the diocese by their bishop. This they did, each a year apart, 2018 and 2019 in August/September.
Universally beloved and respected in their positions in the diocese, these two close aids to the bishop engaged in what most laity and the media regarded as a bold act of moral conscience guided by gospel values; and it rather gobsmacked us all. We’re not used to young people (in their 30s) red-flagging priests much less a bishop. But as ABC News put it, the bishop preached transparency to the public while engaging in an entirely different agenda behind the scenes.
True to form, our trusty diocesan officials and too many priests didn’t take kindly to such acts, as you can imagine. Retaliation was swift with public labels of “traitors” and “betrayers” hurled at the young whistleblowers by chancery toadies and clerical officials clutching at their pearls–positions of title and office. Malone ruthlessly stripped Fr. Ryszard of his priestly ministry. But think of this:
Had Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Pierre followed protocol (ie. did their jobs), those whistleblowers never would have appeared.
Note to the Catholic Church: If you don’t like whistleblowers, stop creating them.
And think of this:
Had diocesan officials collectively campaigned Dolan and Pierre to get off their ecclesial duffs and do their jobs investigating reports sent to them on bishops (veritable cries for help!), this clergy sexual abuse crisis would have been put behind us long ago.
The “traitors” and “betrayers” were the agents of coverup of the rape and molestation of children and vulnerable adults; a coverup which simultaneously put US at risk. The very clerics and administrators who shamefully rushed to label whistleblowers as “traitors” and “betrayers” are the embodiment of betrayal themselves–with Dolan and Pierre at the top, one could argue.
Laity aren’t falling for your labels, guys. And the recent New York State Attorney General Report only reaffirmed what we knew all along. Your organization does, indeed, rot from the head; that rot trickles down to your diocesan officials who do your dirty work.
Let’s look at two of those officials next on our collection of portraits above. While there are numerous other officials cited in the AG report for professional malfeasance in the course of covering up clergy sex abuse, we chose to highlight these two because
both are vying for leadership positions in our diocese now, as in today.
Monsignor David LiPuma is documented (page 174 of the report) as knowing about a seminarian’s sexual abuse at the hands of a diocesan priest and actively engaging in the coverup protecting the offending priest for years.
He did this while serving as diocesan Vice Chancellor. Other acts of the monsignor’s malfeasance reported at this link. He perpetuated claims to the public he knew to be false. For example, in a 2019 radio interview, he stated that controls for clergy sex abuse installed in 2002 are working and there have been no recent accusations. Yet we now know he was directly involved in the 2004 coverup of a priest’s sexual assault upon a seminarian. Documents also prove he was directly involved in moving the known sexual predator to other ministries in the diocese.
Monsignor Robert Zapfel‘s active involvement in the coverup of a priest’s sexual assault upon a teenager can be read on page 141 of the AG lawsuit. Here’s an excerpt:
You can watch this WKBW report which highlights his complicity in the coverup/aid of other credibly-accused sexual molester priests:
All four Church officials pictured above are STILL actively engaged in executive positions, two are looking for more significant leadership positions from incoming Bishop Michael Fisher.
And guess what, my fellow laity? You have no choice but to accept their leadership because with no lay organization to contest appointments, no one able to report their malfeasance (the retaliation is too severe) and no viable entity within the Catholic Church to report to anyway, these men reign with impunity. Salaries paid by us.
Who do our bishops penalize? The whistleblower!
Fr. Ryszard Biernat is still under penalty, unable to work in the diocese–retaliatory punishment for whistleblowing. This is in direct violation of New York State law governing charitable institutions. The AG report noted this as well.
Here’s the law
Not-for-Profit Corporation (NPC)
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this section, the board of every corporation that has twenty or more employees and in the prior fiscal year had annual revenue in excess of one million dollars shall adopt, and oversee the implementation of, and compliance with, a whistleblower policy to protect from retaliation persons who report suspected improper conduct. Such policy shall provide that no director, officer, key person, employee or volunteer of a corporation who in good faith reports any action or suspected action taken by or within the corporation that is illegal, fraudulent or in violation of any adopted policy of the corporation shall suffer intimidation, harassment, discrimination or other retaliation or, in the case of employees, adverse employment consequence.