Lay Advisory Groups

National Catholic podcast examines role of lay advisors to our bishops in Buffalo

 One large group of lay advisors to Bishop Richard Malone actually planned a catered Garden Party with him at his residence. Right. In. The. Middle. Of. This. Crisis.

Hundreds of children and young adults have been raped and/or sexually molested by Catholic priests in the Diocese of Buffalo. Appropriate, objective guidance and advice from laity in this crisis is vital to our shared responsibility with clergy in course-correcting this horror show. Unfortunately, it’s just such guidance our bishops are never going to get from their official lay advisory councils–well-intentioned people diocesan officials have groomed for years in a corrupt system which blinded them so much, they can’t even see how heartbreaking that Garden Party idea was.1

It’s past time we have an adult conversation about our lay advisors to our bishops.

Paul and Kris Ciaccia, from the Diocese of Scranton (Pa.) host The Angry Catholic podcast, a lay apostolate to educate laity on the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Kevin Koscielniak from the Buffalo Survivors Group and whistleblower, Rev. Ryszard Biernat, have been guests along with a host of other courageous individuals across the country fighting for true and lasting reform. Every episode offers a wealth of information Church hierarchy and diocesan officials don’t want you to hear.

That’s why I welcomed the opportunity to engage in a serious discussion on this topic with the hosts of the popular podcast, The Angry Catholic, [Episode 128] last week who recognize its importance. Paul Ciaccia, from the Diocese of Scranton (Pa.) is The Angry Catholic (as opposed to the Cradle Catholic, the Cafeteria Catholic, the Cultural Catholic). With his wife Kris, the Ciaccias scour the country to find guests working in the trenches of the crisis so they can share insights in helping to educate fellow laity on what’s really going on in the Church. They talk with abuse survivors, whistleblowers, anonymous priests in the know, parents of survivors and heroes in the lay movement hell-bent on holding Catholic Church officials accountable and putting criminals in jail. With each episode, they help us peel back layers revealing the underbelly of a Church our corrupt hierarchy doesn’t want us to see.

But in 127 episodes, the Ciaccias hadn’t addressed one peculiarly anonymous group of people working quietly in the background in our dioceses: official lay advisors who have been selected by bishops to advise them.

It was time to pick at that scab in this dirty business of trying to expose just exactly what it was that got us into this crisis that ruined lives, decimated souls and raped the Bride of Christ along with her children. (Please, dear laity, don’t use euphemisms when talking about this crisis).

The podcast hosts had read my e-book published last Fall (offered online FREE with an audio option) in which I reported on significant concerns and allegations in our crisis–many of which have since been validated by the New York State Attorney General in her lawsuit against the diocese and its bishops. A major point in that book was the fact that laity called to advise our bishops are not above scrutiny. No one’s saying these laypeople are to blame for the crisis. We’re saying they’ve been duped, and in the process they rendered their lay councils irrelevant. The solution to regaining relevancy and effectiveness in helping our bishops: start over with new advisors in a reformed system designed to inoculate them against getting duped again (all outlined in my book).

Like anyone else in 2018, our lay advisors were certainly horrified about the revelations of the depth and breadth of clergy sexual abuse in our diocese. But after examining their subsequent statements and actions, there’s no question that the sound judgment of these fine people has been poisoned, as the Ciaccias recognized as well. Experts argue that’s due in large part because they have marinated for years in a corrupt culture whose currency is deceit as officials deliberately groomed lay advisors into a cozy relationship with each new bishop. Therefore, we are not surprised that in the spring of 2018, lay advisors’ first call in this crisis was: “Circle the wagons to protect the bishop!” (which I have documented).

Look, no official advisor to our diocese’s bishops wants to be characterized as acting with slavish devotion to anyone. But in the midst of this catastrophic situation of the Diocese of Buffalo, you’d think the very laity specifically chosen by our bishops to advise them would be open to humbly reassess their ministry and knock off their obsequious deference to bishops. Instead they conspired to write embarrassingly fawning letters in defense of Bishop Malone in the Buffalo News. They chastised news media outlets for reporting on the crisis during a time–week after week after week–those same outlets disclosed new sickening revelations of diocesan coverup and abusive handling of survivors. As part of the relentless drumbeat of deception, the diocese hired an expensive public relations firm to spin stories about how predatory priests are handled, and we heard no objection from our lay advisors.

In 2019, while most of the rest of the laity in the diocese appropriately called for Bishop Malone’s resignation, the Diocesan Pastoral Council submitted their vote of confidence in their bishop, 24-4.

Why this disparity among laity? For one thing, the advisors (most from the Buffalo city region) hang around too long.

In our discussion in this podcast, we examined the conundrum our dioceses face when so many of our lay advisors serve 8, 15, 20, 25 and even 30+ years advising four and five different bishops (for many of them). Naturally, after having been groomed in the corrupt diocesan culture for so long with bishops these laypeople have grown to love and admire, not only does their objectivity wane, but their sound judgment as well, particularly in crisis response.

A must-read book for anyone interested in the serious business of reforming our Church.

Besides those experts on the subject referenced in my book, I also heavily cite throughout this podcast Diane Langberg from her book, Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church. This Christian clinical psychologist draws upon 40 years of work with sexual abuse survivors and extensive research to explain the origins of authority and the fallout of abuse of authority in the Church. Her book explains for us why good people often fall prey to those who abuse their power. Yes. Bishops and diocesan officials use the same grooming techniques with lay advisors that sexual predators use with their victims. 

It’s perfectly fine that lay advisors grew to enjoy spending time with their bishops and even admire them, but that situation renders them entirely inappropriate for the task of telling these men the hard truths they need to hear.

The excessive time in that environment turns intelligent, well-intentioned people into uncritical “toadies” (as a leading expert in the clergy sex abuse crisis put it) who have immersed themselves so long in the corrupt diocesan culture they have become a part of it (documented in detail throughout my book). It’s why these laypeople steadfastly refuse to hold present and past diocesan officials (their friends) accountable for their horrendous actions so clearly outlined in the A.G. lawsuit. [For example, see: Movement to Restore Trust’s recommendations for reform] It’s why they chastise news media outlets that expose out-right criminal activity of our diocesan officials that also put we laity at risk. It’s why they cling to the abusive notion preached by our diocesan officials that “whistleblowers are traitors.”

In your charity, please pray and fast for these brothers and sisters of ours so that we can mutually strive together in true conversion. Only then can we work for lasting healing of not just the institution, but more importantly, the precious souls it victimized.

The link to Episode 128 of The Angry Catholic podcast is below (click the logo). It’s the adult conversation that should be going on among laity in the Diocese of Buffalo.

I thank Paul and Kris Ciaccia for opening their program to this topic and to me personally. Their sensitivity to the broad spectrum of issues connected with the clergy abuse crisis is well-represented and examined in their programming.

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