Bishop Accountability, Disturbing actions of the Bishop of Buffalo, Lay Advisory Groups, You can't make this up

Complicit laypeople in the clergy sexual abuse crisis are for real

“Are lay people still so blindly accepting of anything told them by a bishop, even when it is manifestly extremely suspicious if not patently false?”

Despite the fancy language in Vatican II documents concerning the value of laypeople in the life and mission of the Church, don’t think for a moment our mere presence will transform the Church for the better. It actually takes courage fueled by detachment, humility and love. That’s a tall order for laypeople who hold positions of influence/responsibility in the Church–anyone asked to advise the bishop or serve on governing boards for his institutions. As much as our bishops and diocesan officials have failed in their responsibilities to the flock amidst the clergy sexual abuse crisis, so too have many of our lay brothers and sisters failed in their responsibilities in this crisis.

If you’ve read my audio/e-book, you are familiar with ways fellow laypeople contributed to exacerbating the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Diocese of Buffalo.1 In all fairness, they weren’t called to normal volunteer work like serving on your local United Way board. They were invited into a medieval system in which the bishop operates with impunity. He chooses laypeople to serve at his pleasure (as per canon law). The absurdity of this system is rooted in his lay “advisors'” compliance with his governance choices. Therefore, it does no good for laity in these positions to confront him in any meaningful way or they will be dismissed from service. Although primarily volunteers, they all have their reasons for sticking around (some for decades in our diocese), whether strictly to be of service or to hobnob with the bishop on a regular basis2 or a little of both. They’re not there to rebuke or admonish or tell him what he needs to hear. Lord knows they’re not there to call for accountability for his complicity in providing cover for sexual molesters and squandering charitable contributions.

In my book I walk you through how our lay advisors’ collective uncritical, obsequious devotion to Bishop Malone amplified his omissions and failures in the crisis by not seriously questioning or challenging him, even in the face of whistleblower documents manifesting his malfeasance. But our diocese is not alone in experiencing such failures among the very laypeople we rely on to look out for our interests and the interests of Christ’s Church.

A recent article in Crisis Magazine details a tragic case in another diocese TODAY in which laypeople failed in their duties to oversee the safety of children in their care at one of the bishop’s institutions.

This article is rare as it is important: rare because we just don’t hear about laity who serve in these capacities with our bishops; important because we laity need to see concrete evidence that such a shocking level of blind submissiveness among laity is real.

“The Coverup Continues,” by Janet E. Smith, details a lay board’s complicity in providing cover for a priest accused of satanic ritualistic sexual abuse of children. This priest is employed in the institution they oversee. Smith lays out this creepy saga in a stark narrative that will deflate any hope you may have had with laypeople who hold positions of influence/responsibility in the Church.

Yes, allegations by the accuser could be false. But the fact these laypeople wouldn’t even ask for (much less demand) a thorough, unbiased investigation of the allegation is more than horrifying. The bishop, who never had the alleged victims interviewed as part of his “investigation,” said everything was cool in this case; the priest was cleared. So these laypeople (who could have called his bluff) obediently sat on their hands and demurred. It’s a story that takes your breath away.

This article is an excellent read if you want to see yet another example of laypeople TODAY who are in positions of influence in their diocese sacrifice their integrity to cave to their bishop’s decision–even at the expense of potentially putting children in harm’s way.

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This article asks what so many of us have been asking since 2018:

“Are lay people still so blindly accepting of anything told them by a bishop, even when it is manifestly extremely suspicious if not patently false?”

Yes.

Read Smith’s piece, and then get on your knees and pray. Yes, we maintain our hope in the risen Jesus Christ who triumphed after his disappointing encounter with complicit laity.

What more can you do as a responsible layperson in your diocese? Check out this list of recommendations.

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header graphic: 1719149812 standard license Shutterstock April 20, 2022

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