In the midst of squandering our treasury following the clergy sexual abuse crisis, our bishops spent millions of dollars lawyering up.
As soon as it was daybreak, the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate interrogated him: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Mark 15: 1-2)
Jesus Christ is king, indeed, not because he worked his way up the corporate ladder but because he voluntarily suffered for his flock. His throne–the Cross. This is the example of true leadership Christ set for his apostles and their successors to follow. There is a reason bishops and cardinals wear shades of RED. It is supposed to symbolize their willingness to shed blood for the salvation of souls.
How have our bishops and their top officials in the Diocese of Buffalo suffered for their flock which has been so brutally damaged from their leaders’ botched handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis? According to the state attorney general in her 2020 lawsuit against the diocese and its two former bishops,1 our diocesan officials:
- committed serial negligence in reassigning credibly-accused sexual predator priests, concealing these clerics from proper investigations, and failing to properly supervise those left to reside in our neighborhoods;
- hid these cases from the public (putting us at risk);
- betrayed sexual abuse victims by botching their reports made in good faith.
And what was the primary strategy our bishops chose to address such malfeasance after this detailed and fully documented public disclosure? Make a deal2 with the state with the best attorneys money can buy. Take a look at the recent news out of the Diocese of Buffalo.
This Catholic corporate entity spent eight million dollars (to date, according to my sources) primarily on legal fees for endless bankruptcy proceedings and the 2022 lawsuit settlement reached with New York’s attorney general. Despite Bishop Richard Malone and Aux. Bishop Edward Grosz (defendants in the lawsuit) paying their own legal fees upon court order, they certainly worked in close concert with diocesan counsel. Any honest interpretation of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger (former apostolic administrator) and Bishop Michael Fisher squandering millions of donor dollars for professional fees (for both the lawsuit and bankruptcy court) can only be boiled down to this primary objective: to contain the scandal of diocesan officials’ malfeasance. Put another way, all that money effectively kept former bishops and their officials from having to face any real accountability (suffering), if we read the state settlement with any intellectual integrity.
While this latest lawsuit settlement is spun to provide a theater piece feigning diocesan “renewal,” in reality the deals cut with the bishops cheapen the human suffering that they helped perpetuate—ruined lives, suicides, destruction of faith and loss of souls amidst the clergy sex abuse crisis.
Money cannot begin to pay that price. Redemption comes through suffering, just as Jesus taught. And we share in his redemption through our own suffering. Those who inflict the hurting need to eventually put skin in that game too for the sake of those harmed and for their own souls as well.
So if you want to find where God is in this crisis, look to those paying the real price for the sins of our clergy and bishops: clergy sexual abuse survivors, their families, and whistleblowers who uncovered their superiors’ activity in enabling the abuse and its coverup. The heavy load of suffering should rightly fall on the shoulders of our bishops and their decades-entrenched officials who instead chose to lawyer up in their desperate legal efforts to retain their offices, titles and reputations. By all accounts, they will continue to succeed in doing so once the bankruptcy settlement is reached. After all, bankruptcy is designed in large part to shield corporate officials from facing accountability (suffering) in this case for how they handled reports of pedophile priests.
The example left to our children is this: you can buy your way out of a moral crisis.
Rather than own up to their misdeeds and take their lickings, our bishops and their decades-entrenched officials have reduced the real work and sacrifice necessary to emerge from this moral catastrophe into a power game. How can anyone find charitable words to describe their behavior after reading the settlement? We are left with spiritual midgets aping heroism on the backs of survivors who were not only allegedly molested by priests but allegedly betrayed by many of these same officials. Our religion—Catholicism—is genuinely heroic because its founder, Jesus Christ, is genuinely heroic in choosing the path of redemptive suffering to save souls, despite his own personal humiliation and pain. The idea that diocesan officials can present themselves as spiritual leaders without the least bit of personal sacrifice, without even having to admit their guilt (as we read in the state settlement) is working fraud. These are corporatists. They know how to use lawyers to manipulate the the system for their personal protection.
Who can argue that these are company players who devise endless programs, surveys, listening sessions and legal groupings (“families of parishes”)–all to spiritually manipulate laity into believing their corporate engineering is somehow derived from the Holy Spirit. How can it be of the Spirit if it is completely void of any semblance of sacrifice on the corporatists’ part?
This diocesan hierarchy is clearly predicated on power, if we read the deals struck in the settlement correctly. That is a psychosis. And that psychosis is now enshrined in that legal settlement. Jesus’ hierarchy was predicated on love which is primarily recognizable by sacrifice—gritty, personal sacrifice. Ask any parent.
While officials gaslight us with their stale jargon surrounding “renewal,” squeezing the system into a new paradigm of what it means to be Church, they should instead busy themselves with exploiting the treasures of Catholic teaching that would release all of us from this unholy catastrophe. The whole point of redemptive suffering is, after all, to set souls free. So may we laity suggest to our diocesan officials and retired bishops that they follow the very admonishments they meet out to us in their preaching and in their counseling in the confessional? With all due respect and for the benefit of your souls:
- Publicly own up to your failures in this crisis–each and every one of you, especially those listed in the lawsuit detailing your malfeasance. Cease hiding behind corporate apologies from your bishops.
- Beg forgiveness from the people you harmed and/or allowed to be harmed; from the laity you put in harms way; from laity whose generous treasure you squandered; from families devastated by the filth to which you turned a blind eye.
- Beg forgiveness from our merciful God for your unfaithfulness to the office to which he called you.
- Accept the resulting suffering and humiliation as penance for the salvation of souls including your own. Whistleblowers and many survivors are already intentionally doing this. Join them.
- Voluntarily forfeit your titles of office, your executive seat and diocesan honors if your bishop won’t dismiss you from them as he morally should.
- Make an honest confession with Saint Peter’s level of contrition.
- Take a voluntary cut in pay the rest of your life and donate that portion to survivor counseling.
- Pray like you’ve never prayed before for the rest of your life.
Creating a system designed to make we laity bear the weight of “renewal” by closing our churches and schools as we pay all the bills is objectively evil. It is time for officials to bear the weight of diocesan renewal. We laity have already paid with our sons and daughters, our seminarians, our devastated families. We have paid with our treasure building up churches and schools, crisis relief centers and hospitals over 175 years–a patrimony our diocesan officials have squandered.
No amount of money, no legal team can protect you from what awaits your immortal souls. Still not convinced?
Fr Andrew Small, the recently appointed secretary for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, owned up to the pernicious evil propagated by diocesan officials– just like ours who were highlighted in the state lawsuit. Fr. Small pointed out the horror of additional suffering born by survivors at the hands of the very diocesan officials who were expected to provide consolation:
“Compounding the harm [of clergy sexual abuse] …is the fact that many victims/survivors were rejected in their suffering by the very Church that held itself out as a place of healing for those wounded by the world. However, rather than comfort the afflicted by sexual abuse by the Church, too often the Church continued to harm those afflicted…”
Contrast that abusive behavior of diocesan officials with the words of Saint Paul who taught: “indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow [to others]. When we are made to suffer, it is for our consolation and salvation” (2 Cor. 1:5, 6).
Frightening thought for anyone to have to face Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Day of Judgment with that omission [withholding consolation] on their soul.
At a diocesan “Renewal Mass” held in Olean in August at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, Bishop Michael Fisher preached about our need to “include everyone at the table.” He also preached to us about looking to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as “undoer of knots”–figurative challenges that prevent diocesan renewal.
“The need for renewal means that we must acknowledge the challenges and knots of imperfection that plague our diocese,” he said.
I said to him outside after Mass, “Some knots are solely under your authority, not Mary’s, to loosen.” With all due respect, I listed them for him: end these obscene legal fees; reinstate a whistleblower priest who was also a victim of clergy sexual abuse (include him at that table you preached about); release files that survivors have asked for pertaining to their cases. “Those knots, bishop, are in your hands.”
Redemptive suffering benefits every man, woman, and child in the Mystical Body of Christ. It is designed to edify and console, two stubborn knots still on those little cords all the parishes are supposed to display for we laity to pray over. We laity still left in the pews ARE praying. Don’t ever question that.
Finally, diocesan officials working in the chancery building in downtown Buffalo may want to make sure the door to this closet pictured below is kept closed, especially when visitors are around. As you can see, it is strewn with discarded sacred art and furnishings, presumably from closed parishes throughout the Diocese of Buffalo. I took this photo on May 24, 2022 ironically on the evening of a diocesan listening session contributing to the Vatican’s Synod on Synodality. This closet door was left open for all to see as visitors passed by on the way to the restrooms. Along with the knotted ropes so emblematic of our crisis, may we suggest this photo too be placed in every diocesan parish for our prayer and reflection.
Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.