By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
NEW YORK – As pressure continues to mount for Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone to step down over his handling of sex abuse cases, two seminarians have publicly left the diocesan seminary and echoed calls for his resignation.
The first seminarian, Stephen Parisi, withdrew in a 6-page letter dated August 15 where he outlines what he describes as a lack of proper governance.
He concluded his letter by directly addressing Malone, offering a stinging assessment of his leadership and pleading for his resignation.
“I close by thanking Bishop Malone and the formation team for my time at Christ the King. The most valuable lessons I have learned at the seminary have not included how to properly write a paper, or even how to nurture a personal prayer life,” he wrote.
“By observing the behavior of most (not all) priests on the formation staff, I have learned how not to treat people. If there is any doubt regarding the veracity of the examples cited above, documentation, witness testimony and other forms of evidence have been retained. Bishop Malone, for the love of God and for the sake of the faithful of the Diocese of Buffalo, please step down!” Parisi continued.
Parisi’s resignation was followed by that of another seminarian, Matthew Bojanowski, who alleges that he was sexually harassed by a diocesan priest, Father Jeffrey Nowak, and that Malone failed to take action when it was reported.
“The diocese of Buffalo suppresses the truth in relation to sexual abuse,” Bojanowski said at a news conference on Tuesday. “There is no transparency in the Buffalo Diocese and there is no justice for victims of abuse, whether the victims are children or adults.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the diocese responded by noting that Steven Halter, the director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the diocese, had interviewed Bojanowski and his mother earlier this year.
“Mr. Halter advised Mr. Bojanowski on both occasions to report any improper conduct to police and/or his current employer. As far as the Diocese knows, Mr. Bojanowski never did,” they noted. “To be clear, Mr. Bojanowski in his original complaint did not allege any sexual abuse on the part of Fr. Jeffrey Nowak towards himself.”
The diocese went on to note that Nowak has been removed from his parish assignment and is currently undergoing a psychological evaluation.
Last fall, Malone’s former secretary turned whistleblower, leaked hundreds of pages of diocesan records alleging that Malone had allowed accused priests to stay on the job and that he has actively engaged in abuse cover-up.
Following those revelations, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Pope Francis’s point man for sex abuse, said he was “concerned” about Malone’s handling of abuse cases and called for a Vatican investigation into it.
Malone is widely considered to be a test case for Vos Estis Lux Mundi, the Vatican’s newly enacted norms for bishop accountability, and Buffalo is now viewed by many Church observers as the new epicenter for the U.S. Church’s abuse crisis.
On Wednesday, the Catholic Herald confirmed that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops is looking into at least one case within the diocese.
“The Congregation for Bishops asked for a report on the details of a widely publicized case in Buffalo, in which a priest’s allegation of abuse of a minor, after thorough professional investigation and extended review by our Independent Review Board, was found to be unsubstantiated,” diocesan spokeswoman Kathy Spangler said in an email to the Herald. “The priest was returned to ministry.”
“The bishop has kept the apostolic nuncio in the U.S. apprised of issues in Buffalo related to the sexual abuse crisis,” she continued.
Earlier this month, New York State’s Child Victim’s Act (CVA) took effect resulting in over 100 lawsuits against the diocese and nearly 500 throughout the state.
Over the next year, victims of abuse who were previously unable to pursue litigation against the diocese due to the statute of limitations will have a year-long “look back” window to pursue action.