• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: December 16

Welcome to the second installation of the In Spirit and Truth New Roundup, a new feature collecting important articles about the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. (If you missed the first post in this series, you can find that here: News Roundup: December 2.)

Just a reminder: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful, but please note that sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse of every word in that article. I do believe that reading broadly, from many sources and perspectives, is a valuable way to become better informed and, thus, more able to respond with wisdom and prudence.

Here's the roundup for the last two weeks:

Dear Buffalo: It’s Over – Capping Year of Scandal, Malone Set To Resign

This was the blog post that first broke the news of Richard Malone's resignation as Bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo.

What I wrote on Facebook when first sharing this news: "Please God, let it be true."

Buffalo's Bishop Resigns After Scandal Over Secret List of Abusive Priests

"First, a whistle-blower revealed that Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo had kept files about abusive priests that he hid from the public. Then leaked recordings showed that he was reluctant to remove a parish priest whom he called a “sick puppy.”

On Wednesday, after months of pressure from priests and lay leaders, the Vatican said in a statement that it had accepted the resignation of Bishop Malone, effective immediately."

(In case you missed it, my initial thoughts on the news about Malone can be found here: My Take on the Breaking News from Buffalo.)

Night has Fallen in Buffalo - Facebook Post by Whistleblower Siobhan O'Connor

"Night has fallen in Buffalo. This historic day is done.

At Masses tomorrow, we will not publicly pray for “our bishop Richard” since he no longer bears that title. At the cathedral, his former seat or “cathedra” is draped to cover his episcopal coat of arms. At the Catholic Center, a new boss has arrived. At the heart of it all, for me, is the survivors and Jesus.

Thank you, my survivor friends and allies, for your courage, which inspired so many to join you in your fight for truth and justice. So many of the laity of our diocese are informed and engaged because of your witness. Today’s resignation proves that truth cannot be forever hidden in vacuum closets. Not when heroic survivors continue to speak and live that truth!

Thank you, dear Lord, for being with us through all the highs and lows, the twists and turns, the tears and fears. We know there is still much to be done, accountability to demand, changes to be made and vigilance to be kept. (Bishop Grosz- get ready.)

But for now, we rest. It is not a time for rejoicing but for relief that this first, necessary step has been taken. May this be a peaceful evening for all who read this post."

How to Move Forward After the Resignation of Buffalo's Bishop Malone

A few thoughts from a member of Buffalo's lay-led "Movement to Restore Trust."

"The resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo has been greeted with a mix of emotions. There is sadness, of course, at the events that have brought the venerable Diocese of Buffalo to this place: reports of clergy sex abuse long covered up by the diocese, the mishandling of current cases of abuse and misconduct by Bishop Malone and the realization that this is the first time in the 172-year history of the diocese that a bishop has been pressured to leave office.

There is unresolved anger as well, among victims whose reports of sex abuse were ignored or handled poorly and now find themselves as plaintiffs in lawsuits with a long road ahead; Catholics who have made Bishop Malone the lightning rod for everything that has happened; priests who have felt alienated from the chancery and their bishop; and Catholics who have watched parish life around them disintegrate as people have marched out the door in response to the scandal.

And there is confusion. Why was Bishop Malone permitted to resign or retire early? Does not the concern with bishop accountability in light of the McCarrick scandal and Pope Francis’ motu proprio, “Vos estis lux mundi,” dictate that Bishop Malone should have been fired? Are we still doing things the “old way” in the church? Does the Vatican still not get it?

But there is also a palpable sense of relief and, appropriate to this season of Advent, a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, the church in Buffalo can turn the page and look forward to a new day."

Surge of New Abuse Claims Threatens Church Like Never Before

This is an interesting article, with some good exploration of the issues surrounding statute of limitations reform, victim compensation funds, and bankruptcy.

However, I would like to note my strong objection to the chosen headline. We have to stop talking like this (or at least Catholics should). Abuse claims - that is, the stories told by survivors who have endured horrific sexual abuse in the Catholic Church - are not threatening "the Church." The money or financial stability of United States dioceses, maybe, but not the Church. We need to stop treating survivors like they are attacking us when they seek justice for these crimes.

I am the Church, and I am not threatened.

"'It’s like a whole new beginning for me,' said 71-year-old Nancy Holling-Lonnecker of San Diego, who plans to take advantage of an upcoming three-year window for such suits in California. Her claim dates back to the 1950s, when she says a priest repeatedly raped her in a confession booth beginning when she was 7 years old.

'The survivors coming forward now have been holding on to this horrific experience all of their lives,' she said. 'They bottled up those emotions all of these years because there was no place to take it.'

Now there is."

How a Catholic Order Dedicated to Protecting Children Failed Them

Catching up on my reading always means a lot of stomach-churning stories.

Take them in as you feel able (this one is particularly well-done). But at the very least, remember that we are part of a global Church and this crisis is not over. Not by a long shot.

"A pedophile priest was sent to work for an aid organization helping vulnerable families in an African country, even though his Catholic order knew he had been convicted of abusing children years earlier in Europe, a CNN investigation has found.

Father Luk Delft is accused of abusing at least two other boys in the Central African Republic (CAR) while in a key role at Caritas, a leading Catholic charity.

The 50-year-old priest, from Belgium, was only removed from the post after CNN revealed the new accusations against him to his superiors in the Salesians of Don Bosco, a religious order established specifically to protect children."

And once again, thank God for journalists who seek the truth.

Pedophile Priests Operated at a California School for Decades

Another well-researched, well-presented, and thoroughly disturbing article. A good reminder of why we need to think about accountability for not only dioceses but also religious orders.

"Piscitelli says the principal threatened him after he told the school counsellor what had happened.

'[He] told me that he was going to kick me out of school and fire my mother from the cafeteria because I have a big mouth,' he recalls. 'I begged him not to do that, and I apologized, and I said I would never talk about it again.'

Piscitelli remembers Dabbene ranting and screaming at him. 'He was livid. He said: ‘Nobody is going to believe your word against a priest.'"

Advocates for Clergy Abuse Victims Praise Albany Bishop

Encouraging news about the new temporary administrator for the Archdiocese of Buffalo.

"'He has done a lot of work toward transparency,' said Nancy Fratianni, leader of the Albany chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. 'We believe he can bring about healing in the Buffalo Diocese through promoting transparency, turning over all records of abuse to the police and keeping the public informed of all issues, more than Bishop Malone was.'

'I have nothing negative to say about him as far as that goes,' Fratianni said of Scharfenberger."

"I Come as a Healer" - Words from the New Leader of the Diocese of Buffalo

A transcript of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger's first press conference as the new Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo.

"I feel a little bit like the neighbor down the block, and I realize that this family has been suffering quite a bit in recent months and years. My heart just goes out to you, and what I see is a need for a tremendous amount of healing, honest conversation, openness.

I just got back, as you know, from what is known as an ad limina visit, in which bishops from various regions of the United States visit with the Holy Father. And I think of our meeting with Pope Francis. The bishops from New York State were with him, and I remember that one of the first things he said, as he looked at each and every one of us, he said, “We’re family. I would like to encourage frank conversation. Do not be afraid. Speak what’s on your mind. Speak what’s in your heart.”...

That is the tone I would like to establish, right here, right now."

U.S. Catholic Priests Beset by Overwork, Isolation, and Scandals

Food for thought - and for prayer.

"Weighing on the entire Catholic clergy in the U.S. is the ripple effect of their church's long-running crisis arising from sex abuse committed by priests. It's caused many honorable priests to sense an erosion of public support and to question the leadership of some of their bishops. That dismay is often compounded by increased workloads due to the priest shortage, and increased isolation as multi-priest parishes grow scarce. They see trauma firsthand. Some priests minister in parishes wracked by gun violence; others preside frequently over funerals of drug-overdose victims."

Sexually Abused as a Child, Minnesota Priest Feels Revictimized by Attorney's Disclosure

This is a really interesting exploration of the complex issues related to disclosing priests' personnel files. I don't know enough about this particular case to have a well-informed opinion, but I think the article is worth reading and reflecting on.

"Like any other Sunday, the Rev. Joseph Richards led Mass on Nov. 10 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fertile, a northwest Minnesota town in Polk County with almost 850 residents.

But this was the first Sunday Richards would address the congregation since it was revealed he was sexually abused as a child by his great-uncle. It was also disclosed that he sought help after having sexual fantasies about children and that he admitted to inappropriately touching a 5-year-old when he was 14.

'Those who know me and know my story are dumbfounded as to how this can be happening, as I was a minor . . . who was being sexually abused myself at the time,' Richards wrote in an email interview.'"

Wade Mullen on How to Spot Spiritual Abuse (Video)

This presentation was recommended by a friend and reader who is a survivor of spiritual abuse in a Catholic context. She said that this description sounds exactly like so much of what she experienced.

It's interesting that this presenter is primarily speaking from an evangelical Christian perspective, but the abusive patterns are similar wherever you go.

Church Now Faces 'Sheen Dilemma' in Evaluating Saints and Their Halos

Interesting reflection.

"We’ll see how the review of Sheen’s record shakes out, but in itself the cesura illustrates a new fact of life about sainthood in the Catholic Church: Going forward, in order to claim a halo, any candidate who was in a leadership position in the Church - meaning, usually, a bishop or religious superior - will have to be shown to have had “clean hands” on the abuse scandals.

What that new standard leaves unaddressed, however, is what to do in the case of such a figure who’s already been proclaimed a saint, but whose record is later shown to have been suspect in terms of handling allegations."

Wishes for the Holidays and the New Year - A Survivor's List

12 Holiday Wishes for Survivors, from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests:

  • "That every survivor finds a circle of support that surrounds them with love, care, and attention.

  • That each survivor realizes that what happened to them was not their fault.

  • That all survivors are released from the unmerited burdens of guilt and shame.

  • That all survivors rise above the feelings of low self worth and a lack of self confidence.

  • That every survivor receives the professional support that they want and need to heal.

  • That survivors' rightful anger is not directed inward, or at innocent targets, but is channeled toward preventing future abuse.

  • That each survivor love and value themselves enough to avoid self-destructive behaviors and patterns.

  • That all survivors realize that they are not alone.

  • That every survivor finds the strength and courage to report their abuse to law enforcement.

  • That each survivor finds a group of fellow survivors for help and support

  • That survivors find hope for the future

  • That all survivors do not just survive, but thrive."

'A Necessity, not a Victory': Buffalo Reacts to Bishop's Resignation

Thoughtful analysis of the next steps in the Diocese of Buffalo:

“'Vigilance is our watchword,' O’Connor told the Herald. 'We want Bishop Scharfenberger – and our permanent bishop, when the time comes – to know that we are an engaged, informed and active laity that will not allow any future leaders of our diocese to pick up where Malone left off.'"

Lawsuit: Ex-Cardinal McCarrick Abused Boy in Newark in 1990s

In case you missed it, this is the latest news on McCarrick (while we wait for the release of the report from the Vatican):

"In a lawsuit filed Monday, John Bellocchio alleges McCarrick sexually assaulted him when he was 14 and McCarrick was visiting Bellocchio’s parish in Hackensack, New Jersey. Bellocchio’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, said his client’s lawsuit is the first to name McCarrick as a defendant.

It also names the Newark archdiocese as a defendant, but not Vatican officials. It does, however, allege Vatican officials were aware of McCarrick’s behavior yet continued to promote him to ever higher positions."

Former Detroit Priest Gets 45 Day in Jail, Probation for Initiating Sex with a Man Who Came to Him for Counseling

This is several weeks old, but still worth noting.

As I've said before, I believe the sexual abuse of adults in the Church is a much bigger problem that most of us realize, and we have much more to do to address this problem.

This story is so disturbing, but particularly these words from the victim: "I had always had that fear, that if I killed myself no one would care. And I thought in the Church it would be different... I’m not blaming all my problems on him. I was messed up before I ever met him. But he could have helped. And he chose not to.”


As you know, I like to close every blog post with an invitation to prayer. For these news roundups, I will simply encourage all of us to bring everything we just read to the merciful heart of God. If there is a specific story that you found moving, painful, or unsettling, please place those thoughts and reactions into the hands of Jesus and ask Him what he is calling you to do in response.

In particular, I invite you to remember the names, faces, and stories of all the abuse victims who were mentioned in these stories and keep those people in your daily prayers.

As we walk through this third week of Advent,

we pray with hearts full of both sorrow and hope:

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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