In August 2018, WKBW published an investigative report revealing that Malone’s former executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, leaked internal diocesan documents to the press which suggested that Malone worked with diocesan lawyers to avoid releasing publicly the names of some diocesan priests accused of misconduct.
Several of the allegations involved boundary violations or sexual misconduct against adults, meaning that the diocese was not required to take action against them in the same way that it would allegations of sexual abuse of minors, under the 2002 Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.
Malone said that while he sought to follow the Charter’s requirements, he “may have lost sight of the Charter's spirit, which applies to people of all ages.”
O’Connor has been continually calling for Malone’s resignation.
“Be truthful with us, Bishop Malone. Put an end to this toxic secrecy and painful silence,” she wrote in a Nov. 4, 2018 op-ed in The Buffalo News.
“And, if you love us, begin the process of allowing new episcopal leadership to come to our diocese.”
In Sept. 2019, WKBW released recordings of private conversations between Bishop Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, Malone’s former priest secretary, which appear to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the diocese removed the priest from ministry.
Biernat recorded the conversations as the bishop discussed how to deal with accusations against Fr. Jeffrey Nowak by then-seminarian Matthew Bojanowski, who accused Nowak of grooming him, sexually harassing him, and violating the Seal of the Confessional.
In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”
In one conversation from March, Bishop Malone seems to acknowledge the legitimacy of Bojanowski’s accusation against Nowak months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.
Despite this assessment, Nowak was not removed from ministry until Aug. 7, one day after the seminarian’s mother accused Malone of allowing Fr. Nowak to remain in ministry despite the allegations against him.
Biernat says he made the secret recording after Nowak became jealous of Biernat and Bojanowski’s close friendship. According to a conversation taped Aug. 2, the bishop was concerned that media coverage would focus on a possible “love triangle” between Nowak, Bojanowski, and Biernat.
Biernat also says he was a victim of sexual abuse by Father Art Smith. He alleges that Auxiliary Bishop Grosz threatened to halt his ordination as a priest and have him deported to Poland after Biernat complained in 2004 to Buffalo Diocese administrators that he was sexually assaulted by a priest, according to The Buffalo News.
Grosz has since “categorically” denied the claim.
Reaction in Buffalo
Malone is remaining firm that he will not step down. He reiterated his conviction that he will remain as bishop in a Sept. 6 interview with WBEN Radio.
A lay-led petition calling for his resignation has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures as of press time. A number of clergy have written open letters to local publications calling for Malone’s resignation.
Father Robert Zilliox, of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, drafted a letter in early September calling for Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Grosz to resign.
“We, the People of God that constitute our diocese, are angry, hurt, and in need of authentic, humble, sincere and holy spiritual leadership. We believe that despite your good work in the past you are no longer able to provide that leadership,” the letter reads, as quoted by WKBW.
In mid-August 2019, twenty-two plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo, a province of the Society of Jesus, multiple priests, eight parishes, three high schools, a seminary, among others, alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that enabled and covered up clerical sexual abuse.
The lawsuit was filed on the first day of a legal “window” allowing for sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed in New York even after their civil statute of limitations had expired.
Among the plaintiffs, who have not been publicly named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests, and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care towards children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.
Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleges “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting, and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.