In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.
In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can 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."
The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, "it could force me to resign."
On Oct. 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.
Malone visited Pope Francis last month, afterward telling Buffalo Catholics that "in a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the pope understands the difficulties and distress we here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing."
"He was very understanding and kind."
"I ask for your prayers and patience while the path forward is discerned. In the meantime, be assured that I am wholly committed to fostering the healing of victim survivors, rebuilding trust, and with our clergy and other Church ministers, renewing faith and carrying on the essential ministries that serve the needs of Catholics and of the larger Western New York community," Malone said in a Nov. 18 video.
Rumors that Malone would resign surfaced last month, after the bishop' ad limina visit to the pope, required every five years. A diocesan spokesperson said those rumors were false.
When reports emerged again this week that Malone would resign, diocesan personnel did not deny them.
The details of DiMarzio's apostolic visitation have not been released. The visitation did not take place under Pope Francis' recently promulgated norms for investigating bishops accused of negligence or sexual abuse. The Vatican has not suggested that Malone has been formally accused of any particular canonical crime.
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In 2014, Pope Francis issued a document, formally called a rescript, noting that in "particular circumstances," the pope "may consider it necessary to ask a bishop to present the resignation of his pastoral office, after letting him know the motives for such a request and after listening attentively to his justifications, in fraternal dialogue."
The document did not establish a new policy, but clarified the freedom of the pope to request the resignation of a bishop. It is not clear whether Francis requested Malone's resignation.
Malone is not the first U.S. bishop to resign amid crisis in recent years. In 2018, mired in scandal surrounding Theodore McCarrick, Cardinal Donald Wuerl asked the pope to accept his 2015 letter of resignation from the Archdiocese of Washington. Francis did so in October 2018, but Wuerl continued to lead the archdiocese until his successor was named in April.
Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis, along with Bishop Lee Piche, his auxiliary, resigned from office in June 2015, amid reports of systemic negligence, and after criminal charges were filed against the archdiocese for its mishandling of clerical sexual abuse allegations.
Bishop Robert Finn resigned from leading the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in April 2015. Finn had been convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor, namely the failure to report suspected child abuse. The bishop was sentenced to two years' probation for that crime.
Malone, 73, began leading the Buffalo diocese in 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine's bishop from 2004 until 2012.