Just before close of business this Thursday, a rare press release from the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington conveyed word of the Vatican's appointment of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio – the formidable longtime chief of Brooklyn's 1.8 million Catholics – as Apostolic Visitor to the beleaguered fold in Western New York, armed with the mandate to conduct a far more sweeping investigation than most would've anticipated.
While the Pope's May release of Vos estis lux mundi – his global accountability norms on abuse cases – quickly saw the Buffalo situation viewed as the natural test-case for the new procedures, an Apostolic Visitation is essentially limitless in scope, both in terms of the Visitor's ability to access any material he needs across the life of a diocese, and likewise in probing concerns outside Vos estis' strict realm of abuse by a bishop and/or his response to allegations.
For Buffalo, that the Vatican opted for the fuller process signals an awareness that local controversies over Malone's stewardship far preceded (and still extend beyond) the ongoing abuse eruption – which, in turn, has produced separate alarms over the bishop's management of broader priest personnel issues and Christ the King Seminary – and likewise that the diocese's financial and legal state will require at least a degree of attention.
Six weeks into New York State's yearlong "window" suspending the civil statute of limitations on abuse litigation – including for public institutions – the 750,000-member Buffalo church has become the most sued defendant statewide; as of last week, local media reported that the diocese has been cited in 168 cases, 80 percent of the total of the abuse docket for New York's western county courts.
In that light, Malone has openly maintained that the diocese's move to seek Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a distinct possibility. Notably, however, though a Visitor enjoys the Vatican's full authority to conduct his investigation without any local interference, DiMarzio's faculties would not allow him to intervene in the governance of the Buffalo church over the course of the process.
Beyond the flood of civil cases, the Buffalo diocese is likewise under a yearlong FBI investigation – which has yet to yield any charges – as well as the ongoing review of all New York State's eight dioceses by its attorney general in concert with local prosecutors.
While no timeline can be firmly projected at this stage, it would make sense that the investigation would be completed in time for the New York bishops' long-slated ad limina visit to Rome in mid-November, when all the traveling prelates are required to meet with the top officials at Bishops, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors – and, above all, for two and a half hours with Francis himself – during the weeklong "checkup," the US' first in the current pontificate.
As history goes, of the three prior Stateside bishops placed under Visitation over the last decade, only one remained in office after the investigation concluded. In 2011, amid furious protests in the wake of Bishop Richard Lennon's rapid closing of scores of parishes, the Cleveland prelate sufficiently assuaged his Visitor that he was able to stay on for five years, seeking early retirement in late 2016 due to the onset of dementia. After Bishop Robert Finn's 2011 conviction for failing to report a priest found to have possessed child pornography in his diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph – and, more generally, a tenure long regarded by many in the Missouri diocese as polarizing – the findings of a 2014 Visitation saw Rome seek his resignation at 60, which was promptly submitted. By staggering contrast, last year's investigation of the roiled Memphis church – which Bishop Martin Holley destabilized in less than two years with en masse reassignments of priests and a hostile governing style – saw the Pope forcibly remove Holley from office after the bishop refused to resign, an unprecedented scenario for a US prelate.
Given Malone's repeated pushback on calls for his own departure – an outcome which some 86 percent of Buffalo's Catholics seek, according to a recent poll by the city's newspaper – it is notable that, by empowering a full Visitation instead of a Vos estis probe, Rome has given DiMarzio the purview to sketch out a broader indictment. (Among other potential instances of malfeasance or poor judgment that only the former process could cover, Malone reportedly blocked his public email account from receiving messages after developments in the ongoing crisis saw parishioners attempt to register their anger at him.)
In a statement upon today's announcement – and curiously issued in the third person – Buffalo Chancery said Malone "welcomes an Apostolic Visitation" and expressed "heartfelt gratitude" for those involved in it.
For his part, DiMarzio's formal comment pointedly expressed the hope that his assignment would allow "that justice might be served and God's mercy experienced." And in an added prod – reflecting the frustration with which no shortage of the US hierarchy have viewed the Buffalo situation – the incoming Visitor likewise appealed to the intercession of "Our Lady, Untier of Knots," the German folkloric title for Mary that is a longtime favorite of the Pope's.
After 22 years on the bench, DiMarzio reached the retirement age of 75 in June. Though Cardinal Seán O’Malley OFM Cap. likewise marked that milestone over the summer, Francis’ lead North American adviser is expected to remain in post as archbishop of Boston for the mid-range future, making Brooklyn the largest opening on the pending US Docket.
* * *As a good few folks have been asking about the Appointments Desk, keep in mind that cases like the one reported above are sucking up the bandwidth that'd normally belong to the Docket.
Still, as Saturday afternoon (Rome time) brings the elevation of 13 new cardinals, and the Amazon Synod opens on Sunday, it's all just getting started...
...and with thanks to everyone who's already lent a hand with the bills, just as the key elements of these intense weeks are only now underway – and the caseload spiked yet again tonight – if this scribe can't pay for the costs of the work, the job simply can't be done.
* * *SVILUPPO: As a busy weekend and beyond gets underway, lest anyone can use the reminder, Whispers' real-time newsfeed is available along the page's right sidebar for desktop users, and here for phone-based readers.
In that vein, an addition to the above from it:
... and another:Beyond what’s already reported (https://t.co/kXAFAGhpLn ), another likely motive for full Visitation of Buffalo vs. Vos estis probe: should +Malone depart, a Visitor’s report takes care of the first stage of search for a successor (diocesan consult), thus speeding up the process. pic.twitter.com/AxlY7DD5fp— Rocco Palmo (@roccopalmo) October 4, 2019
-30-Note to Buffalo: “You will get the leaders you want if you support your priests” – with Pope’s investigator “ready to roll” on +Malone case (https://t.co/kXAFAGhpLn ), as a useful primer to the imminent Visit, +DiMarzio’s last Chrism homily to Brooklyn: https://t.co/9nGymDQLKp pic.twitter.com/o5LwsjAJ9F— Rocco Palmo (@roccopalmo) October 4, 2019