BUFFALO, New York — The Catholic bishop of Buffalo, New York, on Sunday rejected calls to resign over his handling of sexual abuse allegations against priests, saying: the “shepherd does not desert the flock” in difficult times.
Bishop Richard Malone said he is appointing a task force of clergy, lay people and “an elected official or two” to review how sexual abuse claims from adults are handled.
The diocese released a list in March of 42 priests facing sex abuse allegations. A Buffalo television station reported last week that Malone allowed one accused priest to remain in his parish and gave multiple chances to another who’d been suspended by the previous bishop.
“I’m profoundly sorry for the pain this has caused you,” Malone said at a Sunday news conference. “While nothing I can say to you can heal the hurt of this tragic breach of trust, as bishop I must extend my heartfelt apologies.”
Malone said the diocese also would create a new office of professional responsibility and cooperate with the state attorney general’s office and local prosecutors in any potential investigation.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins on Friday called for Malone’s resignation and asked for such a probe. The Democrat said there’s “overwhelming evidence” Malone “exhibited poor leadership and knew about children and others put in harm’s way.”
A local lawmaker and a business leader who serves as a church deacon also called on Malone to resign in recent days.
WKBW-TV reported that Malone and church leaders let Father Robert Yetter remain as the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Swormville after three young men accused him of inappropriate touching.
The station reported that the diocese, under Malone, tried to hide information about Yetter and the other accused priest, Father Art Smith, including removing their names from a publicly-released list of credibly accused clergy.
WKBW-TV reported Malone reinstated Smith soon after Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as bishop in May 2012 and, three years later, allowed Smith to administer the Eucharist and hear confessions despite new allegations he inappropriately touched two young men.
Malone’s predecessor, Bishop Edward Kmiec, originally suspended Smith after he allegedly told a Catholic school eighth grader “love you” via a Facebook message in 2011.
The principal of the school, St. Mary of the Lake, wrote to the diocese that Smith was “a predator and a groomer” of young children. Students referred to him as “The Creeper.”