NEW YORK — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo one month after a Vatican authorized investigation into his diocese which has been roiled by claims that he has mishandled numerous abuse cases.

The resignation was announced Wednesday by the Holy See Press office.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany has been named apostolic administrator until a successor is named in Buffalo.

For more than a year, Malone has been engulfed in charges that he knowingly covered up for priests credibly accused of abuse. In February 2018, a retired priest, Father Norbert F. Orsolits, acknowledged that he had molested “probably dozens” of teenage boys in the 1970s and ’80s.

Those revelations sparked ongoing scrutiny of Malone’s leadership, and he has resisted numerous calls to step down from clergy, seminarians, and lay leaders within the diocese where he has served as bishop since 2012.

Malone was in Rome last month with bishops from New York state for regularly scheduled ad limina meetings with Francis and the Roman Curia.

Despite the cloud of scandal looming over him, he was the principal celebrant for a Mass celebrated at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome on November 12, where he quoted from Francis’s catechesis on Christian hope, saying “in these times that appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented by the evil and violence that surround us, by the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters, we need hope!”

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Following his return from Rome, he issued a statement saying Francis is aware of the difficult situation that both he and the diocese are facing.

“In a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the pope understands the difficulties and distress we have here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing. He was very understanding and kind,” he wrote.

In October, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn was tapped to lead an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Buffalo after more than a year of questions surrounding Malone’s handling of abuse cases. DiMarzio conducted three trips to the diocese and interviewed some 80 diocesan officials, clergy, and lay Catholics for a report to the Vatican.

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The meltdown within the Diocese of Buffalo attracted national attention when his former secretary, Siobhan O’Connor, leaked hundreds of pages of diocesan records last year alleging that Malone had allowed accused priests to stay on the job and that he has actively engaged in abuse cover-up.

This past September, Malone’s priest secretary, Father Ryszard Biernat, also leaked secret recordings in which Malone voiced concerns that one of those scandals could force him to resign.

Biernat himself faces allegations that he engaged in a longtime relationship with Matthew Bojanowski, a former diocesan seminarian. Despite the publication of correspondence between Biernat and Bojanowki that appears romantic in nature, Malone has said he has no reason not to believe the relationship to be platonic.

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In an interview with a local Buffalo station earlier this year, Malone said the diocese currently is facing 138 abuse lawsuits since a “look back” window in New York state took effect in August. He said his advisers estimate a total of 250-275 lawsuits will be filed, and that the diocese is in “very serious discernment” over whether to file for bankruptcy.

Malone is now the third U.S. bishop to step down after abuse-related allegations over the past year — the first was Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia, who is accused of both financial and sexual misconduct, and the second was Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. who resigned after scrutiny of his handling of abuse cases as bishop of Pittsburgh in the 1980s.

However, both Bransfield and Wuerl were over 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops; Malone is only 73.

Over the last year, the U.S. Catholic Church has struggled to turn a page on the latest wave of the abuse crisis following the downfall of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Once one of the American Church’s most prominent leaders, McCarrick has been accused of abusing both minors and seminarians and last February, Francis took the highly unusual step of laicizing him.

Last May, the Vatican issued new global norms to mandate standards and procedures for reporting cases of bishop abuse or cover-up. The U.S. Catholic bishops adopted those norms last June and a national third-party reporting system is set to be implemented by this summer.

Prior to his time in Buffalo, Malone served as an auxiliary bishop in Boston under Cardinal Bernard Law from 2001 to 2004. He was then named bishop of Portland, Maine, a post he held until his appointment to Buffalo in 2012.

Follow Christopher White on Twitter: @cwwhite212 

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