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Pope Francis accepts resignation of Buffalo bishop under fire over handling of abuse claims

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday accepted the resignation of Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone following widespread criticism from his staff, priests and the public over how he handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct.

The Vatican announced the resignation in a brief statement, adding that Francis had named the bishop of Albany, New York, Edward Scharfenberger, to run the Buffalo diocese temporarily until a permanent replacement is found.

The Vatican didn’t say why Malone was resigning two years before the mandatory retirement age of 75. However, the Vatican conducted a recent investigation into the western New York diocese and Malone’s handling of abuse cases.

The diocese has been named in more than 220 recent lawsuits by people who claim they were sexually abused by priests.

Members of the media gather outside of Infant of Prague Parish before a news conference with Bishop Richard Malone, of Buffalo, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Cheektowaga, N.Y.Frank Franklin II / AP

Many of the claims date back decades, long before Malone’s arrival in Buffalo in 2012. But critics say there have been more recent missteps by Malone, including his decision to return to ministry a priest who had been suspended by a previous bishop for including “love you” in a Facebook message to an eighth-grade boy.

Malone later endorsed the same priest for a job as a cruise ship chaplain, even after he was also accused of making unwanted advances toward young men.

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Malone has admitted to making mistakes in cases involving adult victims, but he had firmly refused to resign.

Pressure though on him to leave has been intense.

Over the past year, two key members of Malone’s staff have gone public with concerns about his leadership, including his former secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, who secretly recorded Malone calling a then-active priest “a sick puppy,” but taking no immediate action to remove him.

Earlier, his executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, leaked internal church documents after becoming concerned that Malone had intentionally omitted dozens of names from a publicly released list of priests with credible allegations of abuse.

In September, a group of lay Catholics that had been working with Malone to restore trust in the church instead joined in calls for his resignation.

A diocesan priest, meanwhile, has been circulating a “no confidence” letter for signatures.

The Vatican recently conducted an inquiry into the Buffalo diocese to get to the bottom of the problems. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who led the inquiry, said he’d finished his work after making three trips to western New York and interviewing about 80 people in and outside the church.

DiMarzio’s report to the Vatican has not been made public.

Among those who have called for Malone’s resignation is the former dean of seminarians at the diocese’s Christ the King Seminary. In a letter outlining his decision to withdraw from his studies to become a priest, Stephen Parisi called the diocese’s handing of clerical sexual abuse cases “disgusting and revolting” and raised questions about the institution’s academic practices and oversight.

Malone in April suspended three priests after several seminarians complained the older men subjected them to disturbing and offensive sexual discussions during a party at a rectory.

In refusing previous calls to step down, Malone had said he wanted to be part of the “renewal” of the diocese.

The diocese has paid out more than $18 million to more than 100 victims under a compensation program established last year. Since August, it has been named in a wave of new lawsuits under a New York state law that suspended the usual statute of limitations and opened a one-year window for victims to pursue claims regardless of when the abuse happened.

Attorneys general in several states, including New York, have begun civil investigations into how the Catholic church reviewed and potentially covered up abuse.

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Pope Francis Lashes Nuclear Weapons As ‘Immoral’ During Trip To Japan

In a somber visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki Sunday, Pope Francis condemned nuclear weapons as “immoral” and called for a world without them.

“The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral — as is the possession of atomic weapons,” he said at the peace memorial in Hiroshima, where an American atomic bomb attack in 1945 — the first in the world — killed at least 140,000 people. 

“We will be judged on this,” he warned.

Francis spoke with survivors there, one of them who was a 14-year-old factory worker at the time.

“No one in this world can imagine such a scene of hell,” Yoshiko Kajimoto said as she described fleeing the scene, The Associated Press reported. Victims’ “bodies were so burned and totally red. Their faces swollen to double size, their lips hanging loose, with both hands held out with burnt skin hanging from them. They no longer looked human.”

Earlier in the day, the pontiff visited Nagasaki, which the U.S. attacked three days after Hiroshima, killing some 74,000 people.

“Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation,” the Catholic leader said in remarks there in the driving rain.

The pope emphasized that resources wasted creating nuclear weapons could far better be used helping humanity.

“In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance, and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven,” he said.

Francis’s trip was the first papal visit to Japan in nearly 40 years. On the last trip in 1981, Pope John Paul II also visited Nagasaki.

Francis is the first pope to speak out against nuclear weapons, even for “deterrence.”

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