‘Murder of the Soul’

A man can hang himself with his own words

Vos estis lux mundi (or Vos estis for short) is Pope Francis’s recent motu proprio establishing bishop accountability. Two U.S. bishops are feeling the heat of Vos estis. One is Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota, who will be investigated by Minneapolis archbishop Bernard Hebda, on charges of abuse cover-up. Hoeppner is the first sitting U.S. bishop to be investigated under the Pope’s new misconduct protocols.

The other is Buffalo bishop Richard Malone, who under protocol may soon be investigated by Cardinal Dolan of New York. A spokesman for the New York Archdiocese says Dolan will have something to say in the “near future” on this.

Malone’s case took a dramatic turn last week when private audio tapes of Malone were released by local TV news reporter Charlie Specht (WKBW, Sept. 4). Shuffling of abusive priests, cover-up, and inaction led the bishop’s trusted secretary — also a priest — to secretly tape conversations with Malone and eventually go public with them. The secretary, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, was placed on leave and has lawyered up, as they say. Barry N. Covert, Biernat’s attorney, summarized his client’s motivation for making audio recordings: “Bishop Malone was not acting in the best interest of the church, the diocese, the parishioners, but only in his own best interest: self-preservation.” Covert added, “Bishop Malone is never worried about the victims. He’s never worried about the parishioners. In all three tapes, he is worried about himself, he is worried about his image, he’s worried about what retribution can be served upon him.”

Transcripts provided by local WKBW provide highlights of Malone’s panic. Note his word choice:

“We are in a true crisis situation,” Malone said. “True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop. It could force me to resign if in fact they make a story…”

“With all the else that’s going on in the diocese and all the, all the attacks on my credibility…that I’ve known that something’s going on here that shouldn’t be and I let it go…I mean this is a disaster,” Malone said.

After a meeting with local church officials, Malone told Biernat: “You know, they really scared me. They kept saying, ‘You know this could be the end, bishop. This could be the end.’”

Looking back to a January 2004 NOR Note, we see another bishop apparently unable to appreciate the seriousness of abuse (link here: https://www.newoxfordreview.org/documents/priestly-pedophilia-soul-murders-or-merely-incidents/ ). The Note, while telling a long-ago story, provides a good descriptor of abuse: “murder of the soul.” The term is used by representatives of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) who were criticizing then-bishop James Moynihan of the Diocese of Syracuse as saying, “It has been difficult to learn the diocese has not been immune to incidents of child abuse.” They zero in on the bishop’s mild term “incidents” and suggest that priestly pedophilia is “better defined by words like ‘sexual assaults,’ ‘ritual abuse,’ ‘horrors,’ ‘terrorism,’ ‘murders of the soul.’”

Sixteen years of the worst crisis to befall the modern Church, and today’s bishop Malone sounds worse than yesterday’s Moynihan. This is no endorsement of SNAP and its ways, but the term soul-murder is useful. If a man like Malone used the word soul-murder instead of incident, situation, and the like, it may help bring him around.


Barbara E. Rose is Web Editor of the NOR.

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