Brendan Keany

Reaction from Movement to Restore Trust Symposium

"This was the beginning of a conversation, and it's going to be followed up by action."

November 28, 2018 - 11:56 pm
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BUFFALO (WBEN - Brendan Keany) - About 200 people gathered at the Montante Cultural Center of Canisius College last night in what was intended to be a respectful dialogue on the tumultuous year in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

"The goal here was to gather people together in a place where a conversation could occur," said John Hurley, the president of Canisius who also served as the facilitator of the discussion. "There hasn't been a central place like that in the diocese since this whole crisis began, where Catholics could all gather in one place, hear some perspectives, national and local, on the situation, and begin to process what they've been through."

The two-hour discussion focused on several issues surrounding the Catholic Church, as well as some of the big-picture struggles occurring worldwide. There was a panel of four experts:

Margaret Carney, OSF, STD - is the President Emeritus of St. Bonaventure University. During her term, she served as president and board member of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and was a consultant to the Committee on Education of the USCB.

Kerry Robinson - is the founding executive director and global ambassador of Leadership Roundtable, an organization the promotes best practices and accountability regarding management issues in the Catholic Church.

Rev. Robert Zilliox - is the pastor of St. Mary's Swormville parish in East Amherst, a canon lawyer and former canonical adviser to Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone. Fr. Zilliox is a sex abuse survivor who was featured on the "60 Minutes" report on the Buffalo Diocese in October 2018.

Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. - is the editor in chief of "America" magazine, the Jesuit review of faith and culture.

"We tried to gather as many of the faithful as we could in a symposium with a panel of experts to focus on some areas of reform, of accountability, not only for Bishops but for the church itself," said Zilliox.

Zilliox says this format of discussion provided a unique perspective because this type of event rarely takes place.

"It provides a whole new lens for the laity to kind of share their concerns with the hierarchy, to share their concerns with Bishop Malone, to share their concerns with their pastors or priests," he said. "In doing so, that can strengthen and restore, or begin the process of restoring that relationship.

"Any relationship is built on trust," he continued. "When you lose that, that relationship becomes more severed, it's not as healthy and solid as it could be, so I think this is a step in the right direction."

While Robinson doesn't have as much intimate knowledge of the Buffalo Diocese, she does have the experience of traveling across the globe. She says that these types of discussions bring hope.

"I think people are leaving with a greater sense of hope than they may have arrived with," she said. "When you begin to expand your imagination and know what can be done and what practical steps moving forward can be taken, that has a very positive and beneficial impact."

Siobhan O'Connor, a former executive assistant to Malone who appeared on the "60 Minutes" report, said the beginning of a more healthy communication process is a good sign.

"I thought it was important that people would have an opportunity to discuss these issues, especially for us lay people, because I think we're really struggling now to know where do we go from here," said O'Connor. "I was glad to hear there was an exchange of some possibilities in that regard."

O'Connor commented on the format of the discussion, and she said it was beneficial to have a wide array of viewpoints involved.

"It was really interesting to have such disparate perspectives; I thought the panelists all came from such different areas of our church and their different experiences," she said. "But I think it was also humbling to realize that we all don't really know exactly where we're going, and sometimes that's a little bit frightening or a cause for concern, but then also we ended with a sense of hope that even though we aren't sure where we're going to go, at least we're all united in wanting change, and that's the most important thing."

She then doubled-down on previous statements that Malone, who was not at the symposium, is unfit to serve as the bishop of the diocese, especially as it's becoming more evident that priests within the diocese are critical of him.

"I think that is a very new phenomenon, and I think it speaks to Bishop Malone's leadership, or lack thereof," said O'Connor. "I say this with respect, but I don't believe he has done right by the priests of our diocese, and I know of specific instances of that but also collective realities that they've faced. So, I think for many of them, as much as this current scandal might have been shocking, I think that they might have had some concerns about his leadership prior to this time, and I do kind of wonder when they're going to perhaps be more vocal in a collective sense, and I wish they would be."

Some may question why Malone, who has faced much criticism throughout the ordeal, didn't show up to the symposium. However, Carney believes it was probably better that he wasn't there.

"I think it's really important for lay people and other subgroups - the religious women, the priests of the diocese - to have opportunities to meet in their own settings in order to freely express, and to probe, and to question and to test ideas, so that it doesn't immediately have to become a situation of debate, or defending positions or defending one another," said Carney.

However, she did note that day will eventually come.

Hurley says that this meeting is just a matter of scratching the surface.

"We had some great perspectives, I think some great insights as to what might have to happen, and it's a good starting point," he said. "This was never intended to be a one and done. This was the beginning of a conversation, and it's going to be followed up by action."

The next step of action will be a follow-up workshop on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 9 a.m.- noon at the Canisius College Science Hall. This discussion will be different from the symposium, as those in attendance will break into smaller groups to study the issues, create solutions and prepare recommendations.

Hear the entire symposium below:

Hear the entire interview with Siobhan O'Connor below:

Father Robert Zilliox

 

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