As the Buffalo Diocese comes increasingly under fire for its handling of sex abuse cases involving clergy, local Catholics are facing a major crisis of faith.
"My pastor said I wonder if I'm going to walk out to say mass and there will nobody in the pews," said Nancy Neilsen, an associate dean at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine.
Several prominent local Catholics gathered Thursday at Canisius College to announce an initiative to rebuild trust and confidence in the Diocese of Buffalo.
"We come forward with this initiative in that spirit of love for our church,” said Canisius College President John Hurley. “With a commitment to take our concerns and disillusionment and turn them into constructive action.”
The group says its goal is to empower the laity of the diocese to help create a new culture of leadership within the church that values transparency, accountability and trust.
"We've got to really address these issues. I believe we have to hold the bishops accountable,” said Carl Montante, president of Uniland Development. “I believe the hierarchy has to be more transparent in all matters, not only sexual misconduct but even financial.”
Neilsen said she was abused by a member of the clergy as a teen. While she says it's important to hold the leaderships of the diocese accountable, she doesn't think calling for Bishop Malone to step down is the answer.
"Nobody's here to, at least speaking for myself, I'm not here to topple an individual,” she said. “This is a systemic problem. If you replace one person with another bishop without repairing and forging a new path forward, the same thing could happen. So, I think we need to get away from focusing on an individual.”
The group says they plan to hold a symposium at Canisius in November featuring national experts and local speakers to talk about the failures of the church and ways to restore trust and faith in its members.