Zilliox clarifies ‘60 Minutes’ critique of Buffalo Diocese
A canon lawyer with the Diocese of Buffalo who said in a nationally televised interview that Bishop Richard J. Malone ignored his recommendations on several sex abuse allegation cases issued a statement Friday clarifying his critique of the bishop’s handling of the matter.
The Rev. Robert Zilliox released a three-page statement to media outlets that he said was intended to clarify statements he made in a “60 Minutes” interview that have since been misunderstood or mischaracterized by some who saw it.
In the “60 Minutes” interview, which aired Oct. 28 on the CBS network, Zilliox referred to “at least eight or nine” priests who remained in the priesthood who he said should have been removed.
After the TV segment aired, Zilliox said the diocese released a statement that mischaracterized his references to the priests as still being in “active ministry,” a term Zilliox said he never used.
“I did not use that term,” said Zilliox, in the statement he released to news outlets Friday.
“In fact, some or even all those priests may be on leave from ‘active ministry,’ including suspension, administrative leave, medical leave or retirement,” he added.
Zilliox said priests who are no longer in active ministry because they have either been suspended, are on administrative or medical leave or retired, may continue to say Mass and perform sacraments. As a result, church members and others are likely to be unaware of those priests’ status or the reasons for their status, he said.
“Under canon law, the Church has a process to formally remove priests from the clerical state for misconduct, including the sexual abuse of children as well as misconduct involving adults. When the result of that process is removal, that decision is public,” Zilliox said.
Zilliox said he bore no responsibility for removing any priests from the priesthood.
At a news conference this week, Lawlor F. Quinlan, a lawyer for the diocese, addressed what he called a misperception that was left by the airing of the “60 Minutes” episode, that the diocese was keeping eight or nine priests in ministry despite credible claims of abuse.
Quinlan said Zillox was “technically correct” when he said the priests had not been removed from the priesthood. “Technically, they haven’t been removed from the clerical state, but they have been removed from ministry,” Quinlan said. “They’re not in a school. They’re not in a church. If they go to the grocery store, they can’t wear the Roman collar.”
Earlier this week, Kathy Spangler, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the bishop did not know the identities of the eight or nine priests referred to by Zilliox. “The biggest question we have is: Who are the eight or nine priests mentioned in the ‘60 Minutes’ story by Father Zilliox?” said Spangler. “We don’t know who they are and we want very much for him or anyone else to please tell us.”
Spangler did not respond to a text message seeking comment from the diocese Friday.
In the statement he released Friday, Zilliox said he was aware of the interest in publicly identifying by name each of the priests.
“Under canon law, matters being submitted to the (Congregation for Doctrine of Faith in Rome) are subject to strict confidentiality. Accordingly, I am prevented from identifying those cases by name,” Zilliox said.