PORTLAND, Maine — Bishop Richard J. Malone is leaving Maine to assume leadership of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.

Malone’s appointment by Pope Benedict XVI was announced Tuesday at the Vatican. Malone is scheduled to be installed as bishop Aug. 10 at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.

The College of Consultors, a panel of priest advisers, will meet in Portland in August to consider appointing an interim administrator while awaiting the Vatican’s choice for a permanent replacement for Malone, Monsignor Andrew Dubois, moderator of the curia for the Portland Diocese, said Tuesday. Portland Diocese spokeswoman Sue Bernard said the process of selecting and vetting a replacement for Malone could take as long as a year.

“I fully expect someone with the qualities Bishop Malone had, someone who is a person of integrity, who is committed to the faith, someone who loves the people of Maine, someone who is willing to travel the state, work hard and meet people, and certainly [personifies] the whole essence of the New Evangelization, building up the church, proclaiming the faith, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with people,” Dubois said.

In a Buffalo news conference simulcast at the Portland chancery office, Malone told reporters in upstate New York he will remain a vocal advocate for the Catholic Church’s political positions in his new role.

“My priorities have always been … to engage ever more effectively the vision of the New Evangelization, firing up the resolve of the faithful to share and live their faith by word of witness, welcoming absent Catholics home to the Church; and working together to transform our Church to become more respectful of the sacredness of human life, from conception to natural death and every moment in between; more committed to the preservation of religious freedom, our first and most precious liberty; more engaged in the restoration of the institution of marriage how God has created it to be, the union of one man and one woman, open to the gift and rearing of children; and more involved in compassionate outreach to the poor and disenfranchised and forgotten,” Malone said Tuesday morning.

The Diocese of Buffalo has more than 633,000 Catholics, more than three times that of Maine. In the city of Buffalo alone, there are 32 Catholic churches. The diocese has seven Catholic colleges and universities and 15 Catholic high schools.

Malone, 66, told reporters Tuesday he is excited about the change and that his experience promoting the New Evangelization and reorganizing Portland Diocese resources prepare him well for Buffalo, where similar changes were necessary in recent years.

Retiring Diocese of Buffalo Bishop Edward U. Kmiec said during the morning news conference his Diocese reduced its parishes from 275 to 175 over his eight years.

Malone, the 11th bishop of Maine, most likely will be remembered by Catholics for his New Evangelization plan, which consolidated 137 parishes into 57, and his support of the people’s veto of a law that would have allowed same-sex couples to marry in Maine.

The New Evangelization plan, announced in the year after Malone’s installation, called for a paradigm shift in the way ordained and lay Catholics view their roles in the church, William R. Schulz, the man charged with seeing it implemented, said at a planning meeting in October 2007 in Bangor.

One of the driving forces behind the reorganization was the number of priests expected to retire by 2010. When the plan was announced in 2005, there were 90 active diocesan priests. According to information posted on the diocesan website, there are 69 active diocesan priests in Maine and 86 who are retired or ill.

Under Malone’s guidance, parishes now are made up of a group of churches in geographic regions with between two and 10 worship sites in each parish. Parishes are overseen by one board made up of members from each church.

In Greater Bangor, two parishes were created. One includes churches that previously functioned independently in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport. Another is made up of worship sites in Old Town, Orono, Indian Island and Bradley.

The consolidation and the shortage of priests has led to fewer Masses available each weekend and the closing of about 10 churches around the state, including St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street in Orono.

Malone, who had been an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston, was named in February 2004 by Pope John Paul II to replace Bishop Joseph J. Gerry. A Millinocket native, Gerry submitted his retirement letter to the pope, as required, on his 75th birthday in September 2003.

At his installation eight years ago, Malone outlined some of the challenges the Maine diocese faced, including:

• Reconfiguring parishes so evangelization could be effective.

• Focusing on nurturing people interested in the priesthood and religious life.

• Identifying, supporting and collaborating with lay leaders.

• Advancing Catholic teaching on matters of social justice, peace and respect for human life.

• Making education a priority by supporting Catholic schools, lifelong faith formation, adult religious education and youth and young adult ministry.

At that time, there were 234,000 Roman Catholics in the diocese. As Malone leaves the state, there are 187,306 adherents, according to information posted on the diocesan website. While Maine has the lowest percentage of people in the country who claim a religious affiliation, the Catholic Church has the most members of any denomination in Maine.

Malone announced in March that he and the diocese would sit on the sidelines during the same-sex marriage referendum campaign. More than two years ago, Maine voters rejected gay marriage in a statewide vote, 53 percent to 47 percent, after it had been passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. John Baldacci. During the 2009 successful referendum to repeal same-sex marriage, the church gave $500,000 and lent its public policy director full time to the campaign.

The bishop said earlier this year the diocese instead would focus on teaching parishioners about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. At a press conference earlier this year, Malone unveiled a pastoral letter titled “Marriage: yesterday… today… always.” Malone said he wrote the letter to explain the church’s position on marriage. The document will be discussed at Catholic churches and schools and through the diocesan magazine and radio station, which both were launched under Malone’s direction.

Dubois said continued advocacy against same-sex marriage, which will be put before voters again at the polls in November, will be carried on by the College of Consultors without a bishop in place here.

Malone also was bishop in Maine when the priest sex abuse cases came to light nationally and a few Maine priests were accused and some found to be involved in such activity. Malone has indicated a willingness to support and aid the victims of priest abuse, but on Tuesday, Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the Catholic Church hierarchy is “trading one callous official for another” by sending Malone to replace Bishop Kmiec.

“If the church hierarchy ever truly wants to put an end to the abuse and coverup crisis, the Vatican should promote men who actively do that within their own dioceses. Instead, they promote the status quo and continue business as usual,” Dorris said in a prepared statement.

Malone was born in Salem, Mass., and graduated from St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers. He studied at Cardinal O’Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain and graduated from St. John Seminary, Boston, with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and divinity and a master’s degree in theology. Malone subsequently earned a doctorate in theology at Boston University and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology.


Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.