Lay People in Action

The Movement to Restore Trust was organized in Buffalo, New York, first seeking to work with its current bishop, then stepping back to call for his resignation. Under Canisius College President John Hurely’s leadership, the group’s organizing and decision-making process is worth reviewing. This article covers its December 2019 symposium where Most Rev. Edward S. Scharfenberger was welcomed as the interim Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo.

On December 7th, over 175 people attended a symposium at Canisius College organized by the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT). Together, the attendees discussed items that had been on the agenda for some months. That included the qualities they want to see in the next bishop of the diocese. Bishop Scharfenberger provided opening remarks in his interim role, and Michael Whalen, the survivor whose testimony in February 2018 began the investigation into child sexual abuse in Buffalo, spoke. Both were warmly received by the audience, which gave Whalen a standing ovation.

Titled “Path Forward,” the two-hour program was the latest in a series of symposia hosted by MRT at Canisius. Founded in October 2018 by nine local lay leaders, including Canisius President John J. Hurley, the Movement to Restore Trust seeks to empower lay voices in the Church in order to secure justice for survivors, implement reforms, and restore faith for those disillusioned and angered by the diocese’s failures. As stated on its website:

We believe that Catholics, lay and ordained, must walk together toward the holiness to which we are called, and create a new culture of leadership and management that is transparent, accountable, competent, and grounded in justice for survivors in order to restore trust and safeguard the essential mission of the Catholic Church.

The MRT has placed at the center of its mission the Vatican II ideal that the the people are as much a part of the Church as the clerical hierarchy. Six core principles are named on its website as governing its practices: co-responsibility between laity and clergy, transparency, accountability, competency, justice and trust.

From its first symposium at Canisius in November 2018, working groups met, through February 6th, 2019, to develop recommendations for improving transparency around finances and abuse, increasing lay involvement (especially women), selecting bishops and holding them accountable, and monitoring priests’ psychological health to prevent abuse.

Listening sessions with Bishop Malone followed this process and ran from June to September at multiple parishes, but ultimately the MRT concluded that no progress could be made under current leadership. With expressed sorrow, the MRT joined the growing calls for the current bishop to resign.

Many immediate challenges remain for the diocese, from the over 200 lawsuits filed by survivors that will likely result in bankruptcy, to selecting a new bishop. The Movement to Restore Trust has not yet announced any upcoming events, but the diocese is currently supporting the apostolic administrator with needed decisions and changes for moving forward. Meanwhile, as one of many models for lay-person involvement in facing the difficulties in the Church, the Movement to Restore Trust offers a lived example for how to engage and seek to collaborate as a Church.

The banner image for this article is a screenshot of the word cloud created on December 7th, as the facilitator invited audience voting.

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