ROCHESTER, N.Y.  – The diocese of Buffalo has now felt the full effect of the Catholic Church’s roiling child sexual abuse scandal.

Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone, who was beset by public criticism, internal leaks and outside investigations, is leaving his post early, the Vatican announced early Wednesday.

Malone’s departure, coming just three weeks after a meeting with Pope Francis, was widely seen as a rebuke of his handling of abuse allegations.

He becomes the the sixth American bishop or cardinal in four years to leave office under the cloud of the church’s ongoing child sexual abuse scandal.

The degree of controversy in Buffalo was unique in New York state, and there was no immediate indication that any of New York’s six other bishops or Archbishop Timothy Dolan were in jeopardy.

Investigation:They were accused of sexually abusing children, now they’re the priest next door

In this Nov. 5, 2018, file photo, Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalospeaks during a news conference in Cheektowaga, New York. Pope Francis on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2019, accepted Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation following widespread criticism over how he handled allegations of clergy sexual misconduct.

Malone resisted demands

Malone, 73, had led New York’s fourth-largest Catholic diocese since August 2012. He had resisted demands for his resignation, saying he wanted to stay in office until he reached the church’s mandatory retirement age of 75.

His role will be filled temporarily by Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger. The leadership shuffle was first reported Monday by the Buffalo News.

In a statement released by the diocese Wednesday morning, Malone defended his response to abuse allegations but said he had asked Pope Francis to accept his resignation.

“Despite the measurable progress we have achieved together, I have concluded after much prayer and discernment that the spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed,” Malone’s statement said.

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