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Bishop Richard J. Malone flies to Portland, Maine, about once a month and also leads a weekly teleconference with Portland church administrators from a meeting room in the Buffalo chancery offices.

Keeping tabs on another diocese more than 500 miles away has kept Malone plenty busy over the past several months.

But Buffalo’s newest Catholic bishop might travel even more over the next two months.

Malone kicked off Catholic Charities of Buffalo’s 2013 Appeal on Tuesday by announcing that the human services agency would try to raise $10.7 million from donors.

The campaign traditionally has been a chance for bishops new to Buffalo to learn more about the region’s 600,000 Catholics by traveling to the farthest reaches of the eight-county diocese.

Malone, 66, sees it that way, too.

Malone, who was installed in August, admitted Tuesday that he is still finding his way around the diocese and welcomes the chance to meet more people at Catholic Charities workshops around Western New York where staff and volunteers receive fundraising training and encouragement.

The workshops will be “one more opportunity for me to get to know – and get known by – the people of the diocese,” he said. “To get out among the people is what makes the bishop’s heart beat warmly.”

That will mean driving to the rural areas of the diocese, such as Allegany, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties – all within the span of a few weeks.

“It’s really quite a commitment,” said Sister Mary McCarrick, diocesan director of Catholic Charities.

The bishop also has scheduled trips later this month to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life Mass; to Orlando, Fla., for a Catholic Leadership Institute; and to New York City for a meeting of the state’s Board of Bishops.

Malone continues to serve as apostolic administrator of the Portland Diocese, where he was bishop for eight years before the Buffalo appointment. The additional assignment requires that he travel to Portland about once a month.

The Vatican hasn’t told him the end date for his work in Maine, which would allow him to focus exclusively on the Buffalo Diocese. “I have no idea where it stands,” he said. “I have no sense at all about who the successor might be.”

Buffalo’s Catholic Charities Appeal is one of the 10 largest of its kind in the country, and Malone said early on he was surprised by the size of the effort.

In the Portland Diocese, home to 187,000 Catholics across the State of Maine, Catholic Charities raised about $2.7 million in its most recent campaign, he said.

But Malone quickly learned that even $10.7 million won’t be enough to handle the variety of human services needs in Western New York.

As bishop here, he also serves as chairman and president of Catholic Charities, which has an annual budget of more than $35 million and runs 70 programs with about 130,000 clients.

Malone continued to criticize a new federal requirement that Catholic institutions with non-Catholic employees such as Catholic Charities provide birth control coverage to employees in their health insurance plans.

Proponents of broader contraception coverage said it improves public health, but opponents of the new mandate argue that it impinges on religious liberty.

“This has been a unique and historic intrusion by the federal government on the ministries of the church,” Malone said.

Bishops contend that the regulations force Catholics to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic teaching considers the use of contraceptives as immoral.

The Department of Health & Human Services’ contraception mandate also affects Catholic colleges and universities, hospitals and other institutions.

Bishops are still exploring ways to respond to the mandate, which took effect this year, Malone said.

“We’re engaged intensely in those conversations right now,” he said. “An awful lot is at stake here.”

Some bishops have suggested the possibility of civil disobedience, he said.

Such a move likely would result in large federal fines.

The federal mandate also is under legal attack in several dozen lawsuits across the country, including downstate New York, where the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Catholic Health Services of Long Island and Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre have teamed up in a suit.

The Diocese of Erie is part of a similar lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

So far, Catholic institutions in Western New York have not taken the issue to court.

Catholic groups here have been providing contraceptive coverage for employees for years under a state regulation adopted in 2002 and affirmed in courts following a lengthy legal battle.

McCarrick said Catholic Charities of Buffalo is abiding by all state and federal regulations for insurance coverage.

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com