PORTLAND — Bishop Richard J. Malone, the head of Maine’s Catholic Church for the last eight years, was appointed today by Pope Benedict XVI as the new bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y.

Malone, 66, was in Buffalo today for the formal announcement, but he will not be officially installed until August, when the current bishop, Edward U. Kmiec, retires.

“I am most grateful to our Holy Father for his trust in appointing me bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo,” Malone said in a statement today. “While there is sadness in my heart at leaving the Catholic faithful of Maine, especially the priests, deacons, consecrated religious, seminarians and lay leaders, I look forward with enthusiasm to taking up my responsibility as chief shepherd of the Church of Buffalo. I am very grateful to follow in the footsteps of Bishop Kmiec who is a loving, faithful and generous servant of the Gospel.”

Malone was named head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in March 2004 and served as Maine’s 11th bishop. Before that, he served as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston, beginning in 2000.

In a statement, Kmiec said he expected Malone to receive a warm welcome in Buffalo.

“Bishop Malone comes to Western New York with tremendous experience and a wonderful reputation for being a caring, pastoral bishop and a true shepherd to his people,” Bishop Kmiec said. “I am sure the faithful of the diocese will be ready and willing to support him to further the mission of the diocese. He will quickly learn that the people of this region are noted for being good neighbors, not just as citizens, but as active participants in the life of the Church.”

The Diocese of Buffalo counts more than 633,000 Catholics, more than three times the number in Maine. Malone will oversee 32 churches.

According to information provided by the church, a new administrator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland will be chosen by the church’s College of Consultors, a group of priests that helps decide these matters, but only after Bishop Malone is installed in Buffalo. That means it could be several months before the Vatican names a new bishop for Maine.

Malone’s tenure in Maine was marked by declining church enrollment, a prominent but much-criticized role in the 2009 people’s veto campaign to overturn a law allowing same-sex marriage and residual effects of the priest abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since the early part of the last decade.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized Malone’s appointment in a statement released shortly after the announcement.

“It’s important to remember that Malone worked under the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston,” Dorris said. “In 2010, it was disclosed that Malone was keeping secret the identity of seven recently accused Maine predator priests. We believe his secrecy violates his promises and the U.S. bishops abuse policy. Even worse, he’s violating basic common sense and needlessly jeopardizing the safety of vulnerable children in Maine.

“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.”

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: erussell@mainetoday.com