On the morning of Dec. 4, Pope Francis named Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo. This came with the announcement that Bishop Richard J. Malone would take an early retirement. Bishop Scharfenberger will continue to serve in the Albany Diocese, where he has been bishop since 2014. "I am honored to serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo during these challenging times, and I am humbled by the task put before me. I ask for your prayers as we begin this journey together, and I look forward to getting to know the people of this great diocese," Bishop Scharfenberger said. "I will be doing a lot of listening and learning," he added, expressing a desire for openness and transparency in his new diocesan appointment, as has been his model in the Diocese of Albany.
Bishop Scharfenberger, who will serve in Buffalo until a new bishop is named at a later date, will oversee all aspects of the eight-county diocese in Western New York and plans to visit weekly. As apostolic administrator, he maintains all the rights, offices and faculties that belong to a diocesan bishop.
In his five and a half years as bishop of Albany, Bishop Scharfenberger has been a national leader in responding to the clergy abuse crisis. He published a list of offenders in the diocese four years ago, was among the first bishops in the country to call for an independent lay-led investigation of the scandal involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, revamped the diocesan review board, and established a predominantly lay task force on sexual abuse last year to make recommendations to the diocese on its response to survivors and its internal policies.
The same morning the announcement was made by the Holy See, staff members of the Catholic Center as well as the media, met Bishop Scharfenberger, who told his new staff and the press that he feels like the neighbor down the block coming to offer some help to a suffering family.
He made it clear that he received no marching orders from the Vatican and has no special agenda. His number one priority is openness of conversation, particularly with those who are suffering the most. "Never be afraid to come forward. You will be treated with respect," he promised. Another goal is to tap into the talent and resources of the laity. Rather than be a "fix-it man," Bishop Scharfenberger wants to stimulate good lay leadership, which would be in place when a bishop is appointed.
Following Pope Francis desire for an open Church, Bishop Scharfenberger promised his staff a relaxed atmosphere where people can talk. He sees his role as a spiritual father. When one employee asked about accountability being addressed, the bishop declared, "I want it all out there. No hidden corners." With no formal briefing on the Diocese of Buffalo, as he did when he was named bishop of Albany, he expects information to come in from diocesan offices and institutions in next few weeks. "I'd rather come in with an open mind and listen to everybody," he said, adding he plans to use the resources of his Albany staff in Buffalo. "We're going to have the resources of two dioceses helping one another," he said. "I think we'll be alright."
The Brooklyn-born bishop is able to quickly tell stories of St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi who lived lives of secular desires before turning back to the Lord, and relate it to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Everyone reaches a moment when they say I can't go on like this. "The Church is coming to a point like that. We can't go on like this. We have to stop being afraid, stop being defensive, stop the siege mentality - us and them. To me this can be a great example to all of us about how faith heals," he said. "This is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. This is about sin. This is about people who broke their vows. This is about institutional failure as well, failure to protect the innocent. It's not new in the world. It's always been here. We've been in denial about it for a long period of time. Now it's an opportunity to look it in the face and say, 'No more.' But, we're not going to save ourselves. We need a savior. That's why we're going to pray together. We're going to stick together. We're going to suffer together. And we're going to rise together."
In his role as apostolic administrator, Bishop Scharfenberger is to see to the necessary day-to-day functioning of a diocese, and is charged with deciding what issues need to be addressed during this interim period and what issues can wait for the attention of the new bishop.
In a written statement, Bishop Malone explained his decision to retire and addressed his hope for this new era for the Diocese of Buffalo. "It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to, and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal. Consequently, I am announcing my retirement, effective today," he wrote. Bishop Malone offered his gratitude for the kindness and support shown to him over his seven years in Western New York.
Bishop Scharfenberger was born May 29, 1948, in Brooklyn. He attended Catholic elementary schools and graduated in 1969 with a degree in English from Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston. He went on to study at North American College in Rome and earned a bachelor's degree in Sacred Theology from Pontifical Gregorian University in 1972. He was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn on July 2, 1973.
Bishop Scharfenberger served as parochial vicar in two parishes before returning to Rome to continue his studies. He earned a licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Academy of St. Alphonsus in 1977, a licentiate in Canon Law from Catholic University of America in 1980, a Juris Doctor of Law degree from Fordham University in 1990, and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1991. He served as judicial vicar for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn from 1993 to 2002 and as pastor of St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood (Queens) from 2003 to 2014, while teaching moral theology at the Diocesan Pastoral Institute in Brooklyn and was an adjunct professor at St. Joseph's College, also in Brooklyn. He also served as Promoter of Justice for the Brooklyn Diocese and was a member of the Diocesan Review Board for Sexual Abuse of Minors. He was ordained to the episcopacy on April 10, 2014, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. For his episcopal motto, Bishop Scharfenberger chose a line from the Prayer of St. Francis: "Lord, make me a channel of your peace."
To view Bishop Scharfenberger's full press conference held on December 4, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u90EOS8d5k&feature=youtu.be. To learn more about his response to the abuse crisis in Albany, visit www.rcda.org/bishops-response-abuse-crisis.org.