Moving forward in equal privilege of faith

by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Fri, Jan 3rd 2020 11:25 am
Bishop of Albany Edward Bernard Scharfenberger who has been appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Buffalo Diocese speaks with longtime Catholic supporter and Hon. Salvatore R. Martoche, former New York State Supreme Court Judge in his office at the Catholic Center.
Bishop of Albany Edward Bernard Scharfenberger who has been appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Buffalo Diocese speaks with longtime Catholic supporter and Hon. Salvatore R. Martoche, former New York State Supreme Court Judge in his office at the Catholic Center.

I am grateful to have encountered so many wonderful people in these early days as your apostolic administrator, and as I continue to walk with you during this time of transition. Among those I have met are the devoted Catholic lay men and women, as well as members of the clergy, who gathered a few days after my appointment at the Montante Cultural Center of Canisius College, where the Movement to Restore Trust graciously welcomed me.

It was a very special and insightful experience. Much of the discussion among participants was devoted to discerning the essential attributes that were needed in the next bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. In real -time, participants were able to vote digitally on the various attributes suggested and projected on a large screen. So many excellent personal qualities were offered - and also mentioned to me in conversation - but seven eventually merged in consensus as the most desired attributes that the next bishop should possess:
Servant Leader
Willing to make tough choices

In a sense these seven qualities cover a great many of the other attributes I have taken to heart in my appointed role to assist you in forging a path forward and addressing the needs of the faithful here in Western New York.

I said in my early remarks at the Dec. 4 press conference that I have no magic wand, nor the capacity to impose the meaningful changes that so many seek. This is ultimately the work of all - with various roles and responsibilities - but with shared commitment to Transparency, Honesty, Humility, Holiness, Collaboration, Service and shared Decision-making in the difficult matters we face. These are the shared attributes that will constitute a revitalized and vibrant community of faith going forward.

In "Lumen Gentium" - the central document of Vatican II (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), the role of lay men and women was clearly defined, not as an auxiliary or secondary role in the Church, but as a primary and essential role in the common pursuit of holiness:

"But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.

"If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God. And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ," ("Lumen Gentium," Chapter IV, 31-32).

Could we hope for a clearer assertion of the indispensable role that each of us plays in the work of bringing about healing and renewal - holiness? I think not.

My early observation is that much of the frustration, disappointment and hurt that so many have experienced is the result of not being heard; not being empowered to bring about needed change; not being regarded - as "Lumen Gentium" asserts - as enjoying "equal privilege of faith" in the life and work of the Church. Also in not being sufficiently invited to solve its deep-rooted problems.

As such, I regard it as my priority and obligation to re-establish this sense of equality - as a father who listens and is patient, as a pastor concerned with your spiritual life, and as your temporary shepherd who, while pointing the way, is also capable of following your lead - guided as we all are by His Holy Spirit.

There remains a great deal for me to do to serve you and your faith honorably, but the full process of healing is yours. I can help you, but you will need to listen and care for one another as well.

This is where those attributes that you seek in a bishop, must also be evident in you. I have already witnessed a tenacious holiness and determination not to lose hope. While some are for sure deeply disillusioned and disappointed, you have not abandoned our Church or left it in despair. You have made the decision to stay and to participate even where the road to collaborate seems washed away.

It is this tenacity, this perseverance that recalls the words of Simon Peter to Jesus who questions His disciples' resolve:

"After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the Twelve, 'Will you also go away?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,'" (John 6:66-68).

I fully realize that the decision to soldier-on amidst so much controversy and turmoil, is a deeply personal one with its own implications. In some cases, it has pitted friends against friends and even members of the same family against one another. But now is the time to come together - to find ways to support each other and to engage in the hard work of repair and healing. Our struggle to make sense of that which is beyond comprehension, and explain that for which there is no acceptable explanation will continue. The sordid accounts of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and the failings of leadership to act decisively have inflicted an indelible wound on those harmed, their families, friends, their parish communities - and in fact, our entire Church.

And yet, the wound does not have to be mortal. I believe that we can come together in true openness and honesty, to bind these wounds of our brothers and sisters. In supporting them and helping them to heal, we have the prospect to also heal ourselves. But we must face the truth and provide answers to questions that, at another time, we would blame others for even asking. And importantly, we must not be afraid. Fear blinds us, causes mistrust, stifles dialogue, prevents openness to others, and inhibits action.

I appeal to you as your brother, as your father and shepherd for a time, to continue in your steadfast pursuit of holiness; care for one another, extend not only your hand, but open your heart. I ask you to remain decided on God, holy in your ways, listening intently to hear what may be difficult from each other and from me, and also to receive what is wonderfully touched by grace even in these very difficult times. Continue to cultivate a willingness to collaborate, with all the range for feelings and assertions it requires to find the path forward, leaving no one behind or in harm's way. As you live up to these attributes, so will I seek - with God's graces and your prayers - to do so likewise for this brief but daunting moment in your diocesan family's history. Included in this is my commitment to be as transparent as I can possibly be, and to communicate often with you through your own diocesan newspaper, on social media and wherever we can find each other.

Entering together this new year now begun, we have the possibility to create something that truly reflects God's capacity to again astonish us with his boundless grace, mercy and love for us all. Let us now move forward.

God's Blessings & Peace!

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

Apostolic Administrator

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