Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, has said he was not given the results of a Vatican-ordered investigation into the scandal-hit diocese.
“I was not given that,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger told local news station WKBW in an interview on Monday, regarding the Vatican’s report of the investigation. “I don’t know what it contains,” he said.
Scharfenberger also told WKBW that he was not given a clear mandate by the Vatican when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese in December after the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone.
“I was not sent with a particular mission,” Scharfenberger said of his temporary appointment to Buffalo, emphasizing that Malone resigned and was not “forced out.”
“I was not given any documentation or any marching orders that ‘you’re here to clean things up,’ or anything. I was just told to be the administrator of the diocese.”
After more than a year of successive scandals concerning sexual abuse and cover-up in the diocese, in October the Vatican appointed Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to conduct an Apostolic Visitation of Buffalo, resulting in a report submitted to the Vatican in November.
Although he said he had not seen the conclusions of that report, Scharfenberger did address the climate of suspicion and cynicism which had set in across large parts of the diocese.
“Criminality is not entitled to secrecy,” he said on Monday. “So anything that our files that would contain that would hint at criminal behavior, if that’s the case, I want to be transparent and expose.”
“Christ says ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ that we have nothing to fear from that truth,” he said.
Bishop Malone’s resignation was accepted in December after sustained criticism and scrutiny beginning in November of 2018, when his former executive assistant Siobahn O’Connor leaked confidential diocesan documents showing that the diocese had drastically underreported to the public the number of priests with abuse accusations made against them. The documents showed that Malone worked with diocesan lawyers to limit the list of accused priests that would be released to the public.
In August, Malone’s then-secretary Fr. Rishard Biernat leaked audio of conversations between him, Malone, and diocesan lawyers and staff. In the audio of the conversations, Malone admitted that accusations of grooming and violation of the Seal of Confession made by a then-seminarian against one diocesan priest were probably true, but months later the priest still remained in active ministry.
“We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop,” Malone said, noting that if the matter—which could appear to be a “love triangle” between the seminarian, priest, and Biernat—were leaked the public, “it could force me to resign.”
Although no successor has yet been chosen, some have speculated that Scharfenberger could be a candidate. The Diocese of Buffalo has nearly 600,000 Catholics spread across eight counties, larger than Scharfenberger’s own diocese of Albany, which has 400,000 Catholics.
After Archbishop Bernard Hebda was initially appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in 2015 after the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt following an abuse cover-up scandal. Hebda was later confirmed as the next archbishop, despite being in line to replace Archbishop John Myers in Newark, where he was also serving as coadjutor.
On Monday, Scharfenberger insisted that his stay in Buffalo would be temporary. “Every indication that I have,” he said, is that “my tenure in Buffalo is time-limited and that it will be a short time.”
Even if only in Buffalo temporarily, Scharfenberger will have to address the impending threat of bankruptcy in the diocese, with a high number of lawsuits related to allegations of sexual abuse filed beginning in August, when a one-year window was openned in the state’s staute of limitations.
In August, as the one-year legal window opened in New York for lawsuits over previous cases of sexual abuse, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese alleging “a pattern of racketeering activity” that covered up sexual abuse. The New York’s Attorney General is also conducting an investigation into the diocese.
Scharfenberger said Monday that while he did not intend to revisit previous decisions made by the diocesan review board on allegations of determined to be false or lacking in evidence, he would do so if those decisions were manifestly wrong.
The bishop called on abuse victims who think their cases were wrongly decided “to come forward” and have their cases reopened by the diocesan tribunal.
For survivors who want to see documentation as to how their previously claims of abuse were handled by the diocese, Scharfenberger said they “should come forward and we’ll do whatever we can to let that person know what they need to know, or want to know,” he said.