BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger’s first public event since becoming the Apostolic Administrator of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese in the wake of Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation brought a very powerful moment.
Clergy sex abuse survivor Michael Whalen embraced the man who’s now in charge of the Buffalo Diocese as he left the stage during the Movement to Restore Trust’s community symposium Saturday morning.
Scores of Catholics filled the seats in Canisius College’s Montante Cultural Center for the symposium, where Bishop Scharfenberger delivered brief opening remarks.
“I know there’s a lot of pain. I know that sometimes pain presents itself first as anger,” Scharfenberger told the crowd. “We can’t deny the fact that there is a lot of anger and frustration.”
Scharfenberger was appointed Apostolic Administrator for the Buffalo Catholic Diocese Wednesday after Bishop Richard Malone stepped down. Malone had faced growing calls for his resignation over his handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal.
Scharfenberger told News 4 he was happy he was invited to take part in Saturday’s community symposium.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said, as he was walking into Saturday’ event. “I’m here to listen, basically.”
Of course, one of the biggest questions facing Scharfenberger now is whether the Buffalo Diocese should file Chapter 11 bankruptcy as the Diocese faces hundreds of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act.
“There are pros and cons,” Scharfenberger told News 4, “because the word bankruptcy is a scary word. It sounds like you’re out of money, and it’s true, you are. It means you don’t have – you feel you don’t have the resources you need to do the important work you need to do.”
Bishop Scharfenberger says bankruptcy is likely for the Diocese, but he is exploring all of the options, to make sure the Church can continue its work in the community and take care of the victims of sexual abuse.
“I’m going to have to probably make the call because I’d rather do it sooner than later. I don’t know when the next bishop is going to be coming in, but my ears are open, my eyes are open, and I have to get all of the facts,” Scharfenberger said. “If there’s other ways of doing it, then we’ll look at that as well.”
Scharfenberger had the chance to learn a little bit more about what bankruptcy proceedings would look like as part of Saturday’s discussions at Canisius College.
Canisius College President John Hurley led a question and answer session with University at Buffalo Law School Vice Dean Todd Brown about the bankruptcy topic.
“It’s not about liquidation. It’s about restructuring the affairs,” Brown told the crowd.
Brown explained, if the Diocese files for bankruptcy, the pending lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act would be resolved together in federal court, which would change the discovery process from that which we would see in a normal civil suit.
There would still be avenues for the church records related to the cases to be released, Brown pointed out.
That was one of the items Michael Whalen called for as he shared his reflections Saturday morning.
“Us survivors need some kind of justice,” he said.
Whalen’s voice was one of many weighing in on the issues facing the church at this event.
All of the attendees were asked to share their thoughts on what they’d like to see in the next Buffalo Bishop when he’s appointed by the Pope.
“I think the openness, the honesty, the feeling that we’re all partners in the solution to all of this is what is needed,” offered Amherst resident Dolores Byron.
“I’m sure that everything that is said here will be heard, and I will certainly bring it to the nuncio,” Scharfenberger said.
The nuncio is a representative of the pope and a key person in deciding what names are recommended to the Congregation for Bishops for possible episcopal appointment, according to the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops website, which lays out how bishops are appointed.
It is unclear how long Bishop Scharfenberger will be leading the Buffalo Diocese before a permanent replacement for Bishop Malone is named.
In the meantime, people at the community symposium at least seemed to feel the Diocese was in good hands with Scharfenberger.
“I’m glad he’s here,” Byron said.
Scharfenberger has committed to spending at least one day a week in Buffalo while he is the Apostolic Administrator. He anticipates being here mostly on Mondays.
He says he will not be delivering Sunday mass in Buffalo this week because he had other commitments in Albany.