BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger returned home Thursday, one day after being introduced as the apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo. He takes over operational control in the Western New York diocese of 600,000 Catholics from former Bishop Richard Malone, whose resignation became official Wednesday.
Scharfenberger has said he plans on spending about one day a week in Buffalo, and indicated that day would likely be Monday.
“Maybe go on a Sunday night into Tuesday morning,” Scharfenberger said as reporters met him at an Albany train station Thursday afternoon.
Pope Francis chose Scharfenberger as the man to temporarily lead Buffalo’s Catholic Diocese in the midst of a sexual abuse crisis that led to calls for Malone’s resignation over the way he handled it. Scharfenberger will stay in control until the pope appoints a permanent successor for Malone.
When Scharfenberger was asked if he gave any thought to becoming Buffalo’s 15th bishop, he replied, “None. I have no way of knowing. I love Albany. I think at my age, the likelihood is high that they’ll let me stay (in Albany). But I have no inside information.”
Scharfenberger is 71. For the time being, he’ll have to find a way to focus his attention on both Albany and Buffalo.
“I think he’s going to find that one day a week doesn’t do it,” said Thomas Beecher, who is a founding member of the Movement to Restore Trust, a group of lay Catholics. “I think he will gradually work to ease his schedule in Albany.”
Beecher was watching Scharfenberger’s introductory press conference on Wednesday, and said he was “shocked” with how open and transparent the bishop was. Scharfenberger admitted he did not understand the full scope of the estrangement many of Buffalo’s Catholics feel.
“I think he does not understand the extent of the crisis, and it’s going to take some time,” Beecher said.
Beecher noted that just because Scharfenberger isn’t physically in Buffalo on any given day, it doesn’t mean that he’s not working on the issues affecting Buffalo’s Catholics. Scharfenberger acknowledged there are ways to do that.
“I will be here for longer periods of time as they are available,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have good connectivity, like live streaming.
“I’ll do the best I can. I’m one person. I am responsible as the bishop of Albany. I am responsible as the administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo.”
Before becoming Albany’s bishop in 2014, Scharfenberger was a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn under Bishop Nicholas Dimarzio. It was Dimarzio who Pope Francis sent to Buffalo in October to conduct an apostolic visitation, basically an investigation, into Malone and the crisis in the Diocese of Buffalo.
“With the appointment of the Most Rev. Edward Scharfenberger, bishop of Albany, to oversee the Buffalo Diocese, I am confident that Buffalo Catholics are in good hands,” Dimarzio said in a statement.
While serving in Brooklyn, Scharfenberger spent time on the Diocesan Review Board for the Sexual Abuse of Minors. Beecher says that may be the most important thing on his resume.
“I think developing a sensitivity to victims is not easy,” Beecher said. “I think to develop it, you really need exposure to the victims.”