by Fr. Robert McTeigue, S. J., Ph. D. | December 12, 2019
“We can’t correct the past immediately—but we do have to correct it.”
On Wednesday’s edition of The Catholic Current, I spoke with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany. He gave us a glimpse of his first week as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, following Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation. During our hour-long conversation, the bishop was blunt. “I’ve said from the start that the crisis we’re experiencing is primarily a crisis of holiness,” he said. “The scandal comes from unholy—and let’s be honest—criminal actions.”
The bishop wasn’t sure what to expect upon his arrival in Buffalo. “I had no idea what to anticipate,” the bishop said. “In my heart of hearts was to be a good father. I figured I had to come out and listen; I had no agenda.”
A Positive Relationship with the Media Is Important
Not surprisingly, his debut as apostolic administrator began with a lengthy press conference. What was it like to face the lights and microphones during this time of change in the diocese?
“I’ve always had great respect for the professionalism I’ve found among most people in media and journalism,” Scharfenberger replied, adding, “People in the media have done us a great service holding our feet to the fire. I want to have a good relationship with the people in the press. There’s no question they cannot ask.”
Since his appointment as apostolic administrator, the bishop has already begun to receive unsolicited advice. What do the people of the Diocese of Buffalo expect of Scharfenberger in his new role? “People may be wondering—am I going to chop off heads? Am I going to do housecleaning? Am I immediately going to come in and start from square one? There have been calls for that.”
However, the question remained: what are the most urgent needs to be met? The bishop admitted: “I’ve been told that I’m facing a four-alarm fire. How can you talk without first putting out the fire?” Additionally, he noted that in the midst of crisis—including legal and financial challenges—the human element must not be overlooked. “It’s like dealing with a family in crisis. There’s a lot of crying, a lot of pain and panic and fear.” Scharfenberger knows the effect recent events have had on the community, so his message to the distressed is: “Today is a new day.”
The Bishop’s Message to Priests of the Diocese of Buffalo
Bishop Scharfenberger made himself available to the priests of the diocese because he knows the importance of transparency. “They can call me at any time,” he said. Moreover, he added: “I told the priests, ‘You don’t have to walk alone. I will walk with you’.”
“In my heart of hearts was to be a good father . . . You don’t have to walk alone. I will walk with you”
– Bishop Edward Scharfenberger
Addressing practical matters, Bishop Scharfenberger said that he plans to spend at least “one full day per week” in the Diocese of Buffalo, usually arriving on Sunday and leaving Tuesday morning. During his time as apostolic administrator, he plans to visit parishes, and to spend time at the seminary, which has had its own share of difficulties in recent years. “I want to listen to the seminarians,” Scharfenberger said, “and help them to become good, holy priests.” In addition, regarding the finances of the diocese, the bishop admitted: “The chances of some reorganization, of Chapter 11, are very, very strong.”
Advice for the Future Bishop of Buffalo
Towards the end of the interview, I asked Bishop Scharfenberger what advice he might give to the next bishop of Buffalo: “Specifically, how would you advise the bishop to ensure that the present crisis is never repeated?” Holiness, painful and costly is the way forward: “We have to live the Cross. There is an element of sacrificial suffering in this.”
You can find my entire interview with Bishop Scharfenberger, along with a related resources list, HERE.
Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., is the host and producer of The Catholic Current on The Station of the Cross Catholic Radio Network. As professor of philosophy and theology, he has lectured in North and Central America, Europe and Asia. He is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics. His book, “I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel” is available on Amazon in both paperback and electronic forms.