BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since Pope Francis named him apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo one month ago, Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said it has become clear to him that he’s now leading a wounded flock.
“What I do sense is a certain impatience,” Scharfenberger said Monday. “You know, ‘We should have done a lot of things yesterday.’ And I want to do things in a very deliberative way so that we get it right.”
In the first sit-down interview since the resignation of his embattled predecessor Bishop Richard J. Malone, Scharfenberger told the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team he has already made a few changes, like barring bishops and church lawyers from having active roles in the diocese’s abuse review board -- and starting a task force for evaluating the church’s secret files.
“We've heard the word cover-up a lot, we've heard the word secrecy a lot, and I just want it to be said that criminality is not entitled to secrecy,” Scharfenberger said.
Scharfenberger said he has a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to criminal behavior in the priestly ranks. He added that there should be ‘no hidden corners’ of the diocese, which is why the I-Team asked him about the secret files Bishop Malone stored in a vacuum closet.
“Have you opened up the archive, read through the binder or anything?”
“Well, I've heard a lot of that there's a lot of binders I’ve heard of and the black book and so forth. No, I want to, to be able to know what is in the files to the best that I possibly can.”
Scharfenberger said he wants abuse survivors to come forward, even if they have been hurt in the past by the church’s response.
“My appeal would be to anybody who has experienced abuse, in any way, should never be afraid to come forward," Scharfenberger said. "And you don't have to go to civil court, you can go right to the church tribunal and we will investigate.”
“What do you say to people, who said, ‘I did that, under the previous bishop, and I was ignored…”
“Do it again. I'm sorry about that, you know, I have no control over the past. And I'm not dismissing that in any way and I can only say, ‘My apologies, my regrets, if that was your experience,’ but I can only say, ‘As long as I'm here, do not be afraid.’ Please, you know, come forward and let me hear from you.”
Before the interview, the I-Team took questions from abuse survivors like Sarah Ann, who wrote on Facebook, “I feel that I should be able to see any documentation of numerous claims made from me or on my behalf...How was it all dealt with? Why was my abuser left as a pastor for years? Why was it all hidden? Why was he protected until his death?”
Andrew wrote, “Am I as a survivor, able to obtain all the information the diocese has on my abuser”
“Yes, yes absolutely. Absolutely. If a survivor puts that question out and is interested should come forward and we'll do whatever we can to be to let that person know what they need to know and want to know.”
Scharfenberger said he is still getting his bearings but knows a big decision -- whether to file bankruptcy -- is coming up fast. In that regard, he said Catholics should stay tuned.
“I’ve only been here a month, but I think you will see a lot more action in the next few weeks,” he said.