BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo, has talked the talk when it comes to transparency on sexual abuse.
“We can’t be afraid of reality,” Scharfenberger said last week. “We have to be able to -- with sober eyes -- look at the damage that was done.”
The question on the minds of survivors like former priest James Faluszczak is whether the new interim bishop will now walk the walk -- and turn those words about transparency into action.
“Will he finally give to the good people of the Diocese of Buffalo a full public account of the number, the nature and the location of clergy sexual abuse in Buffalo?” Faluszczak said at a news conference Tuesday. “And will Bishop Scharfenberger cough up that information that is so needed?”
Scharfenberger’s first big test on transparency involves the issue of personnel files of abusive priests, which former Bishop Richard J. Malone staunchly refused to make public.
“I’ve said before that I will not release personnel files,” Malone told reporters in 2018. “Those are confidential in any organization, including your organizations, I assume.”
The files would give survivors an idea of what the church knew about their abusers, when church officials knew it, and how they acted when they learned of the abuse.
A trove of files has already been released in places like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which released them six years ago as part of a settlement with victims. The Diocese of Duluth, Minn., and others have signed settlement agreements with victims that require non-monetary compensation such as disclosure of files.
Faluszczak and attorney Daniel Woodard also called on Scharfenberger to explain the contents of the Vatican investigation of the Buffalo Diocese conducted by Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“We don’t have that information,” Woodard said. “You cannot preach healing on one hand, and not give us the information to heal on the other.”
Releasing the personnel files, Woodard said, “will allow the community to understand the full breadth and impact of the number of priests out there who have engaged in this conduct.”
7 Eyewitness News asked Scharfenberger about the files at his introductory news conference last week.
“So many of the survivors of sexual abuse, they say that it's not so much money or anything that they're seeking. They really want answers...Would you release the secret files of at least the acknowledged pedophile priests?”
“Anything that I possibly can do to help victims in order to have the information they need, I will do. And if it means clarifying our list, you know, putting names up, putting more information, whatever can be done in a way that's transparent and responsible. Absolutely.”
“So even the specific personnel files of the acknowledged pedophiles?”
“Personnel files, you know, we have... I have to follow the...whatever can be done within the scope of canon law. That's basically what I would say.”
Faluszczak said It’s only when the diocese fully comes clean that true healing can begin.
“You can’t expect victims to forgive the church when the church doesn’t give a full accounting in the first place,” Faluszczak said.