BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — “To make possible a new and more promising era,” declared Bishop Michael Fisher, Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
Bishop Fisher is now the 15th bishop to serve. He was officially installed during a mass at Saint Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.
Fisher arrives to take the helm at a tumultuous time as the Buffalo Diocese is under siege. accused of covering up priest sex abuse for years.
Bishop Fisher says he is now ready to lead a flock of the 600,000 Catholics across the eight counties of Western New York.
But he has the difficult task of restoring trust and leading the diocese out of deep darkness from the decades of mishandling the clergy sex abuse scandal.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan officially installed Fisher, 62, native of Baltimore, during a Mass before about 300 invited guests, limited due to COVID restrictions.
Among those attending, clergy, community members, laity, Catholic sisters, including Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, Sister Mary Johnice, leader of Buffalo’s Response to Love Center and Canisius College president John Hurley.
Fisher replacing interim Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who took over after former Bishop Richard Malone resigned in December of 2019 for mishandling and covering up the sexual abuse scandal within the diocese.
Malone was at the Mass and on the altar of the Cathedral during the event.
As Fisher addressed the congregation gathered for the event, made a pledge to victims of clergy sex abuse.
“I pledge to listen — to comfort — however I can to understand as best am able and to exert every effort within my capacity to be an instrument of your healing,” stated Bishop Fisher.
After the service bishop fisher briefly met with reporters and explained that effort will begin right away.
“Something I want to begin to do immediately — it was a part of my ministry when I was in Washington as an auxiliary bishop to meet and to give retreats — I gave retreats with victim survivors,” explained Bishop Fisher. "I will meet with anyone that wants to meet with me and reaches out to me."
Fisher said he realizes the victims were “harmed".
But the bishop now takes on the huge task of a bankrupt diocese that is facing piles of sex abuse lawsuits under the Child Victims Act.
A few protesters appeared outside the Cathedral Friday afternoon.
James Faluszak is critical of Fisher's relationship with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who also attended the installation.
Wuerl is a controversial figure for his ties to disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington who resigned over sex abuse allegations.
Faluszak said they are “tainted” individuals.
Bishop Fisher said he did acknowledge the protesters as he entered the Cathedral Friday.
"I did see the protesters. I waved to them and they were kind to wave back to me. I know that's just a small effort, but I know more needs to be done," responded Bishop Fisher.
We asked Bishop Fisher about the presence of Bishop Malone, retired Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz and retired Syracuse Bishop Robert Cunningham, a former high ranking administrator from the Buffalo Diocese. All who are now blamed for allegedly playing a role in covering past abuse cases. The men all concelebrated the Mass with Fisher.
"I realize there are people who have been harmed and I do want to be again, an instrument of healing," replied Fisher.
All cited in the"We're starting a new era here, in the diocese. I'm the shepherd and I will be leading the good people here in that role to renew," said Bishop Fisher.
Some parishes have been embracing the new leader — posting well-wishes on Twitter using the hash tag #WelcomeBishopMike.
Bishop Fisher says as a new Buffaloian — he’s joining in the call of “Go Bills!”.