BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Bishop Michael William Fisher arrived in Buffalo, days before his installation as the next leader of the Catholic diocese, with a life experience that he feels has set him up for his next chapter.
A native of Baltimore, Fisher grew up in a row house with four siblings. His first job was delivering newspapers for the Baltimore Sun when he was eight years old. His next job was at a gas station.
The 62-year-old says his upbringing is what has helped shape his "blue collar sensibilities."
Fisher was ordained to the priesthood in 1990. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. in June 2018, right around the time Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington, resigned over sex abuse allegations.
Over the past two and a half years, Fisher says one of the great skills he honed through that scandal was having a good ear.
"I like to think I listen well and I want to get out and I want to hear the people. I want to get to know the priests. I want to know the deacons, the religious, to visit the charities and see what the needs are," Bishop Fisher told 7 Eyewitness News. "And I think it's got to be more than just me talking. I've got to listen and take that in and see what do we do for the good of the people here in the diocese."
Bishop Fisher comes to Buffalo at a time when the diocese is dealing with a mountain of sex abuse lawsuits, bankruptcy proceedings, and a profound sense of grief among the shaken Catholics who have been deceived for decades.
When asked what he wants sex abuse survivors to know on day one of his leadership, he said he wants to be a part of their healing.
"I'm here," he said. "I don't want to leave anyone behind. God loves them and they need to know that God does love them. They've been harmed. They've been hurt. Can I ever fully understand the pain that they've experienced if I haven't been through it myself? I don't know, but I can certainly sympathize and certainly care for them as I'm supposed to as their shepherd."
With the Child Victim's Act extending the window for sex abuse survivors to file lawsuits until August 2021, Fisher said he has been exploring what this will mean for the future of the diocese.
"I'm immersing myself in the details of this. I think there are a number of things that will determine that. What will be our resources at the end of the day? I don't know."
Still, Bishop Fisher is undeterred in his optimism that careful and compassionate stewardship will get the diocese back to focusing on its social missions.
"I can't read into the future but I would hope that we are a church that is devoted to the care of the poor. That we are exercising those gospel values that we profess. That our children are being educated. Those are the things that we are good at as a church. That's what the road to renewal will be all about."