It's been a little more than a month since Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany assumed the additional role of apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo. As he enters his second month as the interim caretaker of the diocese, Scharfenberger is speaking about the work to sort through a painful and extensive clergy sex abuse crisis, admitting that Chapter 11 bankruptcy appears likely.
Scharfenberger was introduced as Buffalo's apostolic administrator Dec. 4, the same day the Vatican confirmed Bishop Richard Malone had stepped down from his role as leader of the diocese. Among the questions he faced that day was whether bankruptcy was still under consideration.
Four months prior, Malone indicated the diocese was still discussing more than one option, both bankruptcy and litigation. Scharfenberger said Monday that "it's a very real possibility, maybe even a probability right now." He added that he is still seeking counsel and advice from experts.
"We will make a decision very shortly on whether or not that's the best, really, for everyone," he said. "First of all, for our victim survivors, to make sure that whatever funds are available can be equitably shared, so that we can continue our vital mission and what is most essential there, and Chapter 11 is a way of doing that. It's sort of like making sure we focus on the basics and we do it in a way that is equitable, fair and in a very transparent manner."
Transparency, or what critics say was a lack of it, fueled the cries for Malone's removal. Scharfenberger, when asked how much he's willing to disclose about past cases, said he's willing to reveal "everything that is necessary" to help the diocese heal and move on from its crisis.
"I want to say up front, there are no secret files," he said. "What we do have are confidential files. The issue is, in personnel files, what information is in there that should be accessible to those for whom it is important? And the answer is there really already is. If anybody is pursuing a case, whether it's a legal case by the CVA or in the Church itself, certainly they'll have access to all the information that is needed."
Scharfenberger is serving as an administrator on a temporary basis, until the Vatican names a permanent replacement of Malone. Last month, at his introductory news conference, Scharfenberger noted the timing of the change within the diocese. It was happening while Catholics were marking the first week of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas and the start of a new Church year.
More than a month later, WBFO asked the bishop if local clergy and Catholic faithful had expressed more confidence in the future direction of the Diocese of Buffalo.
"I think that, in a sense, grace - this is what we would say in our faith - that grace kind of anticipates what we need," Scharfenberger replied.