Clergy sex abuse victim advocates call for Scharfenberger's removal

Sep 24, 2020

Saying he has failed to live up to promises of more transparency and outreach those affected, advocates for clergy sex abuse victims called Thursday for the removal of Bishop Edward Scharfenberger from his leadership post at the Diocese of Buffalo.

Robert Hoatson or Road to Recovery noted a recent Buffalo News story, which reports the number of clergy accused of some form of wrongdoing has risen to 173, including more than 30 priests accused for the first time.

Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery stands on the sidewalk along Main Street, using the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo's headquarters as his backdrop. Hoatson is calling on the removal of apostolic administrator Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, saying he has shown the same pattern of covering abuses, rather than making good on promises to provide more transparency of abuse claims.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Reverend Donald Lutz is identified in the article as being newly accused in a lawsuit filed in July. Lutz told the Buffalo News he was unaware of the accusation.

Hoatson says the diocese, under Bishop Scharfenberger's temporary leadership, continues to maintain a culture of cover-up and protection of personnel and assets.

"He hasn't reached out to the public and to the Catholics and said, 'here's all of my information about clergy sexual abuse.' We still don't have it," he said. "So, we're calling on Pope Francis to remove him and get a shepherd in here, get somebody who will be honest, open and transparent, like Bishop Scharfenberger promised."

A diocesan spokesman released the following statement in response to Hoatson's news conference: "Bishop Edward Scharfenberger has reiterated often his support for victim-survivors and any who has suffered harm at the hands of clergy and by the inadequate acknowledgement - even denial - of Church leaders regarding the pain they have been forced to suffer and endure through no fault of their own.

"Father Lutz is identified in an anonymous civil lawsuit that was recently filed as part of the Child Victims Act.  The complaint filed in the anonymous lawsuit has been forwarded to the Office of the Erie County District Attorney and will be presented to the Independent Review Board at its next meeting.  At this time, the Diocese has no information other than the limited allegations set forth in the anonymous complaint, and has not made any determination (including the imposition of administrative leave) regarding this matter. Upon learning of this complaint, the Bishop instructed the Diocese's counsel to contact the complainant's attorney to encourage that they file a report with the Victims' Assistance Coordinator so that a thorough investigation can be conducted.

"Bishop Scharfenberger is committed to providing those abused access to any information that the Diocese possesses that will assist them in achieving restorative justice and personal healing.  Moreover, he is open to meeting with anyone who has been harmed and to doing whatever is in his capability to help them achieve peace of mind and resolution.

"The Diocese encourages all victim-survivors to make a formal complaint with the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator: https://www.buffalodiocese.org/filing-a-abuse-complaint."

Participating in Hoatson's news conference remotely was attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents more than 40 Buffalo-area plaintiffs. Relaying his comments over a telephone held up to microphones, Garabedian said there are likely more than 173 clergy who, over the pase several decades, have committed acts of abuse but their victims either signed confidentiality agreements or remain emotionally unable to come forward.

He also disputes the notion that the Diocese of Buffalo has fully eradicated abuse within its parishes, stating he and Hoatson would not need to be speaking if Scharfenberger, Malone and bishops before them would have done their jobs.

"This track record indicates as we're speaking, children are probably being sexually abused right now," he said through the phone. "Because there is no evidence that we've seen, given the track record, the awful, terrible track record of the Diocese of Buffalo, that they've put their foot down, and they've stopped the wholesale sexual abuse of children by priests within the diocese."

The Child Victims Act, which was signed into law last year, included a one-year lookback window for cases normally deemed too old to fall within the statute of limitations. Severalnew lawsuits were filed in July in anticipation of the closing of the one-year period but Governor Andrew Cuomo, citing the COVID pandemic and the shutdowns caused by it, acted to extend the window of opportunity into next year.