How much impact will WNY Catholics have choosing a new bishop?

Feb 10, 2020

The archbishop who will make recommendations for a new bishop in the Buffalo Catholic Diocese is searching across the nation for the best fit. That word is from Movement to Restore Trust organizer John Hurley, who is back from Washington, D.C. after a meeting with Archbishop Christophe Pierre.

Pierre holds the position of papal nuncio to the United States. He serves as the U.S. ambassador of the Holy See, now Pope Francis. Pierre will recommend a new bishop to the Congregation of Bishops in Rome, which will then make its recommendation to the pope. The pope can make his own choice or follow the recommendation of the congregation.

Hurley said Pierre did not mention any names being considered, but Buffalo should expect someone who will carry out the pope's view of the church.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States
Credit Apostolic Nunciature United States of America

"The nuncio and I talked about this, saying the leadership of the church needs to be less concerned about the trappings of power and more concerned about the encounter with Christ and accompanying the poor, the marginalized, the refugee, the outcast, the sick," he said. "I think as you look at the appointments that Pope Francis has made, both here in the United States and around the world, they reflect that view of the church."

Hurley was in Washington to share the results of an open symposium held by MRT in December to get input from the public on what traits they would like to see in a new bishop. Hurley said he discussed those traits in a "candid and direct" hour-long conversation with Pierre.

"I got from the conversation that the job of a bishop is very, very difficult, so not everyone is cut out for it," Hurley said. "It's not all ceremony. Increasingly, you have to be public relations expert, a financial expert, you have to be deeply spiritual. I mean, it's a long list of qualifications and he wants to make sure that, as he looks across the landscape of the United States, he's recommending people to Pope Francis who can carry out Pope Francis' view of the church."

The nuncio is already trying to fill a few other bishop openings across the country, so it could be another 6-8 months before an appointment is made in Buffalo. Although, Hurley said Pierre gave no timeline.

Hurley said he also talked about the diocese's immediate needs, particularly its looming bankruptcy and current $5 million budget deficit.

"He asked me how Bishop Scharfenberger was doing and I said it was my sense that he was saying and doing the right things, but if and when we file the bankruptcy case, there's a whole other level of administrative work, as well as communications work about what this means," he said. "I stressed to the nuncio that that meant someone who really could manage the case well and move it along toward a successful resolution."

Not only is Hurley the president of Canisius College, he was a bankruptcy attorney for 16 years. Hurley said a diocese bankruptcy could take several years to fully resolve itself. The first few months after filing usually reveal how much litigation and battles there will be.

The two also talked about the "demoralization" of Buffalo's priests from the clergy sexual abuse scandal and the healing needed. Hurley said he came away "encouraged" that Pierre clearly understood the challenges of the Buffalo Diocese.

"He said, tell the people of Buffalo that I understand your concerns and I know there are major challenges facing the church in Buffalo, and he's working with the Holy Father on who can best lead us in this very challenging time," Hurley said.