"Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone from the pastoral governance of the Diocese of Buffalo and has appointed Most Reverend Edward B. Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany, as the Apostolic Administrator of Buffalo to serve until the installation of a new bishop," announced the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops early Wednesday morning.
"The resignation and appointment were publicized in Washington, D.C. on December 4, 2019, by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States," the statement continued. "The Diocese of Buffalo is comprised of 6,357 square miles in the state of New York and has a total population of 1,529,576 of which 571,000 are Catholic."
“My family just expanded and we have 600,000 wonderful Catholics (in the Diocese of Buffalo.) It’s a very wonderful Catholic diocese,” said Scharfenberger in an interview with "The Evangelist," the official publication of the Diocese of Albany. “I want to do a lot of listening and I want everybody to feel that they do have my ear. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded. I am very well aware that there has been a lot of hurt and polarization and trust breaches. We only have one healer and that is Jesus, and we are going to turn everything into his hands and trust that he will guide the way.”
The Diocese of Albany described Scharfenberger as a "a national leader in responding to the clergy abuse crisis. He published a list of offenders in the diocese four years ago, was among the first bishops in the country to call for an independent lay-led investigation of the scandal involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, revamped the diocesan review board, and established a predominantly lay task force on sexual abuse last year to make recommendations to the diocese on its response to survivors and its internal policies."
Scharfenberger also released a video message to the dioceses of Albany and Buffalo, saying he expected to still spend most of his time in Albany and have a successor chosen within a few months.
Just minutes after the official announcement was made, the Buffalo Catholic Diocese announced a press conference Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. to address the change in leadership. The news conference will be live streamed on Facebook and Twitter. WBFO also plans to carry the news conference live on its Facebook page and on air.
In a statement Wednesday from Malone about his departure, he acknowledged the "measurable progress" made locally, but that he had accomplished all he could.
"Despite the measurable progress we have achieved together, I have concluded after much prayer and discernment that the spiritual welfare of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed. As such, I requested of His Holiness Pope Francis that he permit me to retire early, and he agreed to do so. It is my fervent belief that a bishop must not only represent the unity of our Catholic Faith and the Church Universal, but be able to bring about true Christian unity among those he is charged with leading. It is my honest assessment that I have accomplished as much as I am able to, and that there remain divisions and wounds that I am unable to bind and heal.
"Inevitably, some will surmise that my decision is the result of the recently-completed Apostolic Visitation, carried out by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at the behest of the Holy See. While I was made aware of the general conclusions of the report, which were a factor in my discernment, my decision to retire early was made freely and voluntarily. I have come to this decision with honest reflection and a deep and abiding commitment to doing what I believe is in the best interests of the Church throughout Western New York," Malone said.
Below is his complete statement, provided by the Buffalo Catholic Diocese:
Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio, the bishop of Brooklyn, had conducted the Apostolic Visitation in Buffalo, saying he spoke with more than 80 people over a period of several weeks to gather information for the Pope's "admnistrative review."
"It was conducted with urgency as the Holy See directed that this visitation be thorough with the foremost consideration being the good of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo. What I found are many deeply devoted Catholics who love their Church. I pray this moment of suffering and pain will lead to a birth of new faith. With the appointment of the Most Reverend Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany, to oversee the Buffalo Diocese, I am confident that Buffalo Catholics are in good hands.
Di Marzio said he hoped "Catholics in Buffalo can begin the process of moving forward, healing and helping the diocese in all of its ministries." DiMarzio, himself, was accused of sexual misconduct in an Associated Press story that reported an incident in the 1970s when he was a priest in Jersey City. Di Marzio denied the incident.
Reaction to the news came quickly from the Movement to Restore Trust, which until recently had supported Malone staying on in his position:
"The Movement to Restore Trust (MRT) received the news of Bishop Richard Malone’s resignation with a mixture of sadness and relief. From the start of our reform efforts in October 2018, the MRT stressed that the problems that the Catholic Church in Buffalo faces were not caused by a single person. In our view, this was less about Bishop Malone and more about a culture and a way of operating that predated the bishop’s arrival in Buffalo.
"In recent months, however, the MRT came to the conclusion that Bishop Malone had become the lightning rod for all that was wrong in the diocese and that progress toward the healing, reconciliation and reform that the diocese so desperately needs was impossible while he remained in office. And so, his resignation is greeted with a sense of relief that we are now at a point where we can turn the page and look forward to a new day in the diocese."
MRT continued by saying it looks forward to working with Scharfenberger in his new role. It is hosting a symposium at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College on Dec. 7 from 9 a.m.-11 a.m., to which the public is invited.
"Among the sessions at the symposium will be a communal discernment of the qualities desired in the next bishop of Buffalo, the results of which will be shared with the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington who will have a critical role in the selection of the next bishop. It will also include a discussion of what will likely happen should the Diocese of Buffalo file for bankruptcy," MRT said in its statement.
Its symposium will be livestreamed on the MRT website. The Washington, DC-based Leadership Roundtable came onboard to facilitate restoration efforts between the diocese and MRT, but that relationship came to an end when MRT called for Malone's resignation and stopped communicating with the diocese.
"This has been a difficult time for all Catholics, particularly for the abuse survivors and their loved ones," said Leadership Roundtable CEO Kim Smolik about Malone's departure. "In response, the people of the diocese have demonstrated an admirable model of lay-clergy engagement to help the Church recover from this abuse crisis. We believe that the Catholics of the Diocese of Buffalo have the opportunity to work together to promote healing and restore trust by advancing a new culture of leadership: one grounded in accountability, transparency and co-responsibility. Leadership Roundtable prays that this transition provides further healing and hope for a new day in the diocese."
MRT was among the last to support Malone's resignation, while Rep. Brian Higgins, a South Buffalo Catholic, was among the first lawmakers to say he must go.
“The Catholic Bishop plays a significant role in the community, overseeing local parishes, schools, hospitals and charities. While Catholics know it is the people that make the church, faith and trust in the church leadership is necessary," Higgins said. "The people of the Buffalo Diocese have endured the protection of predators, coverups and deception. Bishop Malone’s departure offers a new beginning and opportunity to heal."
The news that Malone's departure was "imminent" first came from Christopher Lamb, Rome Correspondent for The Tablet and BBC Contributor.
"I think that Bishop Malone was unable to continue in his position following the very critical report by the Vatican into his governance of the leadership of Buffalo," said Lamb to WBFO Wednesday morning. "It was just obvious to anyone looking at the situation that he wasn't able to fulfill his functions as a bishop. What we've seen here is the Vatican finally getting around to accepting the resignation."
Lamb said the Holy See's assessment of Malone's handling of the local church was "very damning."
"The way that bishops are compelled to account is by the Vatican, by the Holy See, but also they have to be informed by what is going on on the ground, and that's where the media comes in," he said. "From what understand, the Vatican, the Holy See, wanted him to step down, to present his resignation."
WBFO's Jay Moran contributed to this story.