What's next for the faithful in Buffalo's Catholic Diocese?

Dec 5, 2019

The Movement to Restore Trust was one of the last to call for Bishop Richard Malone's resignation, as it instead worked to implement reforms in the Buffalo Catholic Diocese over the past year. With Wednesday's acceptance of Malone's "early retirement" by the Vatican, the local laity's response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis is heralding "a new day."

MRT, the diocese and the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Roundtable had been working in a sort of holy trinity on reform efforts, until discussions came to a stalemate in September. MRT organizer John Hurley told WBFO the removal of Malone is historic for the diocese, and comes with sadness and regret.

"Sadness, in the sense that all the events that have brought the once-proud diocese of Buffalo to this place - the clergy sex abuse covered up by the diocese, the mishandling of current cases by Bishop Malone - and sadness, I guess, that this is the first time in the 172-year history of the diocese that a bishop has been forced out of office."

Interim Bishop Edward Scharfenberger mentioned Wednesday that he welcomes working with MRT and Hurley looks forward to continuing its reform work with Scharfenberger. Hurley said he has heard "good reviews" about the bishop's handling of clergy sex abuse cases and the transparency "that is sorely needed here."

Canisius College President John Hurley (l) and Bishop Emeritus Richard Malone during a visit to WBFO in July.
Credit Marian Hetherly / WBFO News

Hurley said Malone had become an international "lightning rod" for all that was wrong with the diocese.
    
"You know, Buffalo has really been in the national and international media on what does bishop accountability look like and how does that have to play out in order to restore the trust of the general public and the faithful in the church," he said, "and so Buffalo kind of became ground zero in that argument. I hope that the experience in Buffalo is an instructive one, both for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, but also for the Vatican and the worldwide church."

Hurley also wants to re-activate Leadership Roundtable's mediation of reform efforts within the diocese.  He said consultant organization has been working with dioceses across the country and brings a national perspective to local discussions. The partnership also was considered a model for other dioceses.

Now that Buffalo has been introduced to its new interim leader, a question being asked is: how much action will Scharfenberger take before a permanent bishop is selected? Scharfenberger joked Wednesday that it was just his first day on the job. Hurley said he expects Scharfenberger will be more than just a "caretaker."
    
"My understanding is that he has the full powers of the Bishop of Buffalo to do what is necessary," Hurley said. "Now that has to be tempered, I suppose, with some realism about what his schedule is. He undoubtedly has a packed schedule in Albany and they've got their own claims under the Child Victims Act to address, and so he's got a very substantial agenda in front of him."

On Saturday, MRT will hold a meeting open to the public to discuss future needs. The meeting will be held at Canisius' Montante Cultural Center from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Early Friday morning, MRT confirmed that Scharfenberger will be in attendance, offering the first opportunity for the public to meet and talk with the bishop.

Among the topics wil be what people think should be the essential qualities of the next Buffalo bishop. Hurley said those recommendations would then be communicated to the Apostolic Nunzio in Washington, D.C., who will determine the next leader of the diocese. Hurley said among the other issues on the "long road ahead of us" is the possible bankruptcy of the diocese.