Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has been named Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo, while also maintaining his duties as Bishop of Albany. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has been named Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo, while also maintaining his duties as Bishop of Albany. (Nate Whitchurch photo)

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger will now be leading two dioceses in New York State.

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Scharfenberger as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo following the resignation of embattled Bishop Richard J. Malone on Wednesday, Dec. 4. The appointment is effective immediately, and Bishop Scharfenberger will continue to lead and serve the Diocese of Albany simultaneously.

“My family just expanded and we have 600,000 wonderful Catholics (in the Diocese of Buffalo.) It’s a very wonderful Catholic diocese,” Bishop Scharfenberger said in an interview with The Evangelist. “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.”

Bishop Scharfenberger, who will serve until a new Bishop of Buffalo is named, will oversee all aspects of the eight-county diocese in Western New York and plans to visit the Diocese of Buffalo weekly. As for how long he could be in the dual role, Bishop said frankly, “I have no idea … these things can take over a year. I know it will be a high priority to find the right successor.” 

The resignation of Bishop Malone and the appointment of Bishop Scharfenberger were first reported Monday by Vatican expert Rocco Palmo. Bishop Malone had been embroiled in controversy for more than a year over his handling of abuse allegations against diocesan priests which roiled the nearly 600,000 Catholics in the diocese. A Buffalo News poll stated recently that 86 percent of Catholics wanted Bishop Malone to resign.   

In October, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn conducted an Apostolic Visitation of the diocese, making three trips and spending a total of seven days there, according to a Brooklyn diocesan news release issued Oct. 31.

CNS reported that “Bishop DiMarzio met with and interviewed close to 80 individuals; both clergy and laypeople, including members of the priests' council, Diocesan Finance Council and Diocesan Pastoral Council, as well as diocesan consultors, territorial vicars and senior priests, the diocese said. Upon completion of the visitation, Bishop DiMarzio submitted a report to the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican.” After consultations between Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Bishop DiMarzio, as well as others, Bishop Scharfenberger was appointed. But what exactly is an Apostolic Administrator?

“An Apostolic Administrator is someone who is designated by the Holy See, whose responsibility primarily is to see that the ordinary operations of the diocese continue in the vacancy until the next bishop can be appointed, and he pretty much has the full powers of an ordinary,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “… and there is a principle in Canon Law, Sede Vacante, Nihil Innoveter, which is Latin … now is not a time for innovation because it would be up to the new bishop to set the pastoral vision. However, it does mean whatever urgencies need to be addressed will be addressed. And we are well aware there are urgencies and they will be addressed. I want that out there. We are not going to drag our feet or delay in what needs to be done.”

In his five and a half years as Bishop of Albany, Bishop Scharfenberger has been 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. It is this openness and transparency that will be brought to his new diocesan appointment, he said.

“I know there are many, many competent priests and lay people throughout the diocese and region who are more than happy to step up to the plate and assist us in this time of transition,” said Bishop Scharfenberger. “And I will be seeking out that help, so even when I am not physically present everybody will know that the work is going on."

Bishop Scharfenberger encouraged all people of the Buffalo diocese to speak up, similar to how Pope Francis encouraged the New York bishops during their recent ad limina visit.

“(The Holy Father) welcomed us very generously and he said, ‘I want everybody to speak frankly and without fear,’ and that we are brothers and we are here to help one another,” Bishop Scharfenberger said. “Our experiences are valuable; he said I don’t understand everything that you deal with, but I do know your ministry involves a lot of suffering and challenges and I want to thank you for your sacrifice. My message would be very much the same. The Holy Father has sent me (to Buffalo) because he wants to convey his own heart. And I know it’s in his own heart that he too is suffering for the people of Buffalo. And I want in my own way to mirror that.”

Bishop Scharfenberger added that even though he will be physically present in Buffalo only once a week, he will always be available to talk to anyone, be it clergy, lay people or the finance council.

“I want to (assure) the priests and parish leaders that I have their back, and I will be very happy to meet with any groups of people that may want to meet me through any means possible; video-conferencing, one-on-one,” he said. “My ability to engage and speak with people is not limited to my physical presence there. So it would be possible to hold a conference with an entire group of priests or teachers and engage them in a very interactive way from (Albany).”

He also had a message for the people of Albany: “I am your bishop. I will say this again. I am your bishop; this is my family. But these are our good neighbors and neighbors help one another out in times of need,” he said. “And it’s one of the actual tasks of bishops, to look over the needs of the universal Church. So when a bishop is called to serve on a commission … we answer that call. This is a specific call from the Holy Father to reach out to this diocese. 

“My family has greatly expanded. I will try to exercise a father’s care for the people of Buffalo, but I want them to understand that they are entitled to and will receive a full-time bishop in due time. I ask for their patience. My primary commitment remains as Bishop of Albany to my people of Albany.”