Featured News - Current News - Archived News - News Categories

Bishop Richard J. Malone (File photo)
Bishop Richard J. Malone (File photo)

Scharfenberger named apostolic administrator of Diocese of Buffalo, as Bishop Richard Malone takes early retirement


Wed, Dec 4th 2019 08:45 am

Pope Francis to name replacement

Following several days of media speculation regarding his future, it was officially announced Wednesday that the Most Rev. Richard J. Malone is stepping down as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Pope Francis has accepted Malone’s request for early retirement. During this time, the pope has appointed Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany to serve as apostolic administrator.

The Diocese of Buffalo is now in a time of “sede vacante,” as the seat of the diocese is vacant until a new bishop is appointed and installed.

The Holy See mandated an apostolic visitation for the Diocese of Buffalo. Pope Francis appointed the Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio as evaluator. Malone was aware of the results. During the Ad Limina visit with the New York bishops, Malone requested early retirement.

Malone Statement

Malone released a statement this morning that read, in part:

“Just this past Sunday, we entered into the Season of Advent – a season of hope, of expectation and fulfillment, and the promise of new beginning. It is in the spirit of this Holy Season now upon us that I wish to address the future of our Diocese and my own fervent hope for a new beginning.

“As you are well aware, we have faced tremendous turmoil over the past year and a half. Some have attributed this to my own shortcomings, but the turmoil also reflects the culmination of systemic failings over many years in the worldwide handling of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. The crisis our Church is facing relates not only to the immoral and criminal acts of those who committed unconscionable offenses toward the most vulnerable, but also to the failure to regard these violations as grave offenses that warranted the full weight of civil and ecclesiastical justice. As you know, major reforms were undertaken in this country in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and in the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. But, of course, the injury caused by past abuse continues to bring immense suffering around the world and here in our Diocese.

“I have met with many survivors of child sexual abuse and felt deeply their anguish, which words and gestures alone are inadequate to soothe. I have acknowledged on many occasions the mistakes I have made in not addressing more swiftly personnel issues that, in my view, required time to sort out complex details pertaining to behavior between adults. In extensive listening sessions across our Diocese, I have heard your dismay and rightful concerns. I have been personally affected by the hurt and disappointment you have expressed, all of which have informed our actions. I have sought your understanding, your advice, your patience and your forgiveness.

“At the same time, I have worked diligently with my brother priests and deacons, and so many accomplished lay professionals, to enact new policies and procedures that have the potential to rebuild the trust and confidence of our Catholic faithful and the wider community. We are committed to dealing decisively with those who betray their faith and vows and by failing to adhere to the high moral and ethical standards that we have every right to expect of them.

“We have made much progress to ensure safe environments for our children and utmost accountability among clergy and religious, educators, lay Church ministers, volunteers and bishops alike, for the well-being and protection of our youth. It is important to note that during my tenure, there has not been a single priest of this Diocese ordained in the past 30 years who has had an allegation of child sex abuse substantiated. We now have rigorous protocols, an independent review board, as well as reporting systems that allow any and all to come forward and report concerns over real and perceived improprieties by Church personnel of every rank and status. We have also defined new and consistent standards for the behaviors required of adults toward adults, and clear protocols for addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and in the performance of ministry. These include well-defined consequences for any individual who would betray codes of conduct that, in our Diocese, are simply non-negotiable.

“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. Consequently, I am announcing my retirement, effective today, and the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, as the Apostolic Administrator, pending the eventual designation of the 15th bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo. Bishop Scharfenberger will continue to lead the Diocese of Albany while serving as Buffalo’s Apostolic Administrator, and I ask all to work with him to ensure that the work of the Church continues and flourishes throughout Western New York. The diocese is in very capable hands.

“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 added, “I intend to continue to live among you as Bishop Emeritus, and to be available to serve in whatever ways that our Apostolic Administrator and new bishop determines is best.”

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger (Image courtesy of the Buffalo Diocese)

Scharfenberger, who will serve until a new bishop of Buffalo is named at a later date, will oversee all aspects of the eight-county diocese in Western New York, and said he plans to visit the diocese weekly. As apostolic administrator, he maintains all the rights, offices and faculties that belong to a diocesan bishop.

“I am honored to serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo during these challenging times, and I am humbled by the task put before me. I ask for your prayers as we begin this journey together, and I look forward to getting to know the people of this great diocese,” Scharfenberger said.

“I will be doing a lot of listening and learning,” he added, expressing a desire for openness and transparency in his new diocesan appointment, as he said has been his model in the Diocese of Albany.

A press release noted, “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.”

More About Scharfenberger

Scharfenberger was born May 29, 1948, in Brooklyn. He attended Catholic schools and graduated in 1969 with a degree in English from Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Douglaston. He went on to study at North American College in Rome and earned a bachelor's degree in sacred theology from Pontifical Gregorian University in 1972. He was ordained a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn on July 2, 1973, in St. Peter’s Basilica by then-Bishop James A. Hickey, who later became cardinal-archbishop of Washington, D.C.

Scharfenberger served as parochial vicar at St. Stanislaus Parish in Maspeth (Queens) and St. Ephrem Parish in Dyker Heights (Kings) before returning to Rome to continue his studies. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Academy of St. Alphonsus in 1977, a licentiate in Canon Law from Catholic University of America in 1980, a Juris Doctor of Law degree from Fordham University in 1990, and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1991. He was named a prelate of honor (monsignor) in 1995.

Scharfenberger served as judicial vicar for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn from 1993 to 2002 and as pastor of St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood (Queens) from 2003-14. While serving as pastor of St. Matthias, he also taught moral theology at the Diocesan Pastoral Institute in Brooklyn and was an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College, also in Brooklyn. He served as promoter of justice for the Brooklyn Diocese and was a member of the diocesan review board for sexual abuse of minors; as vicar for strategic planning; and as episcopal vicar for the borough of Queens.

On Feb. 11, 2014, he was named by Pope Francis as the 10th bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, succeeding the Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard. He was ordained to the episcopacy on April 10, 2014, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. For his Episcopal motto, Scharfenberger chose a line from the Prayer of St. Francis: “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”

Scharfenberger serves as a consultor to the pontifical commission for religious relations with the Jewish faith. He also serves on the following committees and councils of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: national advisory council, ecumenical and interreligious affairs, administrative committee, committee on priorities and plans, and subcommittee on the church Africa.

To read Bishop Scharfenberger’s statements and columns related to the sexual abuse crisis, visit www.rcda.org/bishops-response-abuse-crisis.

Elected Leaders Comment

Congressman Brian Higgins was among the first to call on Malone to resign.

“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. 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,” Higgins said. “The people of Western New York deserve transparency and honesty from their church. While this bishop was lacking in the ability to provide that leadership, the Western New York community is grateful to the incredibly brave survivors, principled whistleblowers, and persistent journalists who were willing to bring truth to light.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz stated, “Bishop Malone’s resignation is a necessary component in the healing process of the Buffalo Diocese, which has been wracked with pain, doubt and mistrust while enduring the abuse scandal that now overshadows it. In recent months, Catholics have seethed at a lack of transparency and culpability on the diocese’s part, an issue that became more glaring as the scandal escalated and new cases leaked out. That isolating secrecy further undermined the patience of the faithful, diminished attendance at local parishes, and increased the anger of individuals and congregations seeking accountability from the church – the same church that has been a guiding and inseparable part of their lives.

“With the departure of Bishop Malone, the way is now clear for a full accounting and assessment of the abuse, in order that all people in the diocese can have faith that all accusations were being handled appropriately and thoroughly.

“While no person who was sexually assaulted or abused can ever be fully compensated for the pain caused, the bishop's resignation is a positive and moves the community closer to a true state of response and healing.

“We wish Bishop Scharfenberger well in his role as shepherd of the Buffalo Diocese and look forward to a new day of openness, healing and peace for all people of faith.”

Sede Vacante

The Buffalo Diocese outlined a number of changes that are in effect during this time of sede vacante. For example, offices that exercise general or specific authority granted directly by the diocesan bishop cease, since their authority derives from the diocesan bishop, such as the vicars general and vicars forane. However, some offices remain during the vacant see: chancellor, judicial vicar and financial officer. These offices are necessary for the ordinary operation of the diocese and so remain in place and assist the apostolic administrator in his work. While the judicial vicar’s authority is granted by the diocesan bishop, it does not cease during the vacant see, so the process of justice within the diocese can continue without interruption

An apostolic administrator is a bishop who is appointed by the pope "to see to the good order and administration of a diocese that is awaiting the appointment of a permanent bishop." In addition to his usual pastoral responsibilities as bishop, the apostolic administrator has the authority to make the necessary decisions for the daily operations of the diocese. Major decisions and initiatives are deferred to the new bishop unless an urgent situation requires action. The apostolic administrator is charged with deciding what issues need to be addressed during this interim period and what issues need to wait for the attention of the new bishop. The role of the apostolic administrator ends when the new bishop is installed.

In general, the apostolic administrator is subject to the same obligations and possesses the same powers as a diocesan bishop. However, there are certain limitations on the power of the administrator that hinge upon his status.

An apostolic administrator is bound by the obligations and possesses the power of a diocesan bishop, excluding those matters that are excepted by their nature or by the law itself.

One of the powers excluded by the law is the power to make diocesan law.

An example of a power that the apostolic administrator may exercise is the calling of candidates for ordination to the diaconate and the presbyterate, but only after the college of consultors has given its consent. This is possible because the calling of candidates to holy orders and their subsequent ordination are part of the ordinary operations of a diocese

The apostolic administrator may appoint pastors, but only if the see has been vacant for a year.

The office of pastor is understood to be a stable office. Since the administrator is not to make any innovations, the conferral of a stable office should not happen except in the situation noted here.

If a pastorate becomes vacant before that year time frame has occurred, the apostolic administrator may appoint a priest as the parochial administrator since this is not a stable office. Similarly, he may appoint priests as parochial vicars because that is not a stable office.

Process of Naming New Bishop

The Buffalo Diocese stated, “The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. …

“The process for selecting candidates for the episcopacy normally begins at the diocesan level and works its way through a series of consultations until it reaches Rome.

“It is a process bound by strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players – the most influential being the apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops and the pope. It can be a time-consuming process, often taking eight months or more to complete.

“While there are distinctions between the first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a bishop’s later transfer to another diocese or his promotion to archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.”

What’s more, “At a private audience with the pope, usually on a Saturday, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the recommendations of the congregation to the Holy Father. A few days later, the pope informs the congregation of his decision.

“The congregation then notifies the nuncio, who in turn contacts the candidate and asks if he will accept. If the answer is ‘yes,’ the Vatican is notified and a date is set for the announcement.

“It often takes six to eight months – and sometimes longer – from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is appointed.”

Hometown News

View All News