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New Buffalo Diocese leader: 'I am here to help you heal'

Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, who became the new Buffalo Diocese temporary administrator Wednesday after Bishop Richard J. Malone retired because of the ongoing clergy abuse scandal, said "I am here to help you heal' as he was introduced at a news conference in Buffalo.

Scharfenberger directly spoke about the challenges facing the Buffalo Diocese because of the scandal, which prompted Malone to retire early and has included more than 220 people filing lawsuits in the past 3 1/2 months against the diocese that allege they were abused by priests, nuns or other diocese officials.

"I would like every parish to be an oasis of security," he said.

"We're all hurting in some way," he said, citing that as many as 50 percent of congregations have been touched by abuse.

He mentioned that he has a friend who has been a victim of sexual abuse and who left the church 13 times, but kept coming back because she wouldn't let anything stand between her and Jesus.

""Whatever I do, I want to build up our family. We are all family. The survivors of sexual abuse are our family. I want everyone to know that they will be treated with respect," he said. "Never be afraid to come forward."

"I'll meet with any and all survivors," he pledged.

Scharfenberger said he has not had many recent conversations with Malone and that they did not discuss the condition of the Buffalo Diocese. He said he learned Malone planned to retire last week. He said he has no plans to meet with Malone in the immediate future.

“My job is not to meet with Bishop Malone. My job is to be your spiritual leader,” Scharfenberger said.

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger speaks with reporters at the Catholic Center in Buffalo on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Scharfenberger said his appointment by the pope to be the apostolic administrator in the Buffalo Diocese is open-ended.

Scharfenberger emphasized that not much will change in the day-to-day operation of the Buffalo Diocese, but that he will be able to have an impact and will have the full authority of a bishop. He said he will not become the new bishop of Buffalo "unless the Holy Father" tells him so. Scharfenberger said he'll be one of those consulted before the pope appoints a new Buffalo bishop. He said he did not know when a new bishop would be appointed.

Until then, Scharfenberger will split his time between Albany and Buffalo, as he leads two dioceses. "I'll do the best I can," he said.

He said that he will reach out to the diocese's priests later today in a video conference call. His message to them: "I'm your brother."

Scharfenberger's news conference, which lasted more than an hour, was unusual for the Buffalo Diocese. Bishop Malone rarely held a news conference about the clergy abuse scandal and consented to few media interviews despite an almost daily stream of headlines about the alleged abuses by priests.

Malone had not held a news conference since November 2018, when he identified an additional 36 priests whom the diocese had determined had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a child. He has not given an interview to The Buffalo News since November 2018.

Last month, when Malone flew back to Buffalo after he and other bishops met with the pope at the Vatican, Malone avoided news reporters and protesters waiting for him by slipping out of a side exit at the airport.

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