Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has listened to clergy sexual abuse survivors in that Catholic diocese and is capable of promoting healing in the Buffalo Diocese, according to two Albany area advocates for the victims.
Scharfenberger was appointed the temporary administrator of the Buffalo Diocese by Pope Francis on Wednesday, the same day Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone retired early after facing intense criticism over his handling of the clergy abuse scandal here.
"He has done a lot of work toward transparency," said Nancy Fratianni, leader of the Albany chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. "We believe he can bring about healing in the Buffalo Diocese through promoting transparency, turning over all records of abuse to the police and keeping the public informed of all issues, more than Bishop Malone was."
"I have nothing negative to say about him as far as that goes," Fratianni said of Scharfenberger.
In 2018, Scharfenberger won her respect when he called for creation of a commission of lay people to investigate bishops accused of sexual misconduct. Bishops investigating accused bishops was not the answer, he said.
“That was very brave of Bishop Scharfenberger to say that,” Fratianni said.
But Scharfenberger, who prefers to be called “Bishop Ed,” is known for more than just making bold statements.
Earlier this year, Scharfenberger established a sex abuse task force of survivors, professionals and community and parish leaders to examine how the Albany Diocese could improve how it handles sexual abuse complaints.
Appointed to the task force by the bishop was Albany area businessman Gary Greenberg, who was abused as a child by a worker in a Troy hospital and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to push state lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act.
"We call him Bishop Ed in Albany, and I think he has an open mind. He realizes the church has to make amends and take responsibility for past behavior," Greenberg said.
“I have worked with him extensively in the last year. I’ve met with him and had discussions and he has an openness to healing for survivors and victims,” Greenberg said. “He understands that the church must take action to gain the trust back of the parishioners and the Catholic people.”
Nevertheless, Greenberg said he resigned from the task force a few weeks ago after the Rockville Centre Diocese on Long Island in court papers challenged the constitutionality of the state’s Child Victims Act, which allowed childhood sexual abuse victims to sue churches and other employers for decades-old offenses.
His resignation, Greenberg said, is no reflection on Scharfenberger, but rather on the Catholic Church.
The Albany Diocese, which is also facing Child Victims Act lawsuits, will not challenge the constitutionality of the law, Scharfenberger's spokesman there has said.
Not every victim, however, has been pleased with Scharfenberger.
One woman who said she was sexually abused by a priest 44 years ago in Albany said she has tried to arrange a meeting with Scharfenberger, but has been ignored.
"When he first got here, I called and asked to meet with him and his secretary said sure. I was told it would be arranged in the next two weeks and then it never happened," said Kate Barber of the Albany area. "I repeatedly asked why and there was never any follow-up."
Scharfenberger said Wednesday in Buffalo that he would meet with any Buffalo Diocese clergy abuse victims who wanted to talk with him.
The Albany bishop has taken other steps that victim advocates have applauded.
Just two weeks after Scharfenberger was ordained as Albany's bishop, in April 2014, the diocese contacted the Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office about a complaint that the Rev. James Michael Taylor had sex with a 15-year-old girl. Taylor was arrested and sentenced to a $1,225 fine for endangering the welfare of a child. Scharfenberger removed the priest from public ministry.
"I think Bishop Scharfenberger acted appropriately," Fratianni said of how that was handled.
At a more than hourlong news conference in Buffalo on Wednesday, Scharfenberger said the first thing he would do if he was made aware of a sexual abuse complaint against a priest would be to contact law enforcement authorities.
In 2015, Scharfenberger released a list of Albany Diocese priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children. That was 2 1/2 years before Malone released a list of credibly accused Buffalo Diocese priests.
In 2018, Scharfenberger invited the Albany County District Attorney’s Office to review the diocese’s files on priests accused of sexual abuse.
That openness was applauded by the DA’s Office, which is still reviewing the records.
On Thursday, Cecilia Walsh, a spokeswoman for Albany District Attorney David Soares, cited a statement she had previously issued that, in part, stated, “ … we certainly appreciate the bishop’s position and willingness for an independent review of claims and records here in the Albany Diocese ... ”