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New Catholic Charities CEO tries to win back donors with message of change

The new head of Catholic Charities of Buffalo said he repeatedly reminds the public that the nonprofit and the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo are separate entities and urges prospective donors not to take out their frustrations over the clergy sex abuse scandal on the many people who rely on their contributions.

Steven R. Schumer took over as president and CEO of the organization last month – as the diocese is poised to declare bankruptcy, shortly after the resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone and one year after Catholic Charities' annual appeal fell short of its goal.

Schumer said he is optimistic the nonprofit's message of a new beginning will succeed in bringing lapsed donors back into the fold and help reach the target for the recently launched 2020 appeal.

"I think it's so important that we tell people that the work we do here at Catholic Charities in the community needs to continue," Schumer said Monday in a meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board.

Schumer, 60, is a Hamburg resident who was ordained as a deacon in 2014 and worked for nearly 34 years as a manager and executive with M&T Bank. He was named to replace Dennis C. Walczyk, the agency's CEO since 2003.

Catholic Charities provides programs and services to more than 150,000 people – about half of whom don't identify as Catholic – in the eight counties of Western New York. The agency has a staff of more than 470 workers.

Schumer said he came into his new position well aware of the "storm cloud hanging over the diocese" and his heart breaks for the abuse victims.

His worry, he said, is parishioners who are justifiably angry on behalf of those who suffered abuse will continue to withhold badly needed donations.

The good work of Catholic Charities, Schumer said, "needs to be done."

Schumer is holding face-to-face meetings to try to reassure people who donated considerable sums to the annual appeal in the past but who stopped in recent years.

"I hope that people don't rely on the actions of the diocese to decide whether or not to support Catholic Charities," he said. "And I think that the diocese would say the same thing."

Catholic Charities officials last month set a fundraising target of $10 million – about $500,000 more than they raised last year, but less than 2019's $11 million goal. The appeal runs through June.

Schumer acknowledged the diocese's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, if that occurs, would raise further questions among potential donors.

"It will distract people," he said. "It will confuse people."

But he said he's trying to stick to dual themes of necessity and rebirth.

"There is a feeling of change, a feeling of hope – spring in the air, if you will," Schumer said.

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