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Bishop Sharfenberger: “Criminality is not entitled to secrecy.” Oh really?

Among statements in his first televised interview upon taking on the role of Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, Bishop Edward Sharfenberger said, “Criminality is not entitled to secrecy.” If that is the case, why is Rev. Ryszard Biernat–who blew open secrecy surrounding criminal/immoral behaviors of diocesan officials– the one to have his priestly faculties/ministry removed? Why hasn’t Bishop Sharfenberger reinstated this courageous priest who really does believe: “Criminality is not entitled to secrecy”?

This afternoon, Bishop Sharfenberger meets with Fr. Ryszard, the former priest-secretary to Bishop Richard Malone who blew the whistle on his bishop, prompting a Vatican investigation. We may never know the contents of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s Vatican-ordered investigative report on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo. But we do have another report to read which contains some similarities to the Buffalo situation. This could help us to put in context Fr. Ryszard’s banned-from-ministry punishment inflicted by Bishop Malone and the appropriate actions that should have taken place in Buffalo.

When Archbishop William Lori (Baltimore) filed the Vatican report covering his investigation of the former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling/Charleston last February (2019), no one outside the Holy See was supposed to see it. But the Washington Post  obtained a copy and published it in late December. After reading 60 pages covering the astounding accounts of Bishop Michael Bransfield’s criminal/immoral/abusive behaviors, we come to Archbishop Lori’s observations/recommendations in the final paragraphs. Many of those observations/recommendations could just as easily apply to the Diocese of Buffalo:

“The Diocese should implement a system of reporting allegations of inappropriate behavior and financial improprieties by a Bishop to independent third parties and ensure that victims of abuse are not subject to retaliation.”  –Archbishop William Lori

As I covered in my previous post, to whom was Rev. Ryszard Biernat supposed to report abuse of authority and coverup of circumstances harmful to the laity concerning his bishop, Richard Malone? Fr. Ryszard, as Vice Chancellor of the diocese, was in a unique position to know what was going on and had no reasonable, responsible avenue available to him to report circumstances in which he felt laity and a seminarian, in particular, were at risk. He was fully aware that taking his report strait to the public via the media would subject him to severe retaliation.  Bishop Malone did not disappoint.

Back to the Lori report:

“Several witnesses told us that they believed there was no one to report their allegations to, and if they did, it would have an adverse impact on their careers, which was corroborated by the Monsignors [key diocesan officials].”

Those “Monsignors” held diocesan leadership offices similar to Fr. Ryszard’s. They were also positions similar to those held by our diocese’s Rev. Peter J. Karalus (Vicar General, Moderator of the Curia) and to Sister Regina Murphy, SSMN, (Chancellor) and others. According to Fr. Ryszard, and as we hear in the recordings of their meetings he released to the public, chancery officials all agreed that a particular priest in the diocese was posing a significant risk to the flock. But WHO stepped up to the plate to report this? And look who received the punishment of having his priestly faculties/ministry revoked?

In this light, we read Archbishop Lori’s condemnation of the chancery officials in the Diocese of Wheeling/Charleston who failed to confront their bishop much less take any action to attempt to report him:

“By failing to take any action…” the Monsignors “enabled” the behaviors and conduct of the bishop, Archbishop Lori wrote, adding:

“Further, they helped to create a toxic atmosphere in the Chancery by allowing all of the Bishop’s decisions to go unchallenged, leaving the impression that no one could question whatever the Bishop wanted at any given time.”

We can take heart that Archbishop Lori made this recommendation which should be an obvious outcome to the situation:

“A complete change of leadership is necessary to begin restoring the trust throughout the Diocese and to help the new Bishop heal a community that must reckon with the betrayals and transgressions of its spiritual leader. The Vicar General, Judicial Vicar and Vicar for Clergy should be relieved from their positions of the Chancery as well as their current Board duties [within the diocese]  […]  as well as related entities.”

Amen.

The wrong chancery officials were stripped of their canonical duties and faculties and jobs and titles in the Diocese of Buffalo.

We continue our prayers, sufferings and mortifications for justice in this case and for remedies to this toxic situation in our diocese that will lead to lasting, sustainable healing so that we may all, as the Body of Christ, move on in our efforts to evangelize the Good News and save souls.


Photo:  a portion of Archbishop Lori’s secret report to the Vatican of his investigation of the Diocese of Wheeling/Charleston.

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