We aren’t talking about being nice to a guy who made mistakes, bishops. We are talking about holding officials accountable for their gross dereliction of duty, concealing child rapists, wasting millions of donor dollars, and putting people at risk.
Check out 44:44 on the timeline of this first media conference with “Bishop Mike, ” as he said he prefers to be called. This is Most Rev. Michael W. Fisher, named by Pope Francis yesterday as the new Bishop of Buffalo (NY). [pictured top center in this screenshot of Dec.1, 2020 Zoom media conference]
Charlie Specht, WKBW-TV Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter, spent more than two years blowing the cover on decades of diocesan clergy sex abuse and coverup by Diocese of Buffalo officials. In his first Q & A with the replacement for the bishop he helped to retire early, Specht got right to the point asking about “cleaning house.”
Considering two names frequently mentioned in the New York State Attorney General lawsuit filed last week against the diocese and its two recent bishops, is Bishop Mike considering utilizing these other officials? What concerns abuse survivors, their advocates and laity in general is the fact the men Specht mentioned were documented in the AG report as complicit in concealing credibly-accused clergy sex abusers and violating the national bishop’s Charter outlining how sexual abuse reports are to supposed to be handled. In other words, as Specht pointed out, these two are the very guys who contributed to getting us into this crisis in the diocese to begin with. Is the new bishop planning to continue to utilize their services?
Bishop Mike punted saying he’d have to meet employees and evaluate their skill sets. The new bishop, while not adept at speaking extemporaneously, still made his point: a man’s skill set is part of determining whether he can retain his title and office even though he is DOCUMENTED as having
- put people at risk,
- concealed credibly-accused sex offenders,
- betrayed abuse victims and
- violated procedural norms in handling reports of clergy sex abuse.
Msgr. David LiPuma’s name was specifically mentioned by the reporter as having been highlighted by the State in engaging in such malfeasance. (See page 174 of report, for example). No small point as he co-chairs the diocesan Road to Renewal task force, an initiative put in place by Most Rev. Edward B Scharfenberger (Albany, NY) who had served as Administrator of the Buffalo diocese since the sudden departure of the previous bishop a year ago.
At the very end of the conference, Bishop Scharfenberger jumped in– an apparent move to clarify this question of accountability. He lamented a “tendency” he sees these days “to excoriate sinners and to condemn them before they’ve had a chance to turn back to the Lord. We are accompanying one another on this road …the Lord is with us. ..He will give us the strength and the courage to call out the sin and to ask for forgiveness.”
Imagine saying that about a school or hospital executive who concealed from the public and law enforcement the rape of children? We aren’t talking about being nice to a guy who made mistakes, bishops. We are talking about holding officials accountable for their gross dereliction of duty, a major point of the AG lawsuit which appears to have eluded Bishops Fisher and Scharfenberger.
The “tendency” that clergy sex abuse survivors and laity see these days is bishops making excuses for diocesan executives who betrayed the trust we placed in them. Such excuses are nothing more than “abusive enabling tactics,” according to experts on the clergy sex abuse crisis.
And this shaming of laity looking for accountability IS abusive. Please see my article on “Accountability” as a moral imperative in restoring trust amid the clergy sexual abuse crisis. A renown expert on the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis warned laity to
look at the “adversarial way the Church treats victims of its own dysfunction” if we want to see the true face of “clericalism” –the locus of the crisis.
And while Bishop Scharfenberger chastises people like abuse survivors and their advocates who expect professional accountability, why doesn’t he extend that same forgiving sentiment to Rev. Ryszard S. Biernat who blew the whistle on the very corruption the AG Report excoriated? He is now one year into his “penal remedy,” stripped of his priestly faculties –imposed by a bishop named and unmercifully censured in the AG lawsuit.
In this media conference, we got a big clue as to where the diocese is headed establishing trust. More of the same.