Tag Archives: Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger

Buffalo Diocese files for bankruptcy after hundreds of sex abuse claims

Buffalo Diocese files for bankruptcy after hundreds of sex abuse claims. Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger has led the diocese since December.
By Cayla Harris
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Buffalo-Diocese-files-for-bankruptcy-after-hundred-15091849.php

The Buffalo Diocese, temporarily headed by Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, filed for bankruptcy Friday morning as it grapples with hundreds of lawsuits alleging decades of child sexual abuse and cover-ups.

It is the second New York diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – which allows for reorganization of assets instead of liquidation. The Diocese of Rochester filed for bankruptcy in September. The decision was largely anticipated as the Buffalo diocese, facing more than 250 lawsuits over the past six months alleging sexual abuse, has emerged as the most-named defendant in all Child Victims Act cases.

The state’s Child Victims Act in August opened a one-year window temporarily eliminating the statute of limitations for civil cases involving sex crimes. Since then, more than 1,600 cases have been filed statewide, many of them resurfacing decades-old allegations.

In a filing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Western District of New York – first reported by The Buffalo News – the Buffalo Diocese identified $10 million to $50 million in assets and $50 million to $100 million in liabilities. In court filings, Scharfenberger asserted that the filing was necessary “in order to respond to claims stemming from the Child Victims Act in an equitable and comprehensive manner, and to reorganize the financial affairs of the Diocese in order to permit it to continue to fulfill its ministries to the Catholic faithful of the Diocese.”

“We have no more urgent work than to bring about justice and healing for those harmed by the scourge of sexual abuse,” Scharfenberger said in a Friday statement.

The decision puts all lawsuits against the diocese on pause as leaders determine how best to address the allegations and compensate accusers. It does not affect the daily operations of local parishes.

Scharfenberger, who is temporarily leading the Buffalo Diocese after the resignation of its former Bishop Richard Malone in December, will address the media in Buffalo at a 1 p.m. news conference. He had been weighing the decision for months, repeatedly telling reporters that a decision would come “soon.”

“Whatever we do has to be done in a way that puts victims first,” Scharfenberger told Albany reporters in December, acknowledging that bankruptcy could freeze litigation but may also offer more equal payouts to survivors who have filed claims. “We want to look at all of those things, and then that might be the best way to go.”

He said at the time that the Albany Diocese is not considering a bankruptcy filing, and likely would not for “the next year or so.” The Albany Diocese has also faced its share of Child Victims Act cases, though far fewer, at about 65. The Albany Diocese serves about half the number of Catholics as the Buffalo Diocese.

“The decision in Buffalo does not affect the Diocese of Albany in any way,” Albany Diocese spokeswoman Mary DeTurris-Poust said in an email. “Until we know the full financial scope of the CVA as it relates to the Diocese of Albany, we cannot and will not make any decisions. We have nothing to announce, other than that we continue to respond in justice to survivors of abuse and urge anyone who has suffered such abuse to come forward.”

Survivors and attorneys, reacting to Friday’s filing, criticized the decision as a roundabout way of denying victims their day in court. They noted that bankruptcy allows the diocese to avoid releasing certain information and files about priests and clergy accused of abusing children – documents that would typically be unearthed during the discovery process.

Manhattan-based attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents dozens of survivors suing the Buffalo Diocese, said the diocese “is using bankruptcy to continue to conceal the truth about predator priests.”

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, a sponsor of the Child Victims Act, said the filing could help reveal “how deep the pockets are of the institution” – but at the expense of preventing survivors from speaking out in front of a judge in a public courtroom.

“It’s despicable that an institution that was responsible for the abuse of thousands of young people across the state of New York would try to hide behind the bankruptcy laws to prevent these individuals from receiving the entirety of the claim due to them,” he said.

Buffalo Diocese facing backlash for seeking federal funds, relief in CVA cases

Buffalo Diocese facing backlash for seeking federal funds, relief in CVA cases
By Cayla Harris
https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Buffalo-Diocese-facing-backlash-for-seeking-15251143.php

Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse are denouncing the Buffalo Diocese this week after the institution, temporarily headed by Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, moved forward with two legal filings that activists say diminish victims’ experiences and could allow the diocese to dodge consequences for decades of alleged abuse and cover-up.

The most recent filing on Tuesday was a lawsuit against the federal Small Business Administration for denying the diocese’s application for relief under the CARES Act because of its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. It followed a separate legal action on Saturday in bankruptcy court, in which the diocese argued that all cases filed against the institution under the state’s Child Victims Act, including those that also name local parishes and schools, should be permanently suspended.

Last summer, the act opened a one-year “look-back” window allowing survivors of sexual abuse to pursue previously time-barred cases against their alleged offenders. The Buffalo Diocese, the most-named defendant in claims filed under the act, is facing more than 250 actions.

“The Buffalo Diocese should not use the current pandemic as an excuse to evade responsibility for the decades-long abuse of children,” said Michael Polenberg, the vice president of government affairs for the victims advocacy group Safe Horizon. “Every survivor of childhood sexual abuse deserves to hold offenders – including negligent institutions – responsible for their actions. That is the promise of the Child Victims Act … and that’s what survivors deserve.”

All lawsuits lodged against the diocese have been frozen since February, when the institution filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allows for reorganization of assets instead of liquidation. Some cases that also name separate Catholic entities where the abuse allegedly occurred would typically be allowed to move to trial at a later date – a move the diocese said would open the door to a cumbersome and costly discovery process.

Buffalo Diocese spokesman Greg Tucker declined to make Scharfenberger, who took the helm of the scandal-plagued diocese in December, available for an interview on either topic.

On the federal stimulus funds, Tucker said the institution decided to sue the SBA because it “exceeded its authority” in denying money to an organization moving through bankruptcy proceedings. The CARES Act “makes no reference to disqualifying applications on the basis of an entity in Chapter 11 reorganization,” he said.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and CVA sponsor, said in a statement Tuesday that the lawsuit “is just the latest example of the church failing to take responsibility for decades of egregious misconduct. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

In reference to the proceeding in bankruptcy court, Tucker said suspending all cases would allow the diocese to negotiate settlements “without the distraction of piecemeal litigation” and would also make the payouts more equitable for all survivors, not just those who filed first.

“While the process continues, any lawsuits against the diocese are halted to allow the diocese and its creditors to come to agreement on settlement terms,” he said. “The action that the diocese recently filed is intended to provide the same ‘breathing spell’ for parishes, schools and other Catholic entities in the hopes of achieving a global resolution.”

Stacey Benson, an attorney with the Manhattan-based law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates that represents several plaintiffs suing the Buffalo Diocese, said the filing was an “unnecessary legal tactic (that) is insensitive to survivors of child sexual abuse who have already been deeply harmed by the abuse they suffered, as well as by the actions and inactions of top diocesan officials.”

Survivors stunned after Bishop Scharfenberger celebrates Mass with abusive priests

Survivors stunned after Bishop Scharfenberger celebrates Mass with abusive priests
By Charlie Specht
https://www.wkbw.com/news/i-team/survivors-stunned-after-bishop-scharfenberger-celebrates-mass-with-abusive-priests

Never trust a person who can clear their conscience of any immoral act by asking forgiveness from their imaginary friend

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Buffalo reacted with outrage and despair Tuesday to news that interim Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrated Mass the day before with multiple priests the diocese admits are credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

Scharfenberger invited priests of the diocese to Mass and lunch at St. Leo the Great in Amherst on Monday. At the Mass, dozens of priests dressed in robes and concelebrated, or shared the Mass and Eucharist with, the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski.

“I’m so very sad and confused today,” said Stephanie McIntyre, who said she was abused by Maryanski starting when she was 15 years old. “This is an all time low moment that hit me just when I thought I was ready to begin healing.”

Maryanski had been accused of abusing McIntyre decades ago at a parish in Barker, and he denied the allegations. But on Jan. 7, 2019, the diocese included both Maryanski and the Rev. Mark J. Wolski on its official list of “priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse.”

Diocesan leaders previously said the priests’ cases would go to the Vatican, which makes the final decision on whether to defrock pedophile priests. A priest who attended the Mass on Monday told 7 Eyewitness News that both men — Maryanski and Wolski — were present, with Maryanski concelebrating the service and Wolski saying the convocation, or prayer, before the catered lunch. In 2018, a man said Wolski abused him from 1968 to 1970 while he was between 15 and 17 years old.

McIntyre said she started to cry and had “a total meltdown” upon hearing the news of Scharfenberger allowing Maryanski to concelebrate the Mass with dozens of other priests.

“[It] feels like justice was ripped away,” McIntyre said. “If the proof of my case doesn’t beg for justice, no victim will ever have justice.”

In a written statement released Tuesday afternoon, Scharfenberger said the gathering “was a private Mass…not open to the public” and added, “I deeply regret that this decision to gather privately in prayer and penance opened the door to yet another wound for those harmed.” Read Scharfenberger’s full statement here.

Also present at the Mass, according to the priest, was the Rev. Art Smith, who has been accused of sexually abusing multiple children (he denies the claims) as well as allegedly assaulting Fr. Ryszard Biernat while Biernat was a seminarian.

Biernat said Smith approached him Monday at the priest luncheon and began making bizarre comments.

“He asked if there could be mediation between me and him because ‘he never wanted to hurt me – he just wanted to show me how much he loved me and how much he cared for me,'” Biernat wrote on Facebook. “He said that he still loves me and it is all misunderstanding. I said to him that there is no misunderstanding. If you go into somebody’s bed and climb under the sheets and grab their genitals and kiss their neck there’s no misunderstanding there.”

Biernat wrote that when he worked as Bishop Richard J. Malone’s secretary, Biernat planned to apply for a restraining order against Smith because the priest kept contacting him after the alleged assault, but Biernat said Malone discouraged him from doing so.

“I have forgiven Art Smith, but to continue to hear how much he loves me and cares about me gets me so upset and angry,” Biernat wrote. “Why doesn’t he understand that this type of love is not OK? Why doesn’t he understand that this is not how you show that you care about somebody? 16 years after being sexually assaulted I still deal with this guy who would not let go. Sixteen years later I lay in bed and it feels like I am there again…”

Biernat said Bishop Scharfenberger was joined on the altar by Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz, Msgr. Robert Zapfel and the Rev. Joseph Gatto, who was accused by multiple men of sexual misconduct. Gatto denied the allegations but acknowledged spending time at a church “treatment center” in Canada.

He was returned to ministry by Malone last year, but the bishop reversed the appointment after outrage by parents. Since then, Zapfel has quietly allowed him to assume a position as parochial vicar at St. Leo’s in Amherst.