Buffalo, N.Y., Jan 17, 2020 / 07:19 pm (CNA).- The apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo said this week that despite the possibility the diocese could file for bankruptcy protection to settle over 200 lawsuits related to sexual abuse, donations made to Catholic Charities this year will be used to help the needy rather than to pay for lawsuits.
“All of the money that we are collecting is going toward immediate goals. We’re not talking about years down the line. We’re talking about right now. They are immediate and must be met, so we continue the campaign to meet those goals…The last thing we want to do is in any way to curtail the services because the needs are real,” Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany said Tuesday as reported by the Buffalo News.
Catholic Charities of Buffalo announced Jan. 14 the launch of its 2020 appeal, with a goal of $10 million – $1 million less than last year’s goal. Programs and services provided by Catholic Charities benefited more than 160,000 people in 2019, the group reported.
Last year, Catholic Charities of Buffalo raised $9.5 million, $1.5 million short of their goal.
Buffalo's Bishop Richard Malone resigned in December 2019 after more than a year of calls for his resignation, amid accusations that he mishandled abuse cases in the diocese.
The recent enactment of the Child Victims Act in New York expanded the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits and a one-year filing window for suits related to historical cases.
To date, the Buffalo diocese has been hit with more than 225 lawsuits, the Buffalo News reports. In the days following his appointment as apostolic administrator, Scharfenberger indicated that he would not rule out bankruptcy as an option to settle the lawsuits.
The Diocese of Buffalo shut down its credit cards last September, and although some have interpreted the move as a step towards bankruptcy, officials said the decision was unrelated to the scandals and lawsuits affecting the diocese.
Scharfenberger said Tuesday that even if the diocese does file for bankruptcy, contributions to the 2020 Catholic Charities appeal would not be affected because a Chapter 11 reorganization would take years to complete, the Buffalo News reported.
In addition, Catholic Charities is separately incorporated from the Buffalo Diocese, which means its assets would not be in play in the case of the diocese declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which would trigger an intense analysis of the diocese’s assets to determine what could be used to pay settlements, The Buffalo News reports.
In the past, about one-third of the funds raised during Catholic Charities’ appeal goes to Fund for the Faith, which is controlled by the diocese and is used for ministries such as diocese communications, seminary training, and campus ministry, the Buffalo News reports.
For the second year, donors to Catholic Charities will have the option to give to the Appeal as in previous years, which benefits Catholic Charities and the Fund for the Faith; give to Catholic Charities only; or give to the Fund for the Faith only.
In December, Catholic Charities announced Deacon Steve Schumer as the organization’s new President and CEO, effective Jan. 6, 2020.
“My understanding of the law is donor designated funds are donor designated. So, I tell people, in all honesty, yes, contribute your resources, and we’ll put them to work in the way you intend,” Schumer told the Buffalo News.
In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse. The documents were widely reported to suggest Malone had covered-up some claims of sexual abuse, an allegation the bishop denied.
Six months later, in April 2019, Malone apologized for his handling of some cases in the diocese, and said he would work to restore trust. The bishop particularly apologized for his 2015 support of Fr. Art Smith, a priest who had faced repeated allegations of abuse and misconduct with minors.
In August 2019, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.
Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.
The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.
In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.
In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”
The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”
On Oct. 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn had been asked to lead an apostolic visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops.
That review concluded at the end of October, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.
Scharfenberger has said that he was not given a clear mandate by the Vatican when he was appointed as apostolic administrator of the Buffalo diocese in December, and that he has not yet seen DiMarzio’s report.
Scharfenberger has emphasized that his position as apostolic administrator is by definition temporary, and the decision of who will ultimately lead the diocese is entirely up to the Holy See.