Next Buffalo bishop promises 'truth' and 'transparency'

Screen Shot 2020 12 01 at 50631 PM Bishop Michael Fisher. | Diocese of Buffalo

The newly-announced next Bishop of Buffalo has promised to be a pastor who will promote transparency in the scandal-ridden New York diocese.

"In all things, I pledge to be truthful and transparent in the decisions that we will need to make," said Bishop Michael Fisher, currently auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C. Fisher was announced as Pope Francis' choice to lead the Diocese of Buffalo on December 1. 

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference, he promised "collaboration and consultation" with local Catholics.  

"I come to you as your new bishop. I am first and foremost your brother in faith," he said. "I hope you will call me Bishop Mike."

Fisher will be installed as Buffalo's bishop on Jan. 15, 2021. The oldest of five children, he was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1990 and has served on the archdiocese's administrative board, clergy personnel board, priest council, and priest retirement board.

He will take over a diocese rocked by recent revelations of clergy sex abuse, allegations of a cover-up and mishandling of abuse by former Bishop Richard Malone and Edward Grosz, a lawsuit by New York state, and ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

Last week, the office of New York's Attorney General published a 216-page report documenting the years-long failure by the diocese to abide by the standards of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in handling cases of alleged clergy sex abuse of minors.

In December, 2019, Bishop Malone announced that the pope had accepted resignation. That announcement followed an apostolic visitation ordered the Vatican to investigate his handling of clergy sex abuse. Malone's former secretary had leaked audio of the bishop appearing to acknowledge the credibility of claims of sexual harassment and violation of the seal of Confession made against a diocesan priest months before that priest was removed from active ministry.

Malone's former executive assistant also leaked diocesan records in 2018 that appeared to show the diocese working with its lawyers to conceal the names of some diocesan priests with credible claims of sex abuse from the public.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany was appointed as interim leader of the diocese after Malone's resignation. In January, he told members of the media that he was "not given" the results of the 2019 Vatican-ordered investigation into the diocese. He also said that he "was not sent with a particular mission."

On Tuesday, when asked by WKBW if he would seek Vatican permission to publish the conclusions of the 2019 investigation into the diocese, Fisher said he had not seen the report yet.

"That is something that I will need to look at. Again, I've just been named today, and have not been given the details of those things yet," he said.

"But I will be certainly delving into those issues, and hopefully with proper collaboration and consultation, can be able hopefully to make those kinds of decisions later.

Fisher also said that the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, did not bring up the problems of the diocese when asking him if he would accept Pope Francis' appointment to Buffalo.

"In terms of going into any of the problems," Fisher recalled, "he [Pierre] didn't get into that."

When asked about the Attorney General's lawsuit against the diocese, filed last week, Fisher said that it was "very serious" and that a "zero tolerance policy for any abuse of children, for the sexual harassment of adults, needs to be taken seriously and followed."

He was also asked about concerns that diocesan staff who allegedly helped cover up clergy sex abuse might still hold their positions. Fisher responded that he would have to "meet people" first.

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Fisher said that his first priority as bishop "will be to get to know the parishes and its people."

His other priorities, he said, will be to "get to know the priests and pastors," and to "continue the healing, and work of renewing the faith in ministries of the diocese that Bishop Scharfenberger and so many other devoted parish leaders have begun."

"I am well aware of the challenges we face," he said, noting the current coronavirus pandemic, the diocese's ongoing bankruptcy process, and the revelations of clergy sex abuse in recent years.

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