Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pope picks Brooklyn priest to lead Albany diocese

Rev. Msgr. Edward B. Scharfenberger will be introduced later Tuesday as the new Bishop for the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.The Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, a 65-year-old monsignor and lawyer who played a significant role in how the Brooklyn diocese handled child sex abuse complaints, is Pope Francis' choice to succeed Bishop Howard Hubbard as the leader of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.

Scharfenberger will be introduced at an 11 a.m. news conference at the diocese's Pastoral Center in Albany.

He will be the tenth bishop of the Albany diocese. At 65, Scharfenberger will only serve a fraction of Hubbard's 37-year tenure. 

Hubbard is leaving after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

"How grateful I am to His Holiness Pope Francis for the awesome privilege to serve as pastor of all the wonderful people in the Diocese of Albany. I am touched by the warm welcome of Bishop Hubbard who has served the Church in Albany with love and dedication for 37 years," Scharfenberger said in a statement released at 6 a.m. by the Albany diocese.
"My heart is full of gratitude to God for my loving family, especially my ninety-three years old parents who were generous enough to welcome me, my two brothers and two sisters into this world. They taught us how to pray, to trust God and to know Jesus as our friend. Their continuous example shows us that the essence of love is sacrifice."

The new bishop, who graduated summa cum laude from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 1972, is also a lawyer. He went to Fordham Law School, passing the state bar in 1991. He is multilingual and has been in the forefront of the church's dealings with sex abuse scandals. 

He served as Promoter of Justice for the Diocese of Brooklyn and was a member of the Diocesan Review Board for Sexual Abuse of Minors and co-author of the 2009 report, "From Shadow to Light and from Scandal to Healing: The Experience of the Diocese of Brooklyn with the Sex Abuse Scandal."

The board that crafted the report was established in 2002 after the clergy sexual abuse scandal in Boston. It has examined more than two dozen cases in Brooklyn and Queens.

That board and Scharfenberger have their critics.  

David Clohessy, head of the St. Louis chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priest criticized the choice on Tuesday, calling Scharfenberger one of the most secretive in dealing with predator priests.

"For a decade, Scharfenberger has been heavily involved in pedophile priest cases yet we've seen not a single hopeful move in the Brooklyn diocese regarding this scandal," Clohessy said. 

"That diocese, like many, does only the absolute bare minimum in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases, and only then because it's required to do so by the U.S. church's vague, weak and rarely enforced abuse policy."

A group of local Catholics launched www.albanybishopsearch.org to ask participants their thoughts on the major needs of the diocese and what they wanted to see in a new bishop. 

Bill Halligan, a member of the group and a parishioner at St. Vincent DePaul in Albany, he was pleased with the pope's pick.

"We never thought the group would be consulted," Halligan said. "We just wanted to express our thoughts and urge people to express theirs to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington."
Halligan said he was impressed with the depth of Scharfenberger's educational and spiritual background.

"I look forward to having a person who will lead the Albany Diocese in a progressive and open way so we can all draw closer to God," Halligan said.

Scharfenberger was born in Brooklyn's Bushwick section on May 29, 1948. He is the son of Edward and Elaine Scharfenberger of Warwick.

Since 2002 he has served as Pastor of St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, a multi-ethnic parish with a large German congregation. The church offers service and hears confessions in German. His most recent assignments also included Vicar for Strategic Planning, and Episcopal Vicar for Queens. 

"It is humbling when I think that I soon will be counted among the successors of the Lord's Apostles. I am not worthy of this office and I hope that our priests, deacons, religious and lay people will pray for me often as, together, we continue along our journey of faith," Scharfenberger said.

"What else do I ask for? What do I hope for? I ask the priests, deacons, religious and laity to help me to be myself – my best self. I promise to love and respect all of you by letting you be who you are and to bring out the best in you. Let's do this for one another. I will spend every talent that God has given to me, and every ounce of energy, for the Church in Albany."

"I commend myself and my ministry to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of our Diocese."

Scharfenberger was ordained a priest on July 2, 1973 in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, by Bishop James A. Hickey, later Cardinal-Archbishop of Washington D.C. 

Hubbard welcomed the announcement.

"Bishop-Elect Scharfenberger has a rich background as both a canon and civil lawyer, as the head of the Judicial Tribunal in Brooklyn, and as pastor for 12 years in St. Matthias in Ridgewood, a multi-ethnic parish, where he has gained fluency in a multitude of languages, which I am sure will serve him well in our Diocese and will be most appreciated by our growing Hispanic speaking community," Hubbard said.

"So we are most grateful that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has graced us with such a gifted shepherd and we pledge him our prayers, loyalty, support and love."

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