BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The bishop overseeing the diocese of Buffalo has concelebrated Mass with accused predator priests — including one priest whom the diocese itself deemed credibly accused and restricted from ministry.
On Monday, Bp. Edward Scharfenberger invited priests of the Buffalo diocese to gather at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Amherst, New York to concelebrate Mass and eat lunch together.
Scharfenberger is the bishop of Albany, New York. But he has been the acting administrator of the Buffalo diocese since December, after Buffalo's previous head, Bp. Richard Malone, resigned in disgrace amid a number of sex abuse cover-up scandals.
Some of the priests concelebrating Monday's Mass are men who have been accused of sexual abuse, local news station WKBW reports.
Father Art Smith concelebrated, despite being accused of sexual abuse. (Smith denies the allegations.) One of Smith's alleged victims, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, was present at Monday's gathering of clergy. Biernat said in a Facebook post that Smith approached him during the meeting, characterized the abuse allegation as a "misunderstanding," and said he had not intended to hurt him.
"He said this publicly in front of many priests," Biernat notes. "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."
Father Fabian Maryanski was another concelebrant. He is accused of sexually abusing an underage girl beginning when she was 15 years old. Father Maryanski was removed from ministry in 2018, and the diocese states his case was forwarded to Rome.
Maryanski's accuser, Stephanie McIntyre, reacted with dismay when she learned that her abuser concelebrated at Monday's Mass with the bishop, despite being removed from ministry.
"I'm so very sad and confused today," she said. "This is an all-time low moment that hit me just when I thought I was ready to begin healing."
"[It] feels like justice was ripped away," McIntyre added.
James Grein, a victim of now-laicized ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual abuse, told Church Militant on Wednesday that Bp. Scharfenberger "has no true understanding."
"'Sorry' isn't an answer," Grein added. "Celebrate Eucharist with him? It's really disgusting."
He also observed, "I have received many calls from victims in Buffalo, but no priest has ever offered any condolences. This bishop needs to resign."
Church Militant reached out to the diocese of Buffalo for comment on Tuesday, but received no response by press time.
Bishop Scharfenberger addressed the controversy in a public statement Tuesday, saying: "I want to emphasize that in no way should the participation of certain priests be seen as a restoration of their faculties to celebrate the sacraments publicly, or certainly not in any way to disregard the grave emotional, physical and spiritual harm inflicted on innocent persons."
He also noted, "This was a private Mass — not open to the public — which had as its emphasis the need for true personal remorse and penance for the harm caused to victim-survivors."
However, Siobhan O'Connor, a whistleblower in the Buffalo diocese, challenged the idea of it being a "private Mass."
"Today's Mass was not as private as it may have seemed," she remarked in a Facebook post Monday. "It was not just the priests — laypeople were there as servers and music ministers. In addition, a few laywomen were in the back of the church — they may have been parish staff members. In addition, the entire Mass was live-streamed on St. Leo's website!"
Saint Leo's Church appears to have a livestream that runs continuously on its website, showing the sanctuary area inside the church.
O'Connor went on to opine, "Allowing Maryanski to concelebrate today was a public statement that made a mockery of decrees of administrative leave and showed utter disrespect for survivors and our diocese."
It is commonly understood that the primary distinction between a "private Mass" and a "public Mass" is whether or not the Mass is publicly advertised. As long as a celebration of Mass is not publicly advertised in advance — such as in a parish bulletin or on a parish website — it is typically considered a "private Mass."
Neither St. Leo's online calendar nor the Sunday bulletin shows any entries regarding Monday's concelebrated Mass. The same could be said of the the parish's Facebook page. Hence, Monday's concelebrated Mass likely would be considered a private Mass instead of a public Mass.
But abuse victims are concerned that, even in the context of a private Mass, allowing credibly accused priests like Maryanski to concelebrate with a bishop is a bad look for the diocese, giving the impression that the bishop is cozying up with predator priests.