Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York is dealing with the fallout of the state legislature’s approval earlier this year of the Reproductive Health Act, a law that increases access to abortion, including those of late-term pregnancy
Bishop Scharfenberger, the chaplain of the soon-tobe-chartered Albany Chapter of Legatus, said he is considering all options available to him in Church law to sanction Catholic politicians who supported the law, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Speaking to Legatus magazine in mid-February, Bishop Scharfengerger also discussed his hopes concerning the Vatican summit on the international clergy sex abuse crisis, which was held Feb. 21- 24 in Rome.
How big a setback to the protection of life is the Reproductive Health Act?
The point I’ve been trying to make publicly is that this is far more than a Catholic issue. People see the protection of life in its most vulnerable form as something so essential to the foundation of any civilized society. We warned of the consequences of this act, and people are already beginning to see them. I think it’s a marvel to see the law being exposed so quickly for what it really is.
Are you considering sanctioning Catholic politicians who supported that law, including Gov. Cuomo?
I don’t discuss publicly the way I am dealing with the politicians on a personal basis. The reason I don’t is because my concern is to actually change their hearts and to move them so they see the gravity of what they are involved in.
As far as any sanctions, I have left all doors open. I have not said I would exclude any sanction whatsoever, but before imposing any sanction I need to identify what the crime is, for which a sanction would be given. I know it’s my responsibility to make that investigation. You can be sure I’m doing what I need to do, and what I feel both the law and my conscience direct me to do. I’ll follow where the facts play out, and then I’ll decide accordingly as time goes on.
What are your hopes for the abuse summit in Rome?
Naturally, I would hope that out of the summit, some of the very positive suggestions that have been advanced from our part of the world and others to establish the proper codes of accountability are considered. There has to be accountability. The hope of the bishops conference certainly would be all of the bishops consenting and the Holy See approving, that those codes would be developed in all dioceses. I’m doing that anyway. I haven’t waited for the conference or the meeting at the Vatican to determine that.
If nothing else, I hope what comes out of the meeting is a clear awareness and statement or some form of public accountability by the Holy See that this is an international problem. To put it another way, the protection of young people and vulnerable adults is something that must be part of our law. There need to be clear procedures as to how we do this and clear expectations as to what codes of behavior need to be followed.
What do the bishops need to do to rebuild the trust of the faithful?
The only trust we have is in preaching and living the Gospel, the truth of the presence of Christ, which includes the sinfulness of humanity, our own weaknesses, our own failures and our need to turn to the only one who can save us from them, which is Jesus Christ.
We recognize that people in power, including bishops, are not always the most morally outstanding people. Bishops must be held to higher standards, certainly in terms of virtue, but their ability and their obligation to fulfill their office does not change by the status of their own holiness. You could go to a priest who is the town drunk and he can still absolve you of your sin.