‘I came here to be their shepherd’: A call to remove Buffalo’s Bishop Michael Fisher

WKBW [Buffalo NY]

April 11, 2024

By Eileen Buckley , Sean Mickey

Some members of Buffalo’s Catholic community are calling on the Vatican to force Bishop Michael Fisher to resign.

A letter was addressed to Pope Francis that claims the bishop’s appointment three years ago has resulted in “adverse, long term and irreparable harm” to the Catholic community.

“I don’t think he has any track record of success in Buffalo,” remarked Michael Taheri, a Buffalo Catholic.

“Bishop Fisher, in my opinion, is the wrong guy and in the wrong place at the wrong time,” reflected Michael Liwicki, a Buffalo Catholic.

The letter was sent to Pope Francis in Vatican City and signed by five Western New York Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Buffalo, led by Taheri.

“He closed schools. We still don’t have a Catholic school on the east side of Buffalo. We have fewer masses. Our outreach as a Catholic community is less so how has he enhanced as this you know, the leader of our spiritual flock our Catholic lives, he just hasn’t. He’s failed,” stated Taheri.

Also signing that same letter fellow parishioner Michael Liwicki.

“When you talk to parishioners, and you’ve asked them if they ever seen the bishop, the answer is no, rarely,” explained Liwicki.

“I came here to be their shepherd, to be their guide to love them. I’m trying to do that as best I can. We’re going to make mistakes. There are a lot of deep problems and concerns here,” replied Bishop Michael Fisher, Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

After asking to interview the bishop for a year-and-a-half, the diocese finally gave 7 News that opportunity Thursday.

Eileen Buckley: “How do you respond to that when parishioners are loudly now feeling that and telling the Vatican to help?”
Bishop Fisher: “Well, I don’t know how many parishioners are doing that. Certainly, I’m open to anybody that wants to come in and look at the work that we’ve been doing over these past three years. I’m trying to keep focused on getting us out of the Chapter 11, which as you know is quite harrowing.”

Buckley: “What they’ve told me is they look to you as their shepherd, and they want to hear from you directly. If you’re closing their school or their church, they want to see you. They don’t want you to send someone else in your place?” Bishop: “Well, I’m trying to do that. and you know, certainly, you know, I am trying to do my best to be present. I can’t be in two places at one time. and I’m trying to prioritize what I’m doing.”

“We need somebody who will provide spiritual leadership, not financial instruction,” Liwicki noted.

“Even if we weren’t in bankruptcy, we would have to be doing what we’re doing. We don’t have enough priests,” commented Bishop Fisher. “It’s not going to be easy. it’s going to be painful.”

But the bishop tells me he has visited all 160 parishes as well as most of the schools. However, the recent announcement that St. Andrew’s Country Day School and St. Andrew’s Church in the Town of Tonawanda are closing left families shocked and outraged.

Buckley: “If there was another difficult closing announcement, whether it’s a school or a church, would you be there?”
Bishop: “I will.”
Buckley: “You promise?”
Bishop: “I promise. I promise.”

The bishop said he is not allowed to discuss the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings while they are in mediation, however, he did tell me he has met with some of the abuse survivors over the last three years.

Buckley: “The parishes have also been told that it is ‘our responsibility’ to help pay back for these child abuse cases through the bankruptcy.”
Bishop: “Well, we have to be a Catholic family. We have to be together on this. If we’re going to get out of this. this is our moment, to bring healing to those who have been harmed.”

Buckley: “They feel they’re being lied to. They feel there’s a lack of transparency from here.”
Bishop: “No, we’re trying to get all the information we can so that we can provide that to the people.”

It’s been four years since the diocese declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The diocese filed in February 2020 while facing a mountain of lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse.

In 2019, the Child Victims Act became law – creating a lookback window for abuse survivors to sue their alleged perpetrator. The majority of the suits filed in Western New York — 65 percent — were filed against the Diocese of Buffalo or other related entities of the Catholic Church.

In total, plaintiffs filed more than 800 lawsuits against the diocese. More than 250 priests and nuns have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Documents filed in federal bankruptcy court show the diocese has paid nearly $16 million in legal fees to date.

On Monday, a federal bankruptcy court judge could allow individual cases to proceed in state court.

The unsecured creditors committee, made up of six abuse survivors, agreed to place a hold on litigation against non-debtor entities (such as parishes and schools) while participating in negotiations. That agreement expired after the committee opted not to renew it, in an attempt to get their day in court.

A judge could deny an injunction from the church so survivors’ lawsuits against individual entities can proceed.

Survivors have argued the diocese is attempting to delay the process. At least 15 survivors who filed lawsuits against the diocese have died while waiting for justice.

Three men of the cloth are currently on administrative leave while the diocesean review board looks into claims of abuse. They include Rev. Joseph Rogliano (9/11/23) Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz (7/13/21) and Rev. Jeffrey Nowak (8/28/19).