While I was the publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine, I chronicled the plight of the Albany Diocese in Upstate, NY under the former leadership of now Bishop Emeritus Howard J. Hubbard. His stewardship of the diocese was a test case in the failures of the progressive policies of many churchmen during the seventies and eighties that left dioceses throughout the country beset by dwindling Mass attendance, little or no vocations to the priestly and religious life and sex scandals which metastasized into a full blown scandal in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Things were so awful under Hubbard and his Chancery staff that in 2013, Albany, NY was ranked as #1 among the most “post-Christian” cities in the U.S. by the Barna Group.
Enter in 2014, Bishop Edward B. Schafenberger, on the surface he had the perfect curriculum vitae that the more orthodox faithful were looking for to restore some of what had been lost under the Hubbard regime. “Monsignor Ed,” as his parishioners at St. Matthias in Queens called him, did stints in the diocesan curia there serving in many roles, culminating in 2013 when he was named Episcopal Vicar for Queens. The Brooklyn native seemed born for the role; his father was a salesman of church goods.
Upon his arrival in Albany, Bishop Scharfenberger burnished his credentials with the pro-life community by participating in lay initiatives like the Rosary Walk for Life that he did around the State Capital and joining them at local Planned Parenthoods for Prayer Vigils. These were important steps to take because Bishop Hubbard had all but ignored the pro-life community for years choosing rather to focus on social justice issues.
But in perusing the the Albany Diocese website, I was shocked to find one of the signature programs of Hubbard’s agenda is still in place: a needle exchange program called “Operation Safe Point” is still being administered under Albany’s Catholic Charities. Under the heading of Chronic Disease Management & HIV Help section of their website it states that they provide “syringe disposal, access/exchange services.”
Operation Safe Point was deemed “controversial” by the National Catholic Register in February 2010 and eminent canon lawyer Edward Peters weighed in extensively about the matter. Dr. Peters in his blog at the time, “In Light of the Law,” rightly stated,
“I think that one who supplies, without a physician’s prescription, needles/syringes (nb: devices with only one practical use) to people whom one reasonably believes will use those devices to inject illegal drugs into their own bodies and/or the bodies of others, encourages those people to practices that are gravely contrary to the moral law, rendering thereby, it seems to me, direct assistance to their commission of an objectively gravely evil act while intending precisely to help them accomplish that act. This conclusion is not contingent on whether the needles are clean, or are merely exchanged, or on any other accidental aspect of the program. The only question is whether giving a syringe to a drug abuser abets his or her injection of illegal drugs. If it does, then giving a drug user a needle formally cooperates with the specific evil of his or her taking those illegal drugs.” (Emphasis added)
The continuation of this program is even more baffling because Bishop Scharfenberger is a canon lawyer himself and should know better that the continuation of such a program causes scandal to his flock and hurts drug users with its false message of mercy.
In my past reporting of the situation in Albany, which is New York’s State Capitol, I learned that its main commerce is state government with all its machinations. Bishop Hubbard, whose episcopacy lasted from 1977-2014, learned well from Albany technocrats and built a vast bureaucracy similar to the bloated New York State government dedicated to spreading his progressive form of Catholicism.
This is the culture that Bishop Scharfenberger inherited, but by allowing this program to continue he is tacitly approving both the policy of providing syringes and his predecessor’s failed agenda. In fact, Bishop Hubbard is still ever present, having an office at the Chancery, he still writes occasionally for the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, which was a bullhorn for his progressive agenda and lobbies for liberal interest groups in the halls of the State Capitol.
Too often, we see this exact scenario being played out in dioceses across the nation. Liberal chanceries built by previous progressive bishops, perpetuating themselves and their constituencies groups at the determinant of faithful Catholics while the new bishops
‘go along to get along.’
However, many bishops have been named over the past several decades whose minds and spirituality were formed as priests under the historic pontificate of Pope John Paul II. Now that these priests have become bishops, it can only help them to be reminded that Saint John Paul II often said, “Be not afraid!” We encourage Bishop Scharfenberger to finally rid his diocese of Operation Safe Point, a scandalous remnant of failed leadership.