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Victim of sexual abuse by priest calls for diocese to open compensation to all

Last week, Michael F. Whalen of South Buffalo stood outside the offices of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Main Street to tell his story of sexual abuse at the hands of the Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits.

Sunday, he and his advocate, Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery Inc., stood outside St. Louis Church, across from the diocesan offices, this time to speak up for other victims.

They criticized a deadline announced by Bishop Richard J. Malone for victims to have their complaints heard by two former judges as part of a new Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The program will handle only the cases of those who reported clerical abuse before March 1, the day of the announcement.

George Richert, spokesman for the diocese, responded Sunday that people who come forward now with stories of sexual abuse would not be shut out from compensation, only from participation in this specific program. As proof, he pointed to the $1.2 million paid out in the last 20 years to people who reported clergy sexual abuse.

But Hoatson rejected that explanation.

"It's all a smokescreen," said Hoatson, whose New Jersey-based charity assists victims of sexual abuse. "Why not open the program to every single person who was abused by a clergyman in the Diocese of Buffalo, period? Why are they afraid to do that? Why can't they just say, 'Come forward'?

"Victims don't know the day that they may have a flash that says, 'I have to talk about this before I die,' " he said.

Whalen, 52, was an eighth-grader at St. John Vianney School when he and two other teenage boys accompanied Orsolits on a ski trip in 1979 or 1980. In an interview with The Buffalo News, Orsolits, now 78, said that while he did not recall Whalen, he had sexually abused "probably dozens" of teenage boys through the years.

By coming forward publicly with a secret he had kept until a decade ago, Hoatson said, Whalen "created a tsunami effect of hope and healing for victims of sexual abuse."

On Friday, James A. McCarthy and his younger brother, who asked that his name not be published, each said they were sexually abused by Orsolits in the late 1960s when he was stationed at St. John the Baptist Church in Alden. James McCarthy said he was grateful to Whalen for speaking out publicly.

Whalen said he has been contacted by about a dozen other victims of clerical sexual abuse, including a man who was just able to tell his wife that he was abused, and a woman from Texas who said she was victimized by a priest at a West Seneca church.

"All these victims need to be heard, and this program should include all of them, not just putting a date on it of March 1," said Whalen. "The reason why I came out was for these victims to be heard, and that's what I want, I want this program to include them, too."

Richert said the program was designed for "those who have waited the longest, those who have made claims years ago, and we have known their names, and they have never been offered a settlement.

"I do take issue with the statement that anybody else will be shut out," Richert said. "We would never shut anybody out."

Any clergy abuse victim who did not file a claim before March 1 should call diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator Jacqueline Joy at 895-3010, Richert said.

Hoatson said those who call now will probably only be offered counseling, as Whalen was. Richert agreed that counseling would be the first step, but he said the diocese has made payments to victims through the years, too. "We're going to take new claims as they come in, and work with them individually, and take it from there," he said.

Whalen and Hoatson also called for the diocese to release the names and current locations of all clergy or ex-clergy who have been accused of sexual abuse of children. "I think people should know who they are and where they are," said Whalen.

They also spoke in favor of the Child Victims Act, a long-stalled statewide bill that would expand the criminal and civil statute of limitations in abuse cases.

Two brothers say they were among those abused by priest in the 1960s

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