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Sex-abuse victims say Buffalo Diocese's list of accused priests doesn't go far enough

For Michael F. Whalen Jr., Tuesday's action by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo to publicly identify 42 priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors is a good start.

But it's not enough.

Whalen, who last month accused a priest of sexually abusing him as a child, unleashing a wave of new allegations against priests, wants to see the diocese do more.

"Are they just giving us something to appease us for now, or is it an actual list?" Whalen said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Are they doing this to make us happy, that, whoa, they gave us a list?"

Other victims advocates echoed those sentiments.

Shortly after the diocese released its list Tuesday morning, The Buffalo News published the names of three priests who weren't on the diocese's list but who were accused of sexual misconduct, including two who went to prison for crimes involving children. The three priests worked in the diocese but were not diocesan priests.

Whalen, who said he read that News report, questioned how transparent the diocese was being.

"It's just what they're giving us," Whalen said. "There could be dozens, dozens more that we just don't know about."

Less than a month ago, Whalen stood across from the Buffalo Diocese headquarters on Main Street and publicly accused the Rev. Norbert Orsolits of sexually abusing him nearly 40 years ago when he was a teenager.

Orsolits admitted later that day to The Buffalo News he sexually abused "probably dozens" of teenage boys, and since then, numerous new accounts have come to light from across Western New York of alleged abuse by other priests.

On Tuesday, Bishop Richard J. Malone released a list of names of 42 diocesan priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct with minors and who were either removed from ministry, retired or left the ministry, the diocese said. It followed criticism that the diocese needed to be more forthcoming about what it knew about accused priests. A little less than half of the names had already been made public in news accounts.

Under growing pressure, Buffalo bishop names 42 accused abusers

Whalen also pointed to the recent revelation that the diocese in 2016 paid $1.5 million to a man who alleged he was sexually abused by a priest more than 30 years ago. The diocese left out that settlement figure earlier this month when it said it had paid about $1.2 million in compensation to sex abuse victims over the last 20 years. A diocesan spokesman said the $1.2 million figure reflects only actual diocesan funds and not payments to victims by the diocese's insurance plans.

"They're telling you half-truths," Whalen said of the omission.

Tom Travers, a Buffalo resident who says a Catholic priest abused him in the 1970s when he was an altar boy, agreed. He called the diocese's list "semi-transparent."

"My abuser is not on the list," Travers said.

Travers said he's received communication from the diocese inviting him to participate in its recently created "Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program," a fund to settle claims of alleged sexual abuse. To Travers, that means the diocese "absolutely acknowledges my abuser."

Travers said the diocese was "hiding behind legalese and not having the moral fiber to be fully transparent." He said he wants the diocese to release the names and locations of all priests it knows were abusers.

Judith Burns-Quinn, the Buffalo coordinator for a national organization called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), welcomed the release of names by the diocese.

"It's a good day for all of us," Burns-Quinn said, "because it's been hidden for so long."

But the diocese needs to go further with the names of accused priests who worked in area schools who were not diocesan priests but who belonged to other orders, she said.

"The list should be bigger," she said.

The advocates are also calling for the passage of the Child Victims Act, a proposed state law that would expand the criminal and civil statute of limitations in cases of alleged abuse. The bill has long been blocked in the Republican-led state Senate.

Whalen, who said he was scared to come forward with public accusations about Orsolits, said he believes the diocese is scared of the Child Victims Act. "They're scared it's going to ruin them," he said.

Since he publicly accused Orsolits on Feb. 27, Whalen said he's talked to close to two dozen victims of clergy abuse from across the country. They've called him to thank him for coming forward, he said.

He doesn't believe a lot of the victims he's spoken were planning to come forward, he said. But he said he's proud of all the people who have called him.

"Helping these victims right now is my calling," he said. "It's something that I need to do."

Contact Aaron Besecker at abesecker@buffnews.com or 716-849-4602.

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