How is it possible that in 2018, Western New Yorkers are only now hearing about the depredations of Norbert F. Orsolits?
It was good for area Catholics, and all Western New Yorkers, to hear what sounded like a sincere and heartfelt apology offered this week by Bishop Richard J. Malone for the sexual abuse of children by Orsolits and other priests. It was important to know that the apology is more than words, that it is paired with action.
But Malone must make a clean break with the past by identifying all clergy known to have abused children with this diocese, reporting where they have been posted and what their duties were. He needs to explain the reasoning behind policies that enabled pedophiles to continue preying on children instead of turning them over to the criminal justice system where, like any other pedophile, they plainly belonged.
Western New Yorkers have to hope the bishop is up to this task. We believe that he is.
As everyone surely knows by now, these horrific offenses were not unique to Western New York. Indeed, the crimes and the subsequent sins of cover-up were global. And, if sexual abuse by religious leaders is especially shocking, the church is hardly alone in harboring pedophiles, who are adept at luring innocents into their grasp.
But religious leaders occupy a special place in society. They are – or are supposed to be – exemplars of decency and morality. They are supposed to be role models. They are supposed to be trustworthy.
They are also, like the rest of us, only human. They will sometimes fail, as we all do. But some failures are worse than others. When bad cops frame innocent people, the failure is profound and far-reaching. When teachers tempt students into inappropriate relationships, the failure is complete.
When priests use their high calling to abuse children, taught to trust them above all other authority figures, the failure is catastrophic. So, too, is the effort cover it up, which all but sanctions further abuses.
This must be the moment that the Western New York church moves in a healthier, transparent direction – one that in all respects acknowledges the suffering and that demonstrates an unquestionable and irrevocable commitment to getting right with past victims and doing all it can to ensure that it creates no new ones.
It’s late in the day by any measure, but Malone has begun that work. On Thursday, he acknowledged that over the past 20 years, the Diocese of Buffalo has paid about $1.2 million to people who claimed to be sexually abused by clergy.
He also said that since about 2005, the church has received up to 20 sexual abuse complaints against priests. Those reports are in addition to 93 previous ones made against 53 clerics between 1950 and 2004. The church had previously disclosed those complaints.
The diocese is also taking steps to compensate victims through a new fund that will not raid donations to such organizations as Catholic Charities or the “Upon This Rock” campaign. He said the church is prepared to sell real estate to fund the work, if necessary.
The diocese is also contacting victims who have come forward and inviting those who haven’t to make themselves known. Those who accept compensation will not be prohibited from speaking about their suffering.
Those are all important steps, but now the church needs to be completely, if painfully, honest and transparent. Church members and the public, in general, need a complete accounting of who has committed crimes against children, how they have been handled in the past and where they have been sent for treatment or new assignments. They need to know that future abusers will be promptly identified.
This is the only path for the church to put this all-encompassing agony behind it and to help victims heal. It will be painful, but no more than years more of revelations and apologies will be.