Bishop Richard J. Malone took a giant step Tuesday toward getting right with the victims of sexual abuse by priests in the Buffalo Diocese. By releasing a list of 42 priests facing allegations, Malone and the church opened the door to a greater level of healing by both the church and the victims of sexual abuse. It’s a start. It shouldn’t be the end.
In releasing this list of names, Malone followed the example he set in his previous posting in Portland, Maine, and which many other dioceses around the country have adopted. For reasons that remain unexplained – though they may seem obvious – the Buffalo Diocese until Tuesday was operating in protection mode.
That strategy became untenable in the days since Michael F. Whalen Jr. came forward to report that, as a teenager 40 years ago, he was sexually abused by the Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits, who then acknowledged abusing “probably dozens” of teenage boys. That broke open the dam, and other victims started coming forward, sharing the pain that still haunts them and demanding an accounting from the church.
On Tuesday, Malone agreed, providing 27 names more than had previously been known. The question now is whether the list is exhaustive. Could there be more priests, either protected by or unknown to the diocese?
Whalen thinks that could be the case, and so does Tom Travers of Buffalo, who says a priest abused him in the 1970s when he was an altar boy. “My abuser is not on the list,” he said. That makes it incomplete.
What is more, Travers said the diocese has contacted him about participating in its recently created Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, meant to settle claims of sexual abuse. There’s a disconnect between those circumstances. So the question inevitably arises: What more does the church have yet to reveal?
One area for it to be more forthcoming is in priests who worked within the diocese but were members of orders located in other areas. Some worked in area schools, according to Judith Burns-Quinn, the Buffalo coordinator for SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Mitchell Garabedian would go further. A lawyer who helped expose the transfers of abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, Garabedian wants the Buffalo Diocese to release “the files of the diocese, including the secret files, which reveal the names of all the supervisors complicit in the cover-ups.”
He went on: “It’s been shown time and again in documents produced around the country that bishops knew and turned the backs on children.”
Ultimately, that’s the accounting that the Buffalo Diocese needs to make and, as painful as that will surely be, it will be less trying than the continual reporting of information that shocks the community over and over again.
Imagine if the diocese had revealed these details 10 or 15 years ago, when it became plain that the church around the world had shielded abusive priests and put children at ongoing risk. Today, in Buffalo, this would have been over.
It took great pressure for the church to come this far and, having started on this path, there should be no failure of nerve. The diocese needs to be exhaustive in its accounting, in furtherance of healing and placing its faith in the power of forgiveness.