Siobhan O’Connor, the former Buffalo Diocese employee identified as the source of clergy sexual abuse documents leaked to a local television station, has retained Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian to represent her in potential legal fallout related to the whistleblowing.
Garabedian gained national prominence in 2002 as pivotal figure in the unraveling of the cover-up of clergy sexual abuses in the Archdiocese of Boston, and he represents dozens of victims seeking compensation from the Buffalo Diocese.
O’Connor, 35, worked as Bishop Richard J. Malone’s administrative assistant from 2015 until this past August, when she left the diocese for another job.
She revealed this week that she was the source of hundreds of pages of emails, memos and other documents that ended up in the hands of WKBW-TV, which then aired a series of reports critical of Malone’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment and inappropriate behavior.
Soon after the reports, the diocese took steps to identify the leaker and clamped down on security. A spokeswoman for the diocese did not respond to multiple requests Thursday and Friday to comment on O'Connor and the leaked documents.
The leaks to WKBW-TV followed many months of media scrutiny of the diocese’s ongoing cover up of clergy sexual abuse and escalated a growing crisis in the diocese that now includes multiple calls for Malone to step down; a civil investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office; and a federal probe.
O’Connor also provided documents to "60 Minutes," the CBS news magazine show, which is scheduled to broadcast a story Sunday on a cover-up of abuses in the Buffalo Diocese.
Malone declined to be interviewed by "60 Minutes." He sent a statement to diocese priests and employees Friday saying that the diocese was focused on protecting children and reconciling with victims of abuse, which includes broadening its policies and protections against abuse to adults, as well as children; instituting a compensation program for childhood victims of abuse; and hiring a former FBI agent to monitor professional responsibilities and obligations.
“We continue to reach out to victims, remove clergy with substantiated allegations from ministry and cooperate with federal and state investigations,” the statement reads. “Sometimes it feels like the weight of this scandal will never pass, but by doing what is necessary and what is possible, one day we will restore confidence and earn the support of the faithful of our diocese.”
The Buffalo Diocese scandal first erupted after retired Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits admitted to The Buffalo News in February that he had molested “probably dozens” of boys.
Following Orsolits’ admission, O’Connor fielded many calls to the bishop’s office from childhood victims of clergy abuse, and in May she wrote about her experiences in an opinion column in The Buffalo News. She called it an “immense privilege” to speak with victims and urged “compassionate support” for them.
Garabedian represents Michael F. Whalen Jr., a Buffalo man who in February publicly accused Orsolits of molesting him on a ski outing more than 35 years ago.
Garabedian was portrayed by actor Stanley Tucci in “Spotlight,” the Academy Award winning film depicting the Boston Globe’s coverage of the priest scandal. He has been a regular critic of the Buffalo Diocese and has frequently called upon Malone to be more transparent by releasing to the public the personnel files of priests accused of sex abuse.
Clergy to meet on abuse
Malone, who was an auxiliary bishop in Boston during the outbreak of the scandal there, has apologized for his missteps in Buffalo and said he will not resign. He is scheduled Monday to go on a weeklong retreat to St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass.
He has asked all priests and transitional deacons in the Buffalo Diocese to gather Nov. 5 at Infant of Prague Church in Cheektowaga to discuss the sex abuse scandal.
“Your attendance is essential in order to hear directly from me and others regarding important aspects of the process of what has been done and what will be done for victims of abuse and those accused,” Malone said in a letter to clergy. “This information will assist you to personally understand the current situation and also aid you as you minister to your people.”
Permanent deacons, who are considered ordained clergy in the Catholic church, were not included in the invitation. Two permanent deacons are the only clergy to have gone on record urging Malone to resign.
Deacon Paul L. Snyder III, who asked Malone in August to step down, wrote to U.S. Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre earlier this month stating that Malone’s handling of the crisis “scandalized the Diocese of Buffalo and had a severely detrimental impact on the faithful people of Western New York.”
Pierre responded recently to Snyder’s letter, thanking the deacon for bringing the current circumstances in the Buffalo Diocese to his attention.
“I want to assure you that your correspondence, including the enclosures, has been attentively examined and noted,” Pierre wrote. “I can assure you that, even before I received your letter, events within the Diocese of Buffalo had not escaped my attention.”