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Ex-secretary says Buffalo bishop didn't express empathy for abuse victims

Siobhan O’Connor feared being sued by the Buffalo Diocese, or worse excommunicated from the Catholic Church she loves.

“I knew that there were definitely some serious repercussions I could face, most likely legal,” said O’Connor.

Nonetheless, O’Connor said the injustices she saw and heard while working as administrative assistant to Bishop Richard J. Malone compelled her to leak hundreds of internal church documents to a Buffalo television station in August.

“Nothing they could do to me would be worse than my doing nothing,” she said.

The leaks intensified a clergy sex abuse scandal in the diocese that began in March and now includes calls for Bishop Richard J. Malone to resign, a state Attorney General’s Office investigation and a federal probe.

O’Connor, 35, was not publicly identified as the source of the leaked information until late last week. She was interviewed for a “60 Minutes” story that aired Sunday about the Buffalo Diocese scandal.

Late Sunday, she told The News in a telephone interview that her disenchantment with Malone’s handling of the sex abuse crisis in Buffalo “was a gradual but steady process” that began with the diocese’s failure to respond to calls from victims of clergy sex abuse who were suffering in silence.

“They weren’t having their calls returned,” she said. “That was the start of my grave concern.”

O’Connor ended up speaking with many of the victims who called the bishop’s office after getting no response from the "hotline" number that the diocese had provided. She said that when she told Malone about the victims she “never saw him express much empathy.”

Priest criticizes bishop on '60 Minutes'

The Rev. Robert Zilliox, pastor of St. Mary Church in Swormville, also told "60 Minutes" that Malone had ignored his recommendations on several abuse cases and that "at least eight or nine" priests should have been taken out of the priesthood due to abuse allegations, but were not.

Zilliox, a canon lawyer, advised Malone on church law, including abuse cases involving clergy.

"It's beyond troubling. That's not the church. The church is holy," said Zilliox, who said he was abused by a priest when he was 13. "Those are individuals in the church who are weak and who have made very bad decisions. And because of that, they need to be held accountable for what they've done."

A diocesan spokeswoman on Monday issued a statement saying the "60 Minutes story was "incomplete, out of context and in some cases plainly inaccurate" and that the diocese will provide information in the days ahead that would add perspective.

Kathy Spangler, the spokeswoman, did not return a voicemail and email message seeking responses to specific questions about statements made by O'Connor and Zilliox.

"We know that some clergy and lay people have chosen to speak their minds and publicize confidential documents about the current crisis in our diocese. These individuals say they acted according to their consciences. We take them at their word, as we did before," the statement continued. "If they have any specific matters that they believe need to be addressed, we would appreciate that information."

O'Connor: Identify more abusers  

O’Connor said she regularly expressed concerns to the bishop about how the scandal was being managed, only to be rebuffed or ignored.

"What was frustrating was in the past, before this all erupted, my opinion would be welcomed, or sometimes requested,” she said.

O’Connor recalled objecting vigorously in March when Malone wanted to release a list of the names of Buffalo priests who had been accused of molesting children, because Malone and the diocesan lawyers had whittled the list to 42 priests. O’Connor said she knew that dozens of other priests also had been accused of sexual abuse and were not on the list.

O’Connor said she sent the bishop an email: “It should include everything we know, everything we have,” she argued.

It later got back to her that Malone didn’t appreciate her advice on the matter, she said.

O'Connor described the clergy list as an effort to placate critics of the diocese's handling of abuse complaints by revealing as few names as possible and then hoping the situation would blow over.

"It was the most chaotic and embarassing and absurd process. I was suspicious of it from the get go," she said.

One of the priests who was left off the list was the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski. Malone allowed Maryanski to stay in ministry in a parish, despite a 1995 allegation that he had sexual contact with a female parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Barker starting when the girl was 15.

O’Connor said she was especially frustrated by the bishop’s lack of response after two young adult men accused the Rev. Robert Yetter of making unwanted sexual advances on them. O’Connor said she spoke with one of the men and with the mother of the other man making the allegations.

O’Connor said Malone knew about the allegations and sat on them.

“Despite the advice of the review board and senior staff, the bishop was doing nothing,” she said. ”It made me almost literally sick to my stomach.”

O’Connor started working for Malone in 2015. She said she meshed well with the bishop and felt that she would stay in the job for many years.

“It was a dream job, I told everyone,” she said. “And it devolved into a nightmare within three years.”

More than 70 Buffalo priests publicly linked to sex allegations

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