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'My life was ruined': Abuse victim calls diocese settlement offer insulting

A West Seneca man whose story of being sexually abused by a priest helped unleash a tsunami of other abuse victims coming forward said Thursday that the Buffalo Diocese’s offer to pay him less than $50,000 to settle his abuse claim was insulting.

Michael F. Whalen Jr. returned to the spot on Main Street, across from the diocese’s headquarters, where in February he publicly accused the Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits of molesting him in 1979 and said that he felt victimized all over again by the diocese’s offer because it was so low.

After Whalen went public with his allegation, Orsolits admitted to The Buffalo News that decades ago he molested dozens of boys.

“My life was ruined by this man and I would like to know how they came to this number. I would like to know the process of this, because I don’t understand it. I really don’t,” said Whalen.

Whalen, 53, is among 13 clients represented by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian who have received offers as part of the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.

Garabedian said the offers to his clients ranged from $10,000 to $340,000.

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Buffalo Diocese Bishop Richard J. Malone tells reporters Sept. 4, 2019, at St. Joseph's Cathedral Rectory in Buffalo that he won't resign despite criticism of his handling a clergy sexual abuse scandal and a complaint that a priest sexually  harassed an adult  seminarian. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Whalen and Garabedian declined to specify the exact amount offered to Whalen, but Garabedian said it was less than $50,000.

“It was just an insult to me and my family,” said Whalen, whose accusation against Orsolits sparked the unraveling of decades of coverup of clergy sex abuse in the Buffalo Diocese.

Whalen said he was on a ski outing with Orsolits when the priest gave him alcohol and marijuana and then abused him inside the priest’s cottage home in the Town of Ashford. Whalen was 14 at the time, he said.

Whalen’s news conference on a Tuesday morning in late February prompted Orsolits’ stunning admissions and helped trigger other revelations of clergy sex abuse, along with the unraveling of decades of coverup in the Buffalo Diocese.

When asked at Thursday’s news conference whether he felt he was being punished for stepping forward publicly, Whalen responded: “Who knows? It could be. I have no idea.”

He said he rejected the diocese’s offer and will likely sue, if state lawmakers pass a bill that would allow childhood sex abuse victims an opportunity for civil redress in state courts that hasn’t existed under the current statute of limitations on abuse cases.

“I’m praying that this Child Victims Act does get passed as soon as the new senators and people in office start this new year. I’m hoping this gets passed as soon as possible,” he said.

The diocese hired two retired judges to determine the amount of the awards. The offers made public so far range from a low of $10,000 to a high of $650,000. The diocese has not said how many of the more than 100 people who applied for compensation will get awards or the total amount available for abuse victims.

“It hurt me and it hurt my family to see these other settlements coming out where you see hundreds of thousands of dollars. How do they get to that point? How can one person’s pain and abuse be different from another person. Abuse is abuse, no matter what it is,” said Whalen.

Robert Hoatson, a former priest who was abused and now advocates on behalf of other clergy sex abuse victims, said that Whalen suffered “horrific” abuse as a youngster.

Whalen said the abuse has haunted him for nearly 40 years, and the settlement offer doesn’t come close to covering the costs of his counseling sessions and drug and alcohol rehabilitation over that time.

At the same time, he said, Orsolits remains a priest and continues to receive retirement income from the diocese. The diocese quietly removed Orsolits from active ministry in 2003, but the priest has not been defrocked.

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