An advocate and childhood sex abuse survivor have come forward calling on Bishop Malone to release the names and files of abusive clergymen in the Buffalo Diocese.
Bishop Richard J. Malone is reconsidering a longstanding Catholic Diocese of Buffalo policy that withholds the names of priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.
Publicizing the names of clergy alleged to have molested children would reverse a tradition that’s been in place for more than 15 years.
“We’re looking at it anew,” Malone said following his recent announcement that the diocese has established a new fund to compensate victims of clergy sex abuse.
A retired priest’s admission in February that he molested “probably dozens” of boys in the 1970s and 1980s re-ignited concerns that clergy sexual abuse in Western New York was more devastating and widespread than accounts provided so far by diocesan leaders. The Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits admitted the abuse to The News after a South Buffalo resident accused the priest of molesting him on a ski trip in the early 1980s. The admissions prompted additional allegations against Orsolits, as well as new public accusations against other priests.
Victims’ advocates for years have called for greater transparency from the diocese, including the release of names of clergy alleged to have molested children. Withholding names, they argue, fosters secrecy that allows the abuse scandal to fester.
“It’s the secrecy that’s the problem,” said Judith Burns-Quinn, coordinator of the Western New York chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “They are a victim of the system that’s protected their abusers.”
Diocesan officials revealed in 2003 that they had received 93 complaints of sexual abuse against 53 clergy since 1950. The numbers were part of a diocesan “self study” of personnel files that was mandated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in new norms for dealing with child sexual abuse cases. The bishops adopted the new standards in the wake of molestation scandals in the Archdiocese of Boston and in dozens of other dioceses across the country. Since 2003, the diocese has received 15 to 20 additional complaints, according to attorney Terrance Connors, who represents the diocese.
The diocesan policy of not naming accused priests has not yet changed. This past week, a diocesan spokesman refused to confirm if the diocese had received a complaint of abuse against the Rev. Linus Hennessy, a Franciscan friar who had taught at Bishop Timon High School.
The spokesman, George Richert, said the diocese would not confirm whether allegations had been made against individual priests.
Allegations of abuse, for the victims, are too sensitive and too personal for the diocese to discuss publicly, he said.
“We promised to be confidential,” he said.
Buffalo resident Tino Flores in 2015 publicly accused Hennessy of sexually abusing him in the 1970s. Hennessy died in 1983. Malone said at the time Flores made his public accusation that the diocese offered to arrange counseling and that the complaint was referred to the Order of Friars Minor, the order to which Hennessy belonged.
Flores provided to The Buffalo News a 2013 letter from Brother Edward Coughlin of the Holy Name Province of the Order of Friars Minor to Dr. Philip Scozzaro, Flores’ physician, stating that Coughlin did not know if Flores was abused “or the extent of any abuse on the part of Fr. Hennessy.” The letter referenced the possibility of a $50,000 financial settlement.
Diocesan officials have long maintained that Buffalo has had relatively few bad apple priests and that those priests weren’t shuffled from parish to parish, as in other dioceses where the abuse scandals exploded. Victims say it’s impossible to know if that’s true because the diocese has provided little accounting of who abused children or how it handled cases. The diocese also has never made clear if its accounting of 53 clergy includes just diocesan priests and deacons, or if it counts clergy from religious orders, such as Franciscan friars and Jesuits, that served in Western New York.
The Buffalo News has compiled a list of 19 priests that have been publicly accused of child sex abuse, mostly in criminal or civil court cases.