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A year & still no action: Survivor says parish hall named for abusive priest must change

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Mike Desmond
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WBFO News
Wayne Bortle (l) and his attorney Mitchell Garabedian Thursday.

The prominent lawyer leading a sex abuse case against a dead priest is continuing his efforts to get the name of the alleged abuser taken off a Buffalo Catholic Diocese parish hall.Fr. Robert Conlin is considered credibly accused of being an abuser and is listed among the substantiated claims by the diocese. Conlin died in 1997, but the case - and perhaps cases - against him continue.

Wayne Bortle said he was groomed by the St. Mary's Church priest in its Pavilion (Genesee County) parish, an impoverished son of a single mother meeting a priest whose rectory was filled with games for kids. That was until Bortle said Conlin attacked him at age 15 in a locked rectory and he fled.

There is some fingerpointing going on over who can change the name of the hall, the parish or the diocese. One other parish has renamed its hall, removing the name of an alleged pedophile priest.

Bortle said he talked to the current pastor of St. Mary's, Fr. Innocent Diala, who told him it is not his call.

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Credit Mitchell Garabedian / bishopaccountability.org
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Fr. Robert Conlin

"That decision needed to be made by Bishop Malone and the Archdiocese of Buffalo," Bortle said. "Earlier this year, I did an interview with Jay Tokasz from the Buffalo News who covered that story. He questioned them and what did Bishop Malone and his team say? They said that it's not his decision, it's the decision of that local parish."

"What kind of message does that send?" asked attorney Mitchell Garabedian. "All are welcome to the hall named after the pedophile priest which the church refuses to remove. That's sends a negative message to the public, to parishioners, to victims, to children and their families."

Garabedian said survivors of sex abuse are being asked to attend a meeting in a hall named for a claimed abuser.

"The Catholic Church is not taking any action to help victims try to heal that is meaningful," Garabedian said. "You don't have a meeting for survivors in the church where  the hall is named after the perpetrating priest, Robert P. Conlin. You don't invite victims to a coffee hour in that hall."

Garabedian said he has filed more than 40 lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, parishes and priests. He said there will be more lawsuits targeting priests from religious orders, specifically citing the Jesuits.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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