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Two victims seek papal investigation into past sexual abuse

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Two Western New Yorkers are calling on Pope Francis to investigate their cases of sexual abuse against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

Vanessa DeRosa, 25, of Niagara Falls and Tino Flores, 50, of Buffalo, described their allegations during a Tuesday morning news conference in Amherst. They are being represented by the law firm Hogan Willig. 

Flores says he was only ten years old in 1973 when the abuse occurred at the hands of Father Linus Hennessy. Flores offered a graphic description of the abuse. 

Father Linus Hennessey.

"He started touching me, taking my hand and rubbing his leg, unzipping his pants [and] putting my hand in it," described the Buffalo man.

A young Tino Flores.

Hennessy is now deceased. Flores says the Diocese offered him a $50,000 settlement, but he did not accept. 

DeRosa, from Niagara Falls, reported repeated abuse by a teacher, Christian Butler, at St. Dominic Savio Middle School in Niagara Falls. The teacher was charged and served prison time, but the reporters of abuse to the Diocese never reported her case.

Former school teacher Christian Butler.

"He asked me to have sex in the back of his car. He asked me to babysit his nonexistent children in return for sexual favors," said DeRosa.  

The middle school is no longer open.

A young Vanessa DeRosa during her time at the school.

Both DeRosa and Flores say the Diocese failed to respond properly. The statue of limitations is preventing both from seeking proper recourse.

DeRosa said when she initially tried to tell a priest at the school about the incident, he would not listen to her plea.

"Father Stewart Lindsay is the priest who's in charge of the school," DeRosa said. "He wouldn't let me speak.  He actually, at one point when I was trying to explain what happened, put his fingers in his ears and said 'la la la, I'm not listening to you.' He wouldn't let me even tell him what happened. He said that they did their own investigation and they found nothing."

“We’re hopeful this action will assist both Vanessa and Tino to receive some emotional closure in their troubled lives,” said Diane Tiveron, Managing Partner at the law firm of HoganWillig.  

The law firm was informed that the Vatican had received the letter.  The following is the text of the letter issued to the Pope:

His Holiness, Pope Francis

Apostolic Palace

00120 Vatican City, Italy

Dear Pope Francis:

We are two victims of child abuse in the Catholic system writing to ask for a Papal investigation of the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, USA, which has been very unhelpful in answering our cries for help.  The statute of limitations has expired in both of our cases, removing any hope of a legal remedy.  We have been following your dedication to exposing and healing this problem in the world, and are writing to you now to tell our story and pray for justice.  Our stories of abuse and neglect by the Church are different yet similar, and we have united in our desire for closure and peace.

My name is Vanessa DeRosa.  I was a student at the St. Dominic Savio Middle School in Niagara Falls.  During the 2002-2003 school year, when I was only 13 years old, I was sexually harassed, abused, and exposed to pornography by my teacher, Christian Butler.  On numerous occasions, Mr. Butler tried to kiss me and asked for sexual favors.  I was pressured to:  “get naked”, have sex in his car, take off my clothing, and many other abuses.  Mr. Butler has admitted his guilt in a court of law.  When I reported the abuse to the school’s principal, Patricia Muscatello, and Canonical Liaison, Father Stewart Lindsay, they defended Mr. Butler.  Since this abuse, I have found myself unable to trust anyone in a position of authority, especially members of the Church, and have been a victim of further abuse in almost every relationship I’ve had since.  When I told my story to the Diocese of Buffalo, I was rejected due to the fact the statute of limitations has expired on bringing any lawsuit for the abuse I suffered.  A picture of me from 2002, at age 13, is enclosed with this letter.

My name is Antonio “Tino” Flores.  In 1973, when I was 10 years old, my mother sought help from the Catholic Church in raising me and my three siblings by herself.  Father Linus Hennessy was introduced to us, and immediately became a “father figure” to me.  However, Father Hennessy would quickly began to abuse me sexually – first once a week, then daily, for the next five years.  The abuse included oral sex, masturbation, and attempted intercourse.  My live was forever ruined by this abuse, and has caused me overwhelming stress, psychological trauma, depression, physical illness, and panic disorders.  When I told my story to the Diocese of Buffalo, I was rejected due to the fact the statute of limitations has expired on bringing any lawsuit for the abuse I suffered.  A picture of me at around age 11 is enclosed with this letter.

On behalf of everyone who has suffered abuse, we thank you for your time in hearing our cry for help, and pray for an answer.

Vanessa DeRosa                                                                                            Antonio “Tino” Flores

Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone issued the following statement late Tuesday afternoon:

I am always deeply saddened when I hear reports of this kind of pain and suffering.

Each of these cases occurred before my tenure as Bishop of Buffalo, but I have inquired and found that these cases were handled in accordance with policies and procedures enacted by our Diocese and consistent with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  Our policies are subject to an independent audit each year and we have been found to be in compliance every year.

The first case was reported to the Order of Friars Minor in 2008 because Father Hennessey was a member of that Order.  Father Hennessey had died years before the matter was reported.  The Franciscans handled this matter according to their own policies and procedures, offering counseling to Mr. Flores that the Diocese of Buffalo volunteered to arrange.  The Diocese has never made a monetary offer to Mr. Flores.

The other case was investigated thoroughly in connection with a criminal prosecution against the teacher and a lawsuit brought on behalf of two other individuals by Ms. DeRosa’s law firm.  The Diocese cooperated fully and completely with the authorities in the criminal case.  When lawyers for Ms. DeRosa forwarded a lawsuit to us on her behalf, we referred it to our lawyers, who were in discussions with lawyers for Ms. DeRosa regarding the assistance available to her from our Diocese when they decided to initiate a public news conference.

Mr. Butler was sentenced to a term of incarceration.

I want to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who has been abused by clergy or other Church representatives to make a report to law enforcement and the diocese.