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Child sex abuse survivor, advocate say Diocesan list doesn't go far enough

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo ended a decades-long policy of withholding the names of clergy accused of sexually abusing minors. That changed Tuesday when the Diocese released the names of 42 priests who were removed, retired or otherwise left active ministry amid abuse accusations. Survivors of abuse and their advocates say the list is a start but doesn't go far enough to address past wrongdoing.

The list released Tuesday morning by the Diocese of Buffalo identifies 42 priests who were, according to officials, "removed from ministry, were retired or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor" and faced more than one accusation. Of the 42 priests identified, 24 are deceased.

Diocesan officials said there would be no local interviews granted Tuesday. However, Bishop Richard Malone offered comments to the Buffalo News while on a trip to Albany.

"I have just become more and more convinced it was time to put those names out," he told the newspaper. "The main reasons are really transparency."

Tom Travers, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, says the Diocese of Buffalo is being "semi-transparent" with the release of the list. He also told WBFO that list is incomplete and omits the name of his own alleged abuser, the late Monsignor Sylvester Holbel, who died in 1983.

"I've been invited into the reconciliation program that the Buffalo diocese has forwarded," Travers said. "I've received a letter from them yet they fail to acknowledge Monsignor Holbel in their current list."

A diocesan official explained to WBFO that under the parameters used to prepare the list, clergy who did not face accusations in their lifetime and were accused only once were not included. But the official added that by reaching out to Travers and inviting him to participate in the diocesan reconciliation and compensation program, they are taking his accusation seriously.

Additionally, Bishop Richard Malone told the Buffalo News that the list does not include the names of priests who served in churches or schools but belonged to religious orders. 

Advocates for childhood sexual abuse victims say simply releasing names does not go far enough. Additional information, such as where these priests served at the time of the alleged abuses, must also be disclosed. 

"We think it's very important for a public safety standpoint that people know exactly where these fellows were and exactly where the living folks are," said Patrick Wall, a former priest and now victim advocate for the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, which last week released its own report identifying 13 priests that are included in the Diocese list. 

The list put out by the Diocese does not include any information beyond names. Wall says records including where these men served may be obtained through a handful of public sources.

"When you look at a priest's personnel file that's sitting in their chancery office, it's usually the first or second page where it lists everywhere he has been," Wall said. "The Roman Church publishes their tax report to the IRS every year in the form of a book called the Official Catholic Directory. In there, you can begin to put together an assignment history of where the various priests are. The second public document that's available is the Catholic directory that's put out by the Diocese of Buffalo themselves."

The Diocese of Buffalo, earlier this month, announced a reconciliation and compensation program that reaches out to those who have already filed complaints against clergy. Melanie Blow, chief operating officer of the Stop The Abuse Campaign, said it's a good idea and better than doing nothing but it remains inadequate. 

"It certainly doesn't make up for the wrongs they have been doing, in terms of keeping all these secrets, in terms of shuffling all these priests around and around for decades and in terms of fighting against the Child Victims Act which will benefit survivors of all forms of abuse," Blow said. 

The Catholic Church has expressed its opposition to New York State's proposed Child Victims Act, which would allow those abused as children to pursue legal action as adults. Currently, the statute of limitations cuts off the ability to sue at age 23. 

Travers says many victims need many years to come to terms with their trauma before they speak out.

"I was 48 years old when I went back into the church where I was abused and it took me about a year after that to begin publicly speaking about it," he said. "The 40 years before that, I was not able to speak publicly about it and the few people I did go to did not receive me in the right way. I felt as though I was being re-victimized by them."

The Child Victims Act is included in Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal and has the support of the New York State Assembly. It has stalled in the State Senate, however, for more than a decade.

The proposed act is also opposed by the Orthodox Jewish community and the Boy Scouts of America.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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