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Local priest reflects on impact of "60 Minutes" story

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The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo will be in the national spotlight  Sunday night when the CBS news program "60 Minutes" airs a segment on the response to the clergy abuse scandal here. Siobhan O'Connor, former administrative aide to Bishop Richard Malone, will discuss her release of confidential documents related to the scandal.

Fr. Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Orchard Park, said he has mixed emotions about O'Connor did.

"She spoke best when she said her heart is heavy as a whistleblower but her soul is at peace," Seil said.

But Seil said he and other priests have concerns the release of email exchanges between the Bishop and his attorneys appears to violate the legal concept of attorney-client privilege.

"We're all struggling with this. All the priests in the diocese are struggling with the question of whether she did the right thing," Seil said. "Have we been forward enough? Have we spoken out enough? These are questions all priests are asking today."

A second priest has now come forward to admit that he, too, was a victim of clergy abuse. Fr. Robert Zilliox, the new pastor at St. Mary's Church in Swormville, informed his parishioners via a letter Saturday that he was abused 40 years ago when he was 13. Zilliox did not name the priest or provide any details about what happened.

Seil said it took courage for Zilliox to share such a painful memory.

"I know Fr. Zilliox. He is committed. He is very  well educated," Seil said. "I think him coming out with this story is extremely powerful."

Zilliox is a canon lawyer, who advised Bishop Richard Malone prior to his parish assignment. Zilliox, who will be interviewed by "60 Minutes," said in his letter to St. Mary's parishioners that he became disillusioned when his recommendations for responding to the clergy abuse scandal were ignored.

Earlier this year, Fr. Ryszard Biernat, who serves as secretary to Bishop Malone, said he was abused by a priest while he was in the seminary.

Malone declined to be interviewed for "60 Minutes." He released a statement saying he and his staff question the roster of interview subjects selected for the segment. Malone said he has already sat down with two local journalists to discuss the controversy.

Malone has invited all priests in the diocese to a meeting on November 5th to discuss the controversy. Seil said the invitation includes language that left him asking many questions.

"The one thing that troubles me was a crytptic line in there that says you'll hear about what implications this might have on your ministry as a priest. What does that mean?" Seil asked. "Do I have to get a lawyer? Do I have to be worried about different aspects of my priesthood? What does this all mean to us?"