A church sex abuse victim returns to Mass: 'Powerful, moving, healing'
On the first anniversary of his public disclosure of childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, Michael Whalen made good on a vow to attend a Mass. Joining Whalen and his wife for his first Mass in 40 years was another prominent figure in the Diocese of Buffalo's sexual abuse crisis, the woman who shared internal case information with local media and further exposed the scale of alleged abuses over the past several decades.
Whalen, who spoke with WBFO one day before the anniversary of his revelation, waited with his wife Maria outside St. Louis Catholic Church on Main Street. It was on that sidewalk where, one year before, he told his story of being abused by Father Norbert Orsolits. On this day, he spoke with two local television stations about his decision to attend Mass for the first time in four decades. It was, as he explained, the next step toward healing.
Siobhan O'Connor arrived a few moments later. She became a significant part of the diocesan sex abuse crisis last year after she shared internal documents regarding abuse cases with local news media, while working as the executive assistant to Bishop Richard Malone. She later resigned from her position.
O'Connor explained Wednesday that while she and Michael Whalen had previously exchanged correspondence, this was the first time they were actually meeting face to face. O'Connor, who worked as the executive assistant to Bishop Richard Malone until resigning last year, wept as she first embraced Michael. and then his wife. They then went inside.
'To me, it really shows another depth of Michael's heroism," O'Connor said following Mass. "Because he has replaced what could really be hatred with healing and with the ability to forgive."
Whalen again stated that he'd had no idea that sharing his tale in public would lead to numerous claims and accusations surfacing. More than 100 priests who served in the Diocese of Buffalo, living and deceased, are accused of misdeeds dating back decades. Some cases will reopen later this summer when the Child Victims Act, signed into law in January, opens a one-year window to revisit cases currently closed by statutes of limitation.
As he told WBFO one day before, he hopes other victims may find the strength to return to church and find the peace he has found since his public revelation.
"Having the kids here made it all worthwhile. It was so joyful to hear their voices," said Whalen about some of a small group of children, under the care of a nun, who also were in attendance at Wednesday Mass.
"I thanked her and the kids for being there," he continued. "I told her who I was and that I haven't been to church in 40 years and having the kids there meant a lot to me. I thanked them for being there."
O'Connor introduced Whalen to Monsignor Salvatore Manganello, who presided over the Mass and welcomed him in a brief conversation.
Whalen again spoke of his willingness to forgive Father Norbert Orsolits. He was asked if he may one day be willing to forgive Bishop Malone.
He's not ready to do that. He's still critical of how the bishop and other diocesan leaders have managed accusations and compensation.
"I don't think I can forgive the bishop," Whalen said. "Father Orsolits, I think I can, because he's admitted to it. He was the only priest, I think, that (had) come out and admitted what he'd done was wrong."