One year after setting off 'tsunami,' a victim talks of healing and continuing faith
It was his revelation of sexual abuse as a minor, at the hands of a Catholic priest, which began what Bishop Richard Malone later admitted was an overwhelming number of similar claims and complaints lodged against dozens of priests within the Diocese, dating back decades.
One year to the day his revelation touched off a "tsunami," as it was later described," Michael Whalen holds on to his Catholic faith but will finally do something he felt unable to do for roughly 40 years—attend Mass.
On February 27, 2018, Michael Whalen stood on the sidewalk along Main Street, near the intersection with Pearl and Edward Streets, across the street from the downtown offices of the Diocese of Buffalo. It was then and there, as part of a call to state lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act, that Whalen first revealed in public the abuse he suffered as a child.
The priest who abused him, Father Norbert Orsolits, later confessed to molesting Whalen and dozens of others when approached by the Buffalo News.
One year later, Whalen was feeling upbeat when he met one-on-one with WBFO. He is a man who has found peace.
"Where I'm at right now in my life, I'm ready to forgive him and tell him that I can forgive him," Whalen said of his abuser. "My faith tells me to forgive him."
But for four decades, while Whalen never lost his Catholic faith he struggled with the aftermath of his abuse. He turned to substance abuse and endured depression. He sought and received counseling and tells WBFO he's "at a good place in my life now."
Although he has entered a church for special occasions including weddings, he will attend his first Mass Wednesday. Whalen revealed he'll be joined by Siobhan O'Connor, who served as the executive assistant for Bishop Malone until resigning last year. She later gained national attention after admitting leaking to local media internal documents related to sexual abuse complaints.
Whalen looks forward to attending his first Mass after such a long holdout. He is hopeful other victims who have stayed away from the Church will consider doing the same.
"I pray that other victims can get to a place where I'm at," he said. "A lot of victims won't go to church or can't do it yet. I just hope that one day they can come to peace and be where I'm at right now. I'm at a great place."
In the year since his revelation, the Diocese of Buffalo introduced a compensation program, while the New York State Legislature passed and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act. Earlier this week, Gail Holler-Kennedy, a lone plaintiff alleging sexual abuse as a high school student by a now-deceased priest, filed a $300 million lawsuit against the Diocese of Buffalo, Cardinal O'Hara High School and several Franciscan Order provinces and coventuals.
While Whalen called the Catholic faith "a beautiful religion," Whalen suggests that lawsuit is justified and will renew attention on a need to address the scandal which has plagued the Church for decades. Such a lawsuit, if it were to succeed, could be financially devastating to the Diocese but Whalen suggests the Catholic faith itself can and will endure such a challenge.
"We'll survive it," he said. "We need to clean house. We need to get the hierarchy who've hid and protected these pedophile priests to step down. I think (the plaintiff) and us victims, we can rebuild the Church, I think. This religion, this beautiful religion, it's what I think we need to do."