Whalen on AG's lawsuit against Catholic Diocese: 'A big stepping stone'
His revelation nearly three years ago of sexual abuse by a priest within the Diocese of Buffalo touched off a wave of further complaints, which soon led to the departure of former diocesan leaders. Michael Whalen, when asked about the lawsuit filed against the diocese Monday by the New York State Attorney General, called the action "a big stepping stone" toward justice.
On Monday, Attorney General Letitia James announced a lawsuit against the Diocese, Bishop Emeritus Richard Malone, retired Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz and current apostolic administrator Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, which contends the Diocese and its former top leaders failed to protect minors from clergy sexual abuse. It is alleged they did so by neglecting to follow prevention guidelines set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, by transferring accused clergy in order to avoid Vatican scrutiny and removal, and by misusing charitable assets to provide support to many of those accused priests.
"With the Attorney General suing the Diocese, we'll be able to see exactly how much abuse was going on for decades, if not you know, a couple of decades going on here," said Michael Whalen, whose appearance on a Buffalo street corner in February 2018 would become just the first of numerous stories to emerge of alleged past sexual abuse by clergy.
In addition to the lawsuit, Attorney General James filed a motion that, if granted, would order the Diocese to reveal the names of all accused clergy and detail their alleged misdeeds. Arguments are scheduled to be heard December 10 in New York City.
"I think for me and, I know, for a bunch of survivors, I think that is more justice than anything," Whalen said. "To know that in the files, they knew, and they hid, and they moved these priests around. For us and survivors, I think that is what we want to see, mostly."
The Diocese of Buffalo issued a written statement Monday following the Attorney General's announcement: "We will be reviewing this lawsuit just announced by the New York Attorney General and weighing the Diocese’s response. In the meantime, we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer. The Diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by. Moreover, the Diocese has committed to full cooperation with all civil authorities in both the reporting and investigation of alleged crimes and complaints."
Whalen named Father Norbert Orsolits as his childhood abuser. The Buffalo News later approached the retired priest, who confessed to reporters misconduct involving several victims.
Whalen's tale caught the attention of Bishop Malone's then executive assistant, Siobhan O'Connor, who later leaked diocesan documents to news media and became a whistleblower in the clergy sex abuse scandal. Whalen credits her support, and the willingness of others to believe his story, with helping him along the path to healing.
He is at peace with his life, telling WBFO his grandchildren keep him grounded. He also says despite his abuse, he never really quit on his faith.
"I'm good," Whalen said. "My prayers are being answered. With what the AG did, you know, it's these little things, these little miracles that happen with my faith. I've never lost it. I said it from the beginning. I've never lost it. God and I are in a great place together. So yeah, I'm in a great place. I'm happy."