BUFFALO, NY (WBFO) – A Boston-based attorney representing more than a dozen church sexual abuse victims in Western New York provided some details about the settlement offers tendered by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, calling some fair but others “re-victimizing.” And as he and other advocates have done numerous times before, they called on Bishop Richard Malone to reveal all details about cases and resign his post.
Mitchell Garabedian did not appear in person at the news conference held across the street from the Diocese of Buffalo’s downtown headquarters. He relayed his thoughts through a smartphone held by Robert Hoatson, co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, which has on numerous occasions publicly introduced victims of alleged abuses and called repeatedly for the resignation of Bishop Richard Malone.
“In what company would a CEO last if he or she would have covered up sexual abuse, and mishandled cases of sexual abuse, as has Bishop Richard Malone, without being fired?” Hoatson asked in his opening remarks.
According to information released by Garabedia, the complaints by his 13 clients allege childhood sexual abuses dating as far back as 1959 and as recent as 1988. The ages of the victims, at the time of their incidents, range from 8 years old to 17 years old. In two cases, two priests are accused of abusing the same victims.
The information released does not identify the accusers but one was present Thursday. It was Michael Whalen, who in late February was the first to publicly disclose his case against Father Norbert Orsolits, who later confessed to the Buffalo News he had indeed abused minors.
The cash offers, according to Garabedian, range from $10,000 to $340,000. While he did not disclose a dollar amount, Whalen stated his offer was toward the lower end of the scale. Garabedian later revealed the amount to be “less than $50,000.”
“I would like to know how you can offer a settlement to one victim of $10,000 and then to another victim hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Whalen said. “What is the process? How do you discriminate against what a person’s life is worth? I don’t understand how they go about it.”
Whalen stated that for four decades, he coped with his abuse in private and admitted turning to alcohol and drug abuse along the way. He received treatment which was paid from his own pocket. He explained that he now lives on disability payments which allow him to pay his mortgage and other bills but leave him little else. Whalen told reporters he had a mere nine cents left in his bank account after those bills were paid but was getting help from his children.
“For forty years I’ve dealt with this and it didn’t even come close to covering all the counseling I’ve gone through, and drug rehabs and alcohol rehabs. It takes a lot out of you,” he said.
Garabedian relayed the message through the phone held by Hoatson that what the victims are really looking for through the Diocese of Buffalo’s compensation program is admission by the diocese of its past mistakes.
“Money would help me, yes. It would help me a lot, believe me. But it’s not that. It’s the validation that they hid these priests, that they moved them around and they knew all about it for years and years and years, and did nothing,” Whalen said.
What he especially finds hurtful is that, in his words, Orsolits has remained on the diocesan payroll and “sits pretty in his little cabin in the woods” and doesn’t have to worry about a mortgage or bills.
“And didn’t the bishop just renovate his new residence for the tune of almost a quarter-million dollars?” Hoatson added.
WBFO contacted the Diocese of Buffalo seeking a statement Thursday morning. A diocesan spokeswoman returned the message Thursday evening, offering several points:
- Awards have recently been issued by the Administrators of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP)
- They are not settlement offers from the Diocese
- According to the Program, the claimant is free to accept or reject the awards issued by the Administrators
- The Diocese is bound by whatever the claimant decides
- The IRCP claimants are not bound by confidentiality, and are free to publicly discuss their claim and any aspect of the IRCP process
- The Diocese, however, is bound by confidentiality and will not be commenting on specific claims
Advocates standing outside the diocesan headquarters Thursday, in addition to their renewed calls for full disclosure of cases and the bishop’s resignation, expressed support for passage of the Child Victims Act, which would ease statutes of limitation and let more adults, victimized as children, pursue civil actions. Whalen, who rejected his settlement offer, suggests he’ll consider filing a lawsuit if the act is passed.
“If that’s what it comes out to, yes,” he said. “I’m praying that this Child Victims Act does get passed as soon as the new people in office start the new year.”
Democrats are set to take over the majority in the State Senate, where the proposal has stalled for a dozen years under previous leadership. The bill has previously been passed by the Assembly and Governor Cuomo has included signing the Child Victims Act among his priorities in the first 100 days of his new term.
One of the conditions of the act would be to add clergy to the list of those who would be mandated by law to report claims of sexual abuse to authorities. Garabedian, in a written statement released after the Buffalo news conference, suggests rank-and-file priests would not necessarily abide by those rules: “Mandatory reporting laws, although a step in the right direction, are not a substitute for amending the statute of limitations with regard to sexual abuse claims. Pedophile priests and their culpable supervisors will only continue the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse without amending the statute of limitations because mandatory reporting laws will not be adhered to by culpable supervisors who practice cover-ups.
“If entering a compensation program helps a clergy sexual abuse victim try to move on, then the victim should enter into the program. Whether to enter into a program or not is a personal choice for a victim of clergy sexual abuse which requires a lot of thought and soul searching.”
James Faluszczak, a former priest and himself a sexual abuse survivor, suggests the panel assembled by the diocese to review cases under its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program lacks the objectivity needed to bring out the whole truth about abuse cases. Two former judges, Jerome Gorski and Barbara Howe, were appointed to conduct reviews for the program. But critics say their Catholic roots create a potential conflict of interest.
“If they are appointing Catholic judges, all that that says is here is somebody who potentially has a conflict of interest, who might hold back a fair judgement, against a victim or in favor of a victim, in the interest of protecting the church which they are practicing members of and are perhaps serving,” he said.