Bishop Henry J. Mansell
Bishop from 1995-2003
Victim advocate Robert Hoatson summed up the thoughts of many Catholics this week when he said, “Buffalo, New York is Boston, Massachusetts West. We now know that through at least the last four or five bishops here, there has been a massive cover-up of child sexual abuse.”
The victims he has been advocating for -- starting with Michael Whalen of South Buffalo -- have shown a courage that blew the lid off a scandal that's implicated more than 65 Catholic priests in Buffalo.
That, of course, leaves many to wonder: How -- especially after the Boston scandal 16 years ago -- did Buffalo’s bishops manage to keep the abuse secret for so long.
“What the priests did was one thing, it was wrong. but the way they've handled it is ten times worse,” said Daniel Bauer, a victim from Jamestown.
The Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s 2002 investigation into clerical abuse in the Boston Archdiocese was the spark that set off an inferno of abuse scandals worldwide, forcing bishops like Buffalo's Henry J. Mansell to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy for child sex abuse.
“In any incidence of child abuse, no matter when, no matter what has happened since then, the priest cannot serve in active ministry,” Mansell said during a homily that year.
But the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Young People adopted by American bishops in 2002 also called for them to be "transparent" in telling the public about abuse -- and that's one area where the Diocese of Buffalo has historically fallen short.
Mansell in 2003 said he removed "various priests" but refused to say when and where the abuse took place. The bishop and his number two man, Monsignor Robert Cunningham, also refused to give any names of pedophile priests.
"Any priest who has abused a minor will not have a position of responsibility, will not have a ministry in the Catholic Church," Mansell said back then.
The Buffalo News in 2003 identified two priests -- Robert Wood and Thomas McCarthy -- who were removed for abuse.
But recent reporting and internal church records obtained by 7 Eyewitness News suggest as many as 10 more priests who were at some point accused of abuse were either left in parishes, hidden in unknown locations or in the most egregious cases, quietly forced to retire.
- Fathers Norbert Orsolits, Donald Becker and Martin Pavlock -- all who are now on the diocese's official abuse list -- all "retired" in 2003, two of them of the same date of Sept. 1, 2003. The diocese at the time announced Becker's retirement as a "medical leave," but Bishop Richard Malone has since told 7 Eyewitness News that Becker was really removed for suspected abuse.
- Diocesan directories also show that three other priests -- Fathers Mark Friel, Brian Hatrick and Richard Keppeler -- who are now on the list of accused, were still working in parishes as of 2003.
- Three more accused abusers on the diocese list -- Fathers Loville Martlock, Douglas Faraci and Thomas Gresock -- had no parish assignment and were classified under "c/o 795 main St." A source said that is a common classification used by the diocese for hiding troubled priests.
“These bishops could go out and run a training camp for the Mafia on how to be slick and get away with stuff,” said Bauer, who was in college when he said Father Larry Connors of St. James Church in Jamestown tried to attack him before he was able to fight him off. (Connors went on to teach at Cardinal Mindszenty High School in Dunkirk and St. Mary’s in Lancaster after he left the area and died in 1992).
The priest's behavior -- and the diocese's reaction to it -- bothered Bauer for years as he fought for answers, before finally pushing for a phone call with Bishop Mansell.
“When I called and told him that I insisted on talking to him, he said, 'We don't talk to victims,'” Bauer recalled. “I said, 'Well, you're going to talk to this one. You can talk in your office or you can talk in a courtroom. You pick how you want to do it.”
Told to come to the Buffalo Chancery the next morning, Bauer says he was greeted by five armed guards in the lobby -- and three more waiting upstairs.
“The one [guard] looks at me and says, 'What are you here for?'” Bauer said. “I said, 'I'm here to talk to him,' and I pointed right at him [the bishop]. I said, he made an appointment with me. He goes, ‘Well he doesn't take appointments.’”
Bauer said he sat down in a chair and refused to leave.
“So I said, when he's ready to talk...I've got all day to wait here,” Bauer said. “And they're over there, mumbling with the bishop, [saying] ‘What are you gonna do now, because this guy's not gonna leave?’”
Bauer sat with the bishop for an hour, telling Mansell about his encounter with Father Connors and about other stories he had heard of abusive priests throughout the Southern Tier. But the meeting never gave him the answers -- or the peace -- he thought it might.
“They give a bare minimum of what they can get away with,” Bauer said of the bishops, “until somebody else comes along and pushes them and pushes them and pushes them and they have to talk.”
Asked if the bishop apologized, he said, “No. None of them have ever apologized, ever.”
Mansell, now retired as archbishop from the Diocese of Hartford, Conn., did not respond to requests to a diocesan spokeswoman seeking comment. Cunningham, through a spokeswoman for the Syracuse Diocese, declined to comment.
In response to this story, the Buffalo Diocese released a statement emphasizing that since 2003, it has implemented employee background checks and training sessions to ensure the safety of children.