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'Her voice has given voice to the voiceless,' victims say of Catholic whistleblower

Siobhan O'Connor explains her tough decision
Posted: 7:29 PM, Oct 30, 2018
Updated: 2018-12-13 16:56:32-05

It was the rare news conference that started with a prayer.

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” Siobhan O’Connor whispered Tuesday before facing the phalanx of news cameras outside the Diocese of Buffalo.

O’Connor, who blew the whistle on the sex abuse crisis and cover-up in the Diocese of Buffalo, thanked the news media for helping her get the truth to Catholics in Western New York.

“You have been my allies,” she told reporters. “Despite the fact that the bishop often treated you like the enemy. In fact, he even said one time that Charlie [Specht] was the true enemy, and if anything helped me decide I was going to work with him, it was that statement from the bishop.”

O'Connor, who said she has provided information to the FBI, said she takes no pleasure in coming forward with details of a cover-up by the men she once respected.

Internal documents the bishop's former secretary supplied to the I-Team show Malone let at least two priests -- Fr. Art Smith and Fr. Robert Yetter -- remain in or return to ministry despite allegations of sexual misconduct. Church documents also show there are more than 100 accused priests in the diocese , not 42 as originally stated by Malone.

On at least two occasions, Malone even wrote a letter of recommendation for Smith, endorsing him to serve as a chaplain on a cruise ship with Catholic youth. He wrote, "I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children."

“That's what's so conflicting about this, because I love my church, I love our diocese, I loved our bishop,” O’Connor said. “It's been that personal betrayal.”

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian and survivor advocates Bob Hoatson and Jim Faluszczak praised O'Connor for having the courage to speak out.

“Her voice has given voice to the voiceless,” Faluszczak said. “So many victims now know even in much more stronger terms that they are not alone...that they are heard.”

Garabedian's message to the Vatican was direct.

“It's time for Pope Francis to instruct Bishop Malone to resign,” he said. 

The Boston attorney said he represents 39 clergy sex abuse victims in Buffalo, and he said church leadership needs to need to answer to those men and women.

“Bishop Malone should be out here talking today. Pope Francis should be out here talking today,” Garabedian said. “They're the ones who've been practicing the cover-up. They're the ones who have been allowing innocent children to be sexually abused. They're the ones who should be out here. They're the one who should fear criminal repercussions. Not this brave woman.”

Bishop Malone declined to comment for this article, but a spokesman for Pope Francis told the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team he was aware of the “60 Minutes” and WKBW investigative reports, even though the pope declined to comment at this time.

O'Connor stood in the same spot where eight months earlier, abuse survivor Michael Whalen set off a wave of allegations against Buffalo Catholic priests by revealing he was abused by Fr. Norbert Orsolits. At the time, O’Connor was still working as the bishop's secretary.

“And I was standing in that window...and I remember that I wanted to come over here, and I wanted to shake his hand, and I wanted him to know that at least one, and I hope more of us in that building supported him,” she said.

Joyce Persico was on her way in to Mass on Tuesday when she stopped to lend O'Connor her support.

“I think she's marvelous,” Persico said. “I think that she has great courage and strength. She's an angel of God -- the Holy Spirit is with her. God doesn't want this happening, and he's taking action, through her.”

KEY LINKS IN THE BUFFALO DIOCESE SEX ABUSE SCANDAL:

Part 1 of the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team investigation revealed that Malone returned Fr. Art Smith to ministry despite allegations of inappropriate contact with a child. Malone returned the accused priests to ministry after a previous bishop suspended him, documents obtained by the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team show.

 

Part 2 revealed that Malone allowed Fr. Robert Yetter to remain pastor of St. Mary's in Swormville despite multiple sexual harassment allegations by young men. 

Part 3 cited church records that showed more than 100 priests in the diocese were accused of sexual abuse or misconduct. Malone in March released a list of only 42 priests "who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor." 

The investigative series sparked Buffalo civic leaders to call for Malone's resignation and Catholics have mounted weekly protests in front of the Diocese of Buffalo Chancery. Malone in August held a news conference and refused to resign as Buffalo bishop.

In September, the State Attorney General launched a statewide investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and last week, it was revealed the FBI has launched its own criminal investigation into the diocese.

In October, "60 Minutes" aired a national investigative story on Bishop Malone and the Diocese of Buffalo.