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The year since Michael Whalen spoke truth to the Buffalo Diocese

Child Victims Act expected to become law this week
Posted: 7:09 PM, Jan 27, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-28 00:09:15Z

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — It's been a year of abuse scandals, law enforcement investigations and parishioner protests for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.

But it all started with Michael Whalen, a regular guy from South Buffalo, breaking his silence in March.

"I'm not afraid anymore," he said at a news conference in front of the chancery in March. Later that night, his alleged abuser, Fr. Norbert Orsolits, told a Buffalo News reporter that he abused "dozens" of boys over the years.

With those words, the elaborate cover-up orchestrated by past bishops of the diocese began to unravel. More survivors found the courage to come forward. And the faithful, realizing they had been misled for decades, became enraged.

In summer, the scandal reached new proportions when a 7 Eyewitness News investigation -- based on confidential documents obtained from a church whistleblower -- revealed the mishandling of child and adult sexual abuse and misconduct by the diocese's current bishop, Richard J. Malone.

With state and federal investigators circling, Malone would suspend nearly 20 active priests in the diocese after new allegations surfaced. A total of 118 priests have been implicated for sexual misconduct and the names of nearly 100 more accused clergy or church employees have been reported but not yet made public.

It all culminates Monday, when state lawmakers -- after years of delay -- are finally expected to reform the state's archaic sexual abuse laws , making it possible for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and either pursue criminal charges or file civil lawsuits when they become adults.

7 Eyewitness News Chief Investigator Charlie Specht and Chief Photographer Jeff Wick are making the trip to Albany with Whalen in an attempt to show viewers what the moment means from the perspective of a sexual abuse survivor -- one who forever changed the history of the church in Western New York.

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. 

In November, I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht traveled to Portland, Maine. Malone served as bishop there before coming to Buffalo. There, Charlie spoke with advocates for victims of sexual abuse about how Malone had been accused of mishandling sex abuse cases. The I-Team also obtained new documents surrounding the cases which paint a much different picture of the bishop’s past.