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Latest clergy abuse claim questions priest’s name still on parish hall

Clergy abuse victim wants priest name removed from parish hall
Posted at 12:27 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-30 00:54:28-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Another victim announced he is filing a claim against the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and Mary Immaculate Parish in Pavilion, New York, formerly known as St. Mary’s, under the Child Victim’s Act.

Wayne Bortle, former Western New Yorker, who now lives in New Hampshire, appeared Thursday afternoon in downtown Buffalo with Boston-area attorney Mitchell Garabedian Thursday to announce his civil lawsuit.

Bortle accuses Father Robert Conlin, now deceased, of sexually abusing him nearly 40-years ago at St. ,Mary's parish when he was about 15 years old.

But this is not the first time Bortle has appeared in Buffalo to make his claims. He first disclosed his allegations against Father Conlin in March of 2018. Since that time, Bortle has been asking that Father Conlin's name be removed from the parish hall.

"There's still naming the hall after him so then we had confirmation that his picture is still – a big picture of him – still hangs in that location," Bortle stated as he stood across from the Diocesan offices.

Conlin died in 1997. The current St. Mary's church bulletin still lists events being held in "Conlin Hall". Attorney Garbabedian refers to it as 'adding salt to the wounds' - especially for those who were abused.

"What kind of message does that send – all our welcome to the hall - named after a pedophile priest which the church refuses to remove," declared Garabedian.

Bortle wasn't Catholic, but says he always played with other children at a basketball court the priest set up near the church and at the rectory, where there was a ping pong and pool table for the children. But then one one night he was alone with Conlin.

Bortle said he has image that remains in his mind to this day.

"Trying to get out of that house and I can just see this gold bolt lock…the door was never locked – you came in and out of there as you pleased," recalled Bortle. "But that night was his intention – he locked that door, so no other kid could get in there and to keep me in there, and that's when I ran out."

Bortle says the current church pastor said it was up to the bishop to remove the priest's name from the church hall. The diocese said it was up to the parish. Yet Bortle pointed out Conlin's name is on the diocese’s list of accused priests.

In 2018, Bortle spoke publicly for the first time and outlined his abuse claims telling a story of Father Conlin asking him to come over and watch television. His suit claims Conlin touched him.

“That night, when I came home and I told my mother, and I’m crying in my bed, she asked me what was wrong – what happened, and I said Father Conlin was touching me and she said what do you mean – and I said mom he was touching me everywhere and he wouldn’t stop,” recalled Bortle.

Back in March of 2018, when Bortle first went public it with his story, it was the same day Bishop Richard Malone issued a video apology to sexual abuse victims.

7 Eyewitness News did reach out to the diocese for a response to this latest civil suit. We received a written statement:

"With regards to the press conference, the litigation process has begun and the Diocese respects that process and will respond accordingly. All new allegations received will be examined and investigated in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and the Policies of the Diocese of Buffalo and appropriate action will be taken as required. Bishop Malone has provided comments regarding the CVA and his remarks are available in both video and written message.

The Diocese also added this statement:

"At this time, the approach to names on buildings, photographs of priests with substantiated claims of abuse, is a decision made at the parish level. A pastor and his advisors (trustees, pastoral council, etc.) who determine the name is a detriment to the community, to the survivors of abuse (or their family), and especially if the abuse occurred at that parish, can remove the name. If they determine it is important to the parish’s history - then a name on a building could remain. Again, at this time Bishop Malone has not given a diocesan-wide directive. He respects and supports the decision made by the local parish community."