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‘God gave me the strength to do the right thing’: Buffalo diocese whistleblower

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BUFFALO, New York, October 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Diocese of Buffalo insider who passed files to the press proving that Bishop Richard Malone had suppressed the names of priests accused of sexual abuse has come forward.

Siobhan O’Connor had been Malone’s executive assistant for three years when she gave up her job in August, having grown, in her words, “morally allergic” to it. On Sunday, O’Connor gave an interview to CBS’s “60 minutes” show explaining why, a week before she left Malone’s employ, she leaked confidential diocesan documents to Buffalo’s CBS affiliate WKBW.

In the course of her duties, O’Connor had come across memos and personnel files that showed that Bishop Malone had allowed priests accused of offenses like unwanted touching and statutory rape to remain in ministry. She even found a 300-page binder of pending litigations stuffed into the bishop’s supply closet. And when Malone produced a carefully curated list of 42 accused priests – none of whom were still in ministry – for public scrutiny, O’Connor knew that there should have been more priests on it. She had seen drafts of the list that had passed back and forth between Malone and the diocesan lawyers. In fact, at least 118 priests of the Buffalo diocese had been accused of sexual misconduct.

But most significantly, O’Connor also listened to victims. When the Buffalo diocese announced a settlement program in March, Bishop Malone invited victims to come forward. But the victim hotline was to an empty office, manned remotely by a part-time employee, and victims waited weeks for a return call. Some then telephoned Malone’s office or turned up in person to tell their stories. O’Connor took the calls and welcomed visitors.  As there was no designated room in which to receive victims, O’Connor heard one man’s tale of abuse as they sat in a supply closet.

“I began to be attached to these people,” O’Connor told WKBW. “I mean, they shared their lives with me and I cried with them and I cared about them.”  

To encourage others to care about them, O’Connor wrote an article for the Western New York Catholic newspaper describing the strength, courage, and faith of victims and their parents. Apparently Malone did not like the article, she told WKBW.

“I remember finding out after the fact that Bishop Malone was not pleased with the article I wrote because he said it was not supportive enough of him...It was overly supportive of the victims,” she revealed and added, “I was told by another member of senior staff that I had an inordinate sympathy for the victims, and I don’t think that’s possible.”

O’Connor also worried that more people might be abused by priests still active in the diocese. The cases that bothered her most concerned Fr. Arthur Smith and Fr. Fabian Maryanski. Among the documents she gave WKBW were a 2013 letter from the Brothers of Mercy of Montabaur in Clarence, New York about the former and a lawyer’s letter from 1995 about the latter.

In October 2013, the Brothers of Mercy wrote to Bishop Malone to inform him that their chaplain, Fr. Smith, had been the subject of two complaints that month. A 19-year old-employee had informed administration that Smith subjected him to some “inappropriate remarks and touching.” Also, a 25-year-old novice had requested permission to go to Mass elsewhere because of touching by Smith. The touching was apparently non-sexual. Two years before that, a school principal had informed Malone’s predecessor, Bishop Edward Grosz, that Smith had subjected an eighth grade boy to unwanted attention and Facebook messages.

According to O’Connor, Grosz removed Smith from ministry. But despite this record, Malone reinstated him, and even recommended Smith as a cruise ship chaplain, writing that he was “unaware that there is anything in his background that would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.” Smith was not among the 42 accused priests Malone later named.

Malone didn’t admit to Fr. Maryanski’s case, either. In March of 1995, a lawyer wrote to the Buffalo’s then-ordinary, Bishop Edward Head, on behalf of a young woman who alleged that Maryanski had seduced her when she was 15 years old and that they had sexual intercourse for several years. The young woman had become deeply depressed and suicidal, had nightmares, was in conflict with family members, had lost her faith in the Catholic Church, and was suffering from “feelings of guilt, anger, and a devalued sense of self-esteem.”

O’Connor discovered that Malone didn’t want Maryanski mentioned on this list of accused priests because the fact that he was not, “despite full knowledge of the case,” removed from ministry “might require explanation.” Her reaction was to wonder, “If that’s their rationale for leaving a priest off [the list], then how can I abide by this?”

Worried that more people would be abused before a Grand Jury could convene in New York, she began to meet with 7 Eyewitness News Chief Investigator Charlie Specht and gave him photographs or photocopies of documents.

“I remember thinking that I would trust you with this information, that you would not treat it in a salacious manner,” she told him. “I could tell you had great compassion for the victims and that you also had great respect for our church.”

“60 Minutes” also interviewed a former counsel to Malone, Fr. Bob Zillox, who said that there are eight or nine priests in active ministry in Buffalo who should be removed from the priesthood. Zillox himself was abused by a Buffalo priest when he was a 13-year-old boy. Another interview subject, Deacon Paul Snyder, has publicly called for Malone to resign.   

O’Connor just an ‘ordinary person’ who found herself in ‘rather extraordinary circumstances’ 

O’Connor is a devout Catholic who once contemplated a vocation to religious life. She told Charlie Spect that she is “a very ordinary person.”

“I am a very ordinary person and I found myself in rather extraordinary circumstances and the way I look at it is, I was the right person in the right place at the right time, and God gave me the strength to do the right thing,” she said.

Her sacrifice has so far not brought about the changes for which she hoped. As she told WKBW, “I was in tears because it was just business as usual.”

“A task force, a new office, a new staff member, strengthening the code of conduct. There’s nothing wrong with the code of conduct. It needs to be enforced.”

She added, “There were so many things [Malone] could have done, but he didn’t. Instead, they locked down those files, and it went just to that, ‘Protect the diocese, protect the bishop.’”

Paul Kendrick, a sexual abuse victims’ advocate, has been a fervent critic of Malone since the latter was bishop of the Portland diocese. He told LifeSiteNews via email that he was “overwhelmed” by Connor’s “compassion” and “courage.”

“Victims of clergy sexual abuse have been bullied and mistreated by bishops all around the world,” Kendrick wrote.

“Millions of Catholics, including ordained clergy, have failed to speak out and demand redress for the crimes committed against children and the coverup of these crimes by bishops, priests, deacons, religious[,] and church workers,” he continued. “I am overwhelmed by Ms. O’Connor’s compassion for the hurt inflicted upon the victims and her courage to stand up and speak out on their behalf against a bishop of the Church.”

Beverly Stevens, editor of Regina Magazine, expressed congratulations for O’Connor to LifeSiteNews.

“I congratulate Siobhan on her courage, and I encourage all diocesan employees with knowledge of wrongdoing to go to law enforcement,” she said. “Catholic clerics like Malone have proven they are not capable of ‘policing themselves.’ Certainly Rome is incapable, as well. For the good of the Faith and for the future of our children, these fake priests must be brought to justice.”

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