The Path Forward?

On Saturday, December 7th, the Movement to Restore Trust (MRT) held “A Community Symposium: The Path Forward” at the Montante Cultural Center at Canisius College. It was just over a year after their first event, “Restoring Trust: A Path Forward for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo,” which took place on November 28, 2018. (I didn’t realize until now that the first symposium had that similar “path forward titling.)

Unlike the first symposium, which was held at 7 pm, this one started at 9 am. You can watch a video of the entire event via this link: click here.

If you don’t have two hours to spare, here’s my report on the event beginning with the agenda for it:

MRT agenda.jpg

John Hurley got things started by welcoming everyone and noted their “robust agenda” which had been “in flux” given the events of the past week.

At that time, our Apostolic Administrator, Bishop Scharfenberger (henceforth Bishop Ed), took the stage and greeted everyone with these words of welcome:

“Thanks so much, John, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. It was John’s article that I read last week and I thought had some excellent points and I thought, “I have to reach out to this guy.” Little did I know that he was going to invite me (to this event)!

I’m here primarily because I want to say thank you. Thank you for your heart, for your soul, for your experience, for all that you are and all that you do. I know you’re committed disciples of Jesus. You know and I know that the only way to heal, the only way to bond is in the name of Jesus because He is the ultimate Shepherd and the ultimate healer. Each and everyone of us as a disciple of the Lord has that mission – we’re a mission church. I see this as an evangelical moment or an evangelizing moment. A moment for us to open our hearts to the message Jesus gives us that we’re all intimately loved each and everyone of us.

I know there’s a lot of pain. I know that sometimes pain presents itself first as anger. We can’t deny the fact that there is a lot of anger and frustration. Maybe in our personal lives, but also in those who expect much of us as leaders to be able to help them find a way out of the darkness they’ve experienced. The darkness of fear is absolutely chilling. Remember Jesus tells us that fear is useless – it’s faith that counts. The more we trust in Him – He’s with us and He accompanies us wherever we go.

Now that’s my homily – I didn’t come to preach to you. But I wanted you to know where I’m coming from. That my trust is in the Lord. My favorite expression is “Lord Jesus, I trust in You.” We should always go back to that source. If we do that, we realize that we’re never really alone. Jesus didn’t send us into the word as lone rangers. He commissioned us to work with one another. He founded a Church. And there’s this wonderful cooperation among all the elements of the Church – laity, hierarchy, clergy. We have to find, by opening our hearts to the Spirit, what task it is that the Holy Spirit has for each and everyone of us. In a beautiful way, we each have a role.

I say that very, very broadly because I believe that our victim-survivors – they are our family. They’re part of us. While we don’t want to burden them, they have a tremendous invitation, shall I say, to feel a part of the healing mission. Not only by telling their story, but also sharing the insight and the perspective that comes at times from pain.

I did mention that a way forward is going to be through sacrificial giving. I’m not going to take up a new collection – I don’t mean that in a financial sense, although obviously we need those resources. But it’s when each and everyone of us speaks from our pain – that is the way of the cross. Francis de Sales said that every second of Jesus’ life on earth was a constant humiliation. He was the Incarnate Word of God, but He was underestimated, undervalued, ignored, swept under bus, if you will. Even his own family thought He was deranged. So it shouldn’t surprise us at times that if we bear courageous witness to the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we may be misunderstood, rejected, written off. But that’s not the way God looks at us. Each and everyone of us is a beloved child of God.

One of the Sisters at my grammar school used to say, “Remember that Jesus would have died for you if you were the only person in the world.” I want everybody to hear that and to know that. Particularly those who feel the Church has abandoned them or has not listened or hasn’t gone far enough to meet them where they are. Second thing to remember is that Jesus meets us exactly where we are. Wherever we are on our journey of faith – and there may be non-Catholics or Christians here – we have a God who constantly seeks us out as people. You can go right through the stories of the Gospel and see that Jesus didn’t have office hours. He didn’t say “You can see me as long as you fit into My schedule.” He was constantly being distracted even in the middle of prayer. He constantly went out of the box or out of His comfort zone. We need not be afraid to follow that example the Master set for us. Wherever we go, He goes.

I’m here primarily to listen and to see what we can learn today from one another. Thank you, thank you so much just for being here. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your presence. God bless.”

After Bishop Ed’s welcome, which was very well received, John Hurley introduced Michael Whalen, whose reflection can be viewed below:

As always, Mike’s words brought tears to my eyes. His good heart and loving spirit shine through every word he utters. I was particularly proud of him for mentioning that Bishop Grosz and Terry Connors must not escape accountability. Mike did a wonderful job from start to finish – bravo to the Man in the Green Jacket!

Mike’s remarks were greeted by a standing ovation as you can see here…

It made me tear up again to see Bishop Ed embrace Mike like that. Our former bishop never even met Mike let alone give him a handshake or a hug. Mike told me later that sitting next to Bishop Ed all morning was “like talking to my grandpa. He is so easy to talk to and he really listened to what I had to say.”

After Bishop Ed and Mike spoke, there was a very positive energy within the room, which was filled with close to 200 attendees. Then they started the “Overview and Q & A regarding Diocesan Bankruptcy.” Talk about an energy zapper! I’m not exactly sure how long this section lasted, but it must have been at least 25 months… I mean minutes. My notes on this section aren’t that good, so if you’re interested in hearing this part, you can go to the first link on this page and go to the 35-minute mark when the bankruptcy discussion begins. (God bless the lawyers who have to deal with bankruptcy in all of its boring-ness.)

Fortunately, the bankruptcy lecture was followed by an audience participation exercise because we needed to wake up a little! Everyone had one of these lists on their chair:

Qualities.jpg

We were supposed to form small groups and discuss the qualities necessary or wanted in our next bishop. Then each person texted their top 7 qualities – one at a time during 7 rounds of “voting” – to a poll that automatically generated “word clouds” based on the responses received. I must say, the tech part of this was super cool. I was impressed by how smoothly it worked and how quickly the word clouds were generated. Stephanie Argentine – of Listening Session fame – did a great job coordinating this entire segment of the event.

Attendees shared some comments with me regarding the list we were given:

  • Are we talking about a bishop or a CEO here?
  • “Aggressive,” “Dominant” and “Power-Oriented”? Why would those adjectives even be on this list?
  • If you’re going to have a list like this, it should include “Loves Jesus” and “Has strong Marian devotion” and “a man of prayer”
  • I’m a grown man, I don’t need a list of words – I can figure out what words I want to use
  • “Deeply spiritual” isn’t specific to the Catholic faith – that’s a really generic word
  • Continuous-Improvement Oriented is corporate talk – not church talk

(When it came time to vote, I focused on the H’s: holy, honest, hopeful and humble.)

There were multiple word clouds generated during each round. Here are some photos to show you how the process progressed (I didn’t get any pics of the first quality because I was helping my Mom get set up with the phone polling – love you, Mom!):

2nd quality - first pi.jpg

2nd quality second pic.jpg

3rd quality 3rd pic.jpg3rd quality 1st pic.jpg

After the third round, a word that was not on the list began to appear: Scharfenberger…4th quality 2nd pic.jpg

4th quality Scharf.jpg

Bishop Ed continued to poll well in the 5th round as you can see. In fact, he was the top choice of respondents at this point:

5th quality 1st pic.jpg

5th quality 2nd pic

5th quality 3rd pic

At this point, I noticed a little word at the bottom of the screen: LiPuma. I audibly gasped outloud as I almost dropped by phone on the floor. LIPUMA????? Click on his name if you’re unfamiliar with it so that you can learn more about what he’s done (and not done) within our Diocese during his years as a Chancery insider.

Msgr. LiPuma was seated to the left of where I was sitting in the back rows of the middle section:

LiPuma in crowd.jpg

Three of the people in the photo above are current Catholic Center staff members. I can only imagine it was this group that began texting “LiPuma.”

Let me pause here for a brief PSA:

never-lipuma.png

Multiple priests have told me that “no one plays the game like LiPuma” and “Malone always wanted David to be a bishop.” Elevating LiPuma to bishop would continue Malone’s tactics of complicity and cover-up. No one would be more thrilled by such an episcopal appointment than Malone.

But I am telling you right now, LiPuma will be made a bishop over my dead body. LiPuma is a huge part of the problem — he was in the Chancery for 25 years!!!! The absolute LAST thing we need is LiPuma in leadership ever again. Bad enough that he’s the Chairman of the Presbyteral Council, the primary advisory body of priests. Bad enough that he wrote a letter on behalf of all the priests in support of Malone when many of the priests did not agree. Bad enough that he was made the rector of the glorious Our Lady of Victory Basilica. ENOUGH. NO MORE. NO LIPUMA. NEVER LIPUMA.

But LiPuma continued to appear in the word clouds:

6th quality - lipuma big

6th quality lipuma again

Fortunately, we were able to get “NotLiPuma” trending in response:

6th quality - not lipuma

6th quality lipuma not lipuma

But by the last round, it was clear the LiPuma crew was still going strong… his name was one of the top 3 choices at one point:

7th quality lipuma

We responded back:

7th quality not lipuma

7th quality not lipuma big

As nauseating as it was to see LiPuma’s name in so many word clouds, it taught me an important lesson. There are still people out there who think someone like LiPuma would be a viable episcopal candidate. They’re either ignorant, uninformed or blinded by loyalty/friendship toward him (or the hope of being close to a future bishop!). But on the flip side, there are people who are not ignorant, uniformed or blind — who voted “NotLiPuma” as soon as it became necessary. But ultimately, the LiPuma/NotLiPuma situation was saddening to me – it showed yet again how divided and polarized our diocese is in many crucial ways. (I also wondered what Bishop Ed thought of the whole back and forth about LiPuma. It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. But hopefully it alerted Bishop Ed that he should look into the matter!)

Fr. Bob Zilliox was up next and shared some of the great work he’s been doing within his parish: (Fr. Bob was on 60 Minutes last year and was also on the panel at last year’s MRT Symposium.)

“As a victim-survivor myself, I think of one of the great spiritual writers Henri Nouwen, who wrote a book entitled The Wounded Healer. Over the years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with individuals who’ve gone through abuse whether it was sexual, emotional, physical or spiritual. To journey with them. Coming to St. Mary’s as a wounded healer myself, I tried to the best of my ability to help that parish heal. In doing so, it has allowed me the opportunity to listen, to open my doors to those who want to come and share stories. I could understand where they were coming from.

Here we are looking forward with hope especially during the Advent season. Hope that we can continue to heal, to collaborate, to work together. Like the work I’ve done with my Parish Council to put together a Strategic Plan as to who are we as church. To empower the laity as I did a year ago when we first gathered in this magnificent space. And when I opened the doors of our parish to a victim-survivors group to allow them a forum to come and share their stories, to listen to one another, to reintegrate with the larger community, to know we are here for them, to journey with them, to walk with them and to help them continue the healing process. So there are success stories… whether it be in re-energizing parish life, in new evangelization and catechesis, the program for priestly formation, forming our young adults and families through human, spiritual, personal, and moral formation. To empower the laity to exercise their prophetic role. This can begin in the parish. I tell my parishioners: “It’s your parish – not mine.” Just as St. John the Baptist said time and again – my role is to lead you to Christ and in all humility get out of the way and let Jesus and the Holy Spirit do the rest. This is the model I’ve tried to instill in my parish since I arrived and we have seen success. Is there still a long way to go? Yes. I think of the Chinese proverb –  the longest journey requires the first step to be taken. I believe we’ve taken that step at St. Mary’s and that, gathered here this morning, we take that step as a diocese.”

It was wonderful to hear Fr. Bob explain some of the reasons for his hope. He has accomplished so much good at St. Mary’s by ministering to that grieving community with candor and courage.

Given that this is already quite a lengthy post, I am going to skim over the rest of the event. Nancy Ware, a member of the MRT Organizing Committee, gave some remarks to kick off the audience discussion about “Parish Engagement.” She wanted everyone to talk about things they are doing within their parish that have been successful and that other parishes could implement. During this group discussion period, we were supposed to write our ideas down on a postcard that Stephanie collected to “capture” the information.

John Hurley and Bishop Ed gave closing remarks as the event formally ended. Bishop Ed was again very well received by those in attendance. I should also note that during both group discussion periods, Bishop Ed circulates throughout the room introducing himself and talking to various people. If nothing else, Bishop Ed is much more personable and ready-to-engage than his predecessor ever was.

In closing, I would like to say something about the “envisioning session” regarding the qualities we’d like to see in our next bishop. To my mind, it would have been more productive to create a list of bishops whose leadership qualities are ones we would be looking for. Granted, there wouldn’t be a very long list, but I think that would be more useful to the Papal Nuncio than a list of “top qualities” to describe a desired bishop. (I should have stated earlier that the top qualities generated at the Symposium will be summarized in a letter sent to the Apostolic Nuncio (Christophe Pierre) within the next few weeks, according to John Hurley.)

To be honest, our next bishop has most likely been selected at this point. Multiple sources have indicated that Buffalo has risen to the top of the list of vacant sees within the United States. There is a confident rumor that our next bishop will be named by Easter. If that’s the case, his name is almost certainly already known to the Pope, the Nuncio and the man himself. It takes time to work out the logistics of such an assignment (especially in terms of taking care of the bishop’s existing diocese) so they would not waste any time making their selection especially with Advent and Lent – the Church’s busiest seasons – looming. All of this is a long way of saying that I felt as though the word cloud exercise – albeit well done and interesting – was ultimately a waste of time and tech.

I also want to include these post-Symposium quotes from Bishop Ed that appeared in this article from the Buffalo News:

Scharfenberger called his conversation with Whalen “wonderful.”

“I thanked him because I believe that our victim survivors are an essential part of our mission,” he said.

He also said he initially found the prospect of coming to Buffalo to sort things out as apostolic administrator “kind of terrifying,” but he has been heartened and surprised ever since.

“Ever since I’ve come here, I’ve seen nothing but goodwill, fidelity, a desire to help, and I’ve seen it all across the board,” he said. “I believe that is the story of what the Buffalo people are, both within the faith community and beyond.”

He said he knows he’s in a honeymoon period and that as hard decisions are made, not everyone will be happy. He also said he would move with deliberation — not haste — in making decisions about bankruptcy and addressing demands to cut ties with those who have been accused by survivors of covering up abuses.

“It does sometimes get to a point, like in the case of Bishop Malone, where regardless of what a person may or may not have done … that sometimes it just becomes an obstacle moving forward that that person cannot really be in a position that they’re in,” he said.

He added that the diocese will have to undergo restructuring that creates more accountability, but the process must be both organizational and spiritual.

“People did unholy, bad things – evil things,” he said. “And the only way to eradicate evil is to return to holiness and to return to God.”

Love that last line… returning to God and to holiness sounds like the ideal formula for restoring trust and finding that previously elusive path forward.

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A Great Loss & A Strenuous Month

Please keep Bishop Scharfenberger and his family in your prayers today as they mark one month since their mother returned to God.

According to an article in Albany’s diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, Bishop Scharfenberger used to talk with his mother nearly every day and visit her weekly. It quotes her as saying the following when he was ordained Bishop of Albany in 2015:

“I can’t actually explain it. It sort of takes my breath away. I brought my Kleenex. … It was completely astonishing for us. We are thankful forever. I never anticipated anything like this. It’s almost beyond imagination.”

Reading about Bishop Scharfenberger’s Mom reminded me that we never know what’s going on in someone’s life behind the scenes. Yes, he’s a bishop so it’s his “job” to overcome personal challenges for the good of his people. But he was a son long before he was a bishop and the loss of one’s mother is life-changing, by all accounts. Even if she’s nearly 100 and had a good, long life!

Bishop Scharfenberger has had quite a month…

  • Lost his Mom, celebrated her funeral Mass and buried her
  • A few days later, he headed to Rome for the NYS Bishops’ ad limina visit with Pope Francis
  • Found out he’s coming to Buffalo as Apostolic Administrator (not exactly the best news ever)
  • Came down with what sounded like a bad cold or virus (from what he said at the press conference)
  • Made it to Buffalo after a snow storm in Albany and took questions from the media for over an hour

We’ve been conditioned toward cynicism here in Buffalo, but I think we should give our temporary shepherd credit for his emotional and physical stamina.

May his mother’s soul rest In peace. And may her son get some rest after quite a strenuous month.

Confirmation Conundrum

Since August, I’ve heard from parents who were concerned about their children being confirmed by Bishop Malone this fall. One mother told me she was thinking of having her child take the necessary classes at a parish that normally has their Confirmation in the spring – in the hopes that Bishop Malone won’t be here then. Another parent told me that they weren’t looking forward to their son’s Confirmation and felt bad about it. Still another dad told me he and his wife were going to have their child confirmed as a senior and not a junior to avoid Bishop Malone as the confirming prelate.

While these comments made complete sense to me, they also made me very sad. Confirmation season used to be a joyful experience. How well do I recall the Confirmation scheduling that Fr. Ryszard and I used to do in the Chancery. Father was such a marvel at fitting them all in somehow! And, to top it off, he would coordinate all of the details for each ceremony and masterfully guide everyone through each Confirmation Mass. The fall and especially spring Confirmation seasons were very busy for the Chancery, but it was a “good busy” because of the importance of this sacrament.

The Sacrament of Confirmation is not a “coming of age” ritual or a graduation from religious education. Rather, Confirmation completes the graces of Baptism. Together, Baptism, the Eucharist, and Confirmation constitute the sacraments of Christian initiation. As the Catechism explains: “by the sacrament of Confirmation, the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.” The Catechism further notes that “Like, Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the ‘character,’ which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.”

Simply put, Confirmation is a big deal. It is a special outpouring of gifts by the Holy Spirit which seal or “confirm” the baptized in union with Christ and equips them for active participation in worship and apostolic life of the Church (from the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The significance of this sacrament is also made known by its celebrant: a bishop. Anyone can (technically) baptize while priests give us the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Sick. Brides and grooms confer upon each other the Sacrament of Matrimony. Bishops are the primary ministers for only two sacraments: Holy Orders and Confirmation. Both sacraments involve a bishop anointing the confirmands or ordinands with chrism oil.

Because of their significance, Confirmation ceremonies were always included in Bishop Malone’s public calendar, which used to be published monthly online and in print. But since October, the Bishop’s public calendar has not been published. I assumed these special ceremonies were taking place as usual, but had no idea when and where they were happening.

So you can imagine my surprise when I read the following message, which was sent at approximately 9 pm last night to the Confirmation families of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Williamsville:

We would like to let you know that we have received word from Bishop Malone that he will not be with us at the Confirmation Mass. So here are the details that we want to share with you. As you know from our earlier emails, we have tried to be transparent through a difficult time in our diocese.

Originally, Bishop Malone wanted to be with us to help work towards unity and healing with us and all the parishes where he was scheduled to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation. However, recently, several people have alerted us that there were plans for protesters to assemble outside our church to protest the Bishop’s role in the handling of the victims’ cases of sexual abuse. We gave word to the Bishop’s office of this possibility.

The Bishop decided he would step down as celebrant of the Confirmation ceremony. He asked us to let everyone know that this decision was out of his concern that the students are not subjected to any disruptions on their special and holy day. 

Canon law allows the Bishop to give authority to a priest to confer the sacrament of Confirmation. So Fr. Ron has been given that permission and will confirm our students.

The sacrament of Confirmation is effected by and through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bishop or priest is given authority to act in the person of Jesus to bring down the Holy Spirit so that each person will be sealed with the Holy Spirit. This is an act of God, not of man. 

Also, I want to share with you that the clergy and staff at Nativity are committed to outreach to the victims of clerical abuse. We continue to speak with and lift up the victims that we have met. We want to be a part of their healing. We want to work to heal our parish and our diocese. We will continue to work with you to bring unity and affirm each one of us in our Baptismal roles in the Body of Christ.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish

My immediate tradition was one of shock. I didn’t even know there WAS a Confirmation scheduled today so I certainly wasn’t planning to assemble outside their church to protest Bishop Malone. Yet even if I HAD known of this ceremony, I would never have made plans to protest it.

Since I began participating in and coordinating protests, I have been very discerning about which events to protest. My focus has been on Bishop Malone’s meetings with important groups particularly the Presbyteral Council and Diocesan Pastoral Council. The only time I have protested a Mass, it was at the Seminary where we were standing by the side of the main driveway – not right by the chapel. And in all three cases, the Masses in question included relevant elements such as the Apostolic Nuncio’s attendance or the installation of the new Seminary Rector.*

Please know that I’ve done a lot of thinking about the protests I’ve called. I’ve thoughtfully assessed the following elements: purpose, impact, location, timing, safety, signage, parking, media involvement (if deemed appropriate), and even weather. I would never dream of protesting a Mass let alone a Confirmation Mass. The Mass is the primary celebration of the Church – the sacrificial memorial of Christ’s Passover. It is Catholicism’s greatest treasure for it gives us Christ Himself present in the Eucharist. For the reasons outlined earlier, a Mass of Confirmation has tremendous significance. On a personal note, I remember my own Confirmation with fondness and gratitude. I would not want to take away from other confirmands’ celebration of this great sacrament.

So we’ve established that I did not plan to protest today’s Confirmation or any other such ceremony. Then who are these mysterious people who were “planning to assemble outside (the) church to protest the Bishop’s role in the handling of the victims’ cases of sexual abuse”? I contacted the only other people I know who have organized their own protests – the aforementioned Stephen Parisi and his fellow former Seminarian and Whistleblower, Matthew Bojanowski. When I inquired, I received an immediate response: no such plans whatsoever!

As far as I know there have been only three active protest groups in the Diocese this year:

  • Bob Hoatson, who called a press conference and protest at the Seminary twice this past spring
  • Stephen and Matthew, who have protested at the Seminary, the Catholic Center and the Bishop’s Residence
  • Me and my crew, as it were, who have protested at the Seminary, the Catholic Center and the airport

None of these three groups had anything planned for today’s Confirmation Mass.


This left me wondering…

  • Were Nativity staff members concerned that some of us protesters might be there and acted out of an abundance of caution?
  • Were there rumors of a protest since our airport protest was in the news just last weekend?
  • Were there assumptions made that we would be showing up because it’s a Diocesan event?

As it turns out, the answer is much more interesting:

The people who intended to protest were Nativity parishioners! In fact, some of the confirmand families themselves were considering joining in the protest at today’s Confirmation. 

That’s right – a new group of protesters was organizing itself! Wow!

As you may recall, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish has had a difficult history. Three of their recent priests/pastors have been accused of sexual abuse: Maryanski, Leising and Sadjak. Leising and Sajdak were cleared by the Diocesan Review Board and Sajdak was returned as the pastor late last year. Maryanski’s case is hauntingly horrible and can be read about via this link. Suffice it to say that the people of this parish have suffered over the past 18 months as they’ve learned about the abuse history of a former priest-in-ministry and dealt with the removal and reinstatement of their current pastor, which is a very unsettling experience for a parish family.

To the folks who were going to protest today I say two things: Thank you and Bravo! Thank you for having the fortitude and conviction to protest Bishop Malone. Bravo for having the strength to stand up to this shepherd who does not care for his sheep! He put your parish family at risk by allowing an abusive priest to minister among you for years despite Bishop Malone and the Diocese “having full knowledge” of his abuse history. Bishop Malone pulled your current pastor from ministry right before a Vigil Mass last November with no thought of the turmoil and distress that would cause you all. Bishop Malone pulled Father Ron to protect himself and save face – not out of genuine concern for any of you.

Please note that my praise of the would-be protesters is not intended as a commentary on those who were not planning to protest. I’m certainly not saying that non-protesting parishioners at Nativity are not good people or do not possess fortitude or conviction. Far from it. This is an extremely difficult time for our diocese and everyone has to do what is best for them and their family. It can be very hard to decide what is best to do in each particular instance. Unfortunately Bishop Malone continues to cause this difficulty and distress for people. Parents should not feel conflicted about their child’s Confirmation and confirmands should not be dismayed about who’s going to confirm them.

According to my source, Bishop Malone was told earlier this week that protesters might be at the Nativity Confirmation. At the time, he was determined to still celebrate the Confirmation. It was only much later in the week that he learned about the protesters being Nativity parishioners. This change in the identity of the protesters is what lead him to remove himself as the Confirmation celebrant.** 

This is a very interesting and important development.

Remember – the Bishop “asked us to let everyone know that this decision was out of his concern that the students are not subjected to any disruptions on their special and holy day.”

But wait! Earlier this week, Bishop Malone was okay with run-of-the-mill protesters being there. He wasn’t suddenly concerned about Confirmands and their families being “subjected to disruptions.” Rather, he was suddenly concerned about HIMSELF. He didn’t want to be protested by members of the very parish he’s visiting, which would be a very new and embarrassing development. Worse still, he did not want it to get out that members of the Confirmation class (and their families) were among those who were protesting! He didn’t want to subject HIMSELF to embarrassment and the latest episcopal low. So he did what he always does when a situation become difficult: he made his exit.

While it’s disheartening and discouraging to be reminded of Bishop Malone’s narcissistic cowardice, I am very happy for the people of Nativity! Their protest efforts were so successful that they didn’t have to actually protest! And now they can enjoy the Confirmation ceremony this evening at 7 pm. Their parish bulletin indicates that they have over 80 confirmation candidates – how awesome! I pray that they will have a blessed and beautiful celebration of this tremendous Sacrament.

Final thought… this situation really demonstrates the power of the people! Let’s continue to speak up and take a stand.

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Light & Love

BSG Logo_Final

The Buffalo Survivors Group (BSG) held their first public event a week ago today. The days since then have been busy ones, but I wanted to be sure and document this historic event on my blog.

The BSG was formed by Kevin Koscielniak, Gary Astridge, Angelo Ervolina, Christ Szuflita and Michael Whalen after they met on August 13th when preparing to file their CVA cases the next day. It was eminently appropriate that their first event would take place on November 14th since it was exactly 3 months prior – August 14th – that these men were able to file their CVA claims right after the stroke of midnight. You can learn more about that experience via this link.

“The Guys,” as I affectionately refer to them, began getting to know each other better in the days and weeks that followed that historic August evening. They began to discuss the possibility of holding a public event that would provide support for fellow survivors while educating the public about sexual abuse and its effects on survivors. Soon they had a formal name, a logo and a motto: To Enlighten and Empower. They hope to enlighten the public while empowering their fellow survivors. Their logo symbolizes the survivors’ journey from the darkness of abuse into the light of healing.

As one of The Guys explained the logo: “We have traveled a long road being silent. The sun began rising when we came forward and told someone about our abuse, but the road continues because we still have a long journey ahead of us. And this road is not just for survivors – it is for everyone who travels with us, people from the past like our families and friends… and the people who are now with us moving forward…. and for the people we will one day meet and connect with.” The logo is triangular in shape to symbolize the mountain that survivors are climbing as they overcome so many challenges in their lives.

The event was entitled Enlighten & Empower: An Evening with Survivors and the goal was to “educate and enlighten the public about sexual abuse and the symptoms and effects that survivors endure – all done through stories from survivors along with open, honest and transparent conversations with the audience.” The event was held in the Parish Center at St. Mary’s Church in Swormville. This location was chosen for a very specific reason – the pastor there, Fr. Bob Zilliox, is a clerical abuse survivor and has been an outspoken critic of Bishop Malone and the manner in which the abuse scandal has been handled in our diocese.

Fr. Bob

Fr. Bob got the evening started with a warm welcome and a particularly moving prayer that touched on the many sufferings survivors endure. After that, a touching letter was read from Chris Szuflita, one of the founding members, who lives at a distance and wasn’t able to attend the event. Then each of the 4 remaining founding members shared their stories.

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Gary Astridge went first followed by Angelo Ervolina

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Followed by Michael Whalen:

Mike Kevin Bill

And finally Kevin Koscielniak:

Kevin

As you can imagine, the stories these four shared were devastating and heartrending. The old saying “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room” was certainly proven true that evening. The Guys showed pictures of themselves at the time of their abuse, which made their testimonies even more powerful. Gary commented that his current fight for justice is really a fight for his younger self, who suffered so horribly at such an innocent age. As so many attendees noted afterwards, it was an honor and a privilege to hear The Guys share their stories.

Sarah at home
Sarah Ann Shiley

After The Guys shared their stories, they opened the floor to questions, discussion and conversation. During that time, another survivor was able to share her story – Sarah Ann Shiley. Readers of this blog may remember Sarah’s story from this post back in June when Sarah was not permitted to share her testimony at one of Bishop Malone’s infamous Listening Sessions. WKBW-Channel 7 also did a story on Sarah’s situation, which can be viewed below:

It was really incredible to witness Sarah share her story in such a supportive environment to a clearly engaged audience. Everyone was extremely moved by her compelling, heartbreaking words.What a powerful juxtaposition to the “listening” session this past June! I’d especially like to thank Sarah for representing the many female victims of clerical sexual abuse.

It’s important to note that the Buffalo Survivors Group is not intended solely for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Rather, it is open to anyone who has suffered abuse no matter who the perpetrator or associated institution may be. As the BSG has noted: “Sexual abuse has lifelong effects. Survivors of sexual abuse suffer in silence from many symptoms. We want to educate and inform the community about the psychological, emotional and physical harm sexual abuse causes, as well as provide support and help with resources that are available to survivors and the community.” As you can see, there are no distinctions made regarding abuse or the perpetrators of that abuse.

The evening concluded with a brief presentation from Rebecca Stevens, Executive Director of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) here in Buffalo. She was assisted in her presentation by Janine Tramont, Director of Development. Together, they explained the mission of the Child Advocacy Center: “to integrate and coordinate services to meet the needs of child victims of sexual and serious physical abuse and their families at a single, child friendly facility. Such response is intended to reduce trauma, promote accountability and facilitate healing.” Their vision is that children in their homes and in our community would be healthy, safe, and free from harm. 

The mission and vision of the CAC is very close to the hearts of the BSG Founders. As Michael Whalen has said, “There wasn’t a CAC to help me when I was a kid, so I want to make sure kids now a days get the help they need and that’s what the CAC does!” The CAC presentation provided the right note on which to end the evening – hopeful, optimistic and action-oriented. Many attendees spoke with the CAC representatives after the event to learn more about their work and to ask about opportunities for volunteering or other collaboration.

Although the event ended at 9 pm, quite a few people stayed for a while to talk with the survivor speakers and to connect with other attendees. Everyone I spoke with had a very favorable reaction to the evening. An attendee of the event told me that the evening represented a “leap over barriers” – the barriers of secrecy and shame, the aversion to discussing topics that are consider off-limits or taboo, the tendency to turn away from painful things rather than embrace them. This attendee and quite a few others were eager to know when the next event would take place. I told The Guys that it’s always a good sign when people ask about a second event right after your first one has concluded!

Because of the positive reaction to this first event and the desire to “enlighten and empower” as many people as possible, the Buffalo Survivors Group is planning a second event sometime in mid-January at a to-be-determined location. Please stay tuned for more information as it becomes available!

On a personal note, I found the evening to be very cathartic. Listening to the survivors’ stories brought on strong emotions, but it was a relief to express those emotions freely and openly. It is indescribably powerful to listen to such raw, painful truths being shared by such strong, resilient people. While the sorrow in the room was almost palpable, so was the loving support within the room. We cannot see or touch sorrow or love, but sometimes we can feel them to such an extent that they almost achieve tangibility. There was a great deal of light and love in that room: the light that comes from truths being shared and stories told… and the love with which those truths and stories were received.

Room

One thing I particularly valued about the set up of the event was that everyone was in a large circle. There was no “head table” or podium or anything like that, which was just as The Guys wanted it. They wanted the logistics to foster an open, honest conversation among friends and advocates. Another neat element of the evening: because the survivors who spoke were not introduced beforehand, attendees didn’t know they were sitting next to a survivor until he or she began to speak*.  It was a powerful reminder that we often don’t know that a survivor is in our midst. They are our family members, our friends, our colleagues, our neighbors, our acquaintances. Let us strive to always be someone they can turn to if they need our help or support.

Gary Me Bill
Thanks to Bill Ogilvie (right) for joining me as a Moderator for this event

As you may have surmised, I forgot to take any pictures during the event, which means I have relied completely on WKBW reporter, Nikki DeMentri, for screen grabs from her story about the event. I’d like to thank Nikki and WKBW, Fadia Patterson and Spectrum News, and the WIVB team (I didn’t catch their names) for attending this event and spreading the word about it. Nikki’s full story can be viewed below:

Please stay tuned for more information about Enlighten & Empower: An Evening With Survivors #2!

 

* Michael Whalen being the exception here

Reflections on All Survivors Day

All Survivors Day is “an international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse, bring their stories into the light, raise awareness of the widespread nature of the issue and organize for change in the culture that allows sexual abuse to continue,” according to their website. For me, it is also a day to reflect on what I’ve learned from survivors and how knowing them has so powerfully influenced my life.

Talking to survivors at the Chancery during the spring of 2018 was a truly transformative experience for me. I often say that I’m not the same person I was before that time. Those conversations with survivors opened my eyes to the reality of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in a raw, powerful and lasting way. I vividly recall the emotions I felt as I took those calls or spoke to survivors in person. It was a “no turning back now” experience. Once you know, you know…. and there is no retreating to the Land of Before.

How grateful I am to no longer need to speak to survivors in hushed tones on a Chancery phone. I vividly recall modulating my voice when a survivor would call during a time when the Bishop or other Chancery officials were afoot. The hallway behind my desk led to Bishop Grosz and Steve Timmel’s offices, so I had to be careful. I knew I’d be in quite a predicament if one of the bishops or Steve heard me urging a survivor to get a lawyer and not sign anything without legal counsel. Likewise, I tried to hide my tears as best I could because otherwise there would be talk about “Siobhan having a tough day” or “Siobhan not being able to handle it.” Why, I thought, is the emphasis on me? Shouldn’t they be worried about the survivors and their plight, which was what brought those stinging tears to my eyes in the first place? Why were they treating survivor calls and visits to the Chancery as a nuisance rather than as a plea for help and a call to action? Why was Bishop Malone more worried about “isolating” me from survivor calls than addressing the issues the survivors were raising?!

zero abuse logo

These days, I no longer have to modulate my voice or hold in my tears. Through my job as a Victim Assistance Civil Specialist with the Zero Abuse Project (ZAP), I am able to spend my entire workday helping survivors. It used to be that I would work during the day and then devote my evenings and weekends to survivor-related efforts. But now my side passion has become my full-time focus and it’s AMAZING! How deeply grateful I am to be working for this awesome non-profit organization whose mission is to protect children from abuse and sexual assault, by engaging people and resources through a trauma-informed approach of education, research, advocacy, and advanced technology. The ZAP vision is “a world where every child is free from abuse.” Every ZAP employee is zealous about making this vision a reality.

Gone are the days when I had no place to bring a survivor visitor so we ended up in an unused storage room on the 4th floor. Now I can invite survivors into a conference room where they’ll share their story in a safe, secure and comfortable environment. Gone are the days of lowering my voice to tell a survivor what I really think. Now I share my thoughts and advice freely. And even though I don’t need to hold my tears in anymore, I find that I don’t cry nearly as much as I did back in my Chancery days. Why? I believe it is because now I can actually DO SOMETHING for survivors and that makes all the difference. During my Chancery days, I was crying for a lot of reasons: the suffering of survivors, most of all, but also my inability to help them plus the moral quandary of working for the Diocese. Basically, there was a lot to cry about.

Do I still cry? Absolutely. The sorrow is still there. It always will be. It’s impossible to hear survivor stories and not be moved by them. But now, sorrow isn’t my only response. I can take action and assist survivors. I can encourage them, support them, guide them, and help them. It’s sorrow that can roll up its sleeves and get to work: tears transformed.

My work with the Zero Abuse Project has taught me so much about what “all survivors” really means. In my new role, I speak to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, but also survivors of teachers, counselors, troop leaders and others. Talking to “all survivors” has taught me two very important lessons:

  1. Predators are frighteningly similar in their strategies and techniques
  2. Survivors are amazingly similar in their strength and resiliency

Of course, every survivor has a very different path to navigate. Some are struggling more than others due to circumstances over which they have little control. Others are just coming to grips with what happened to them and the experience is overwhelming them. One survivor told me recently that, “I always thought I was okay and that was in the past, but now I realize it never went away and it’s almost harder now than it was back then.” No matter where a survivor is at on their healing journey, they are dealing with daily challenges that non-survivors cannot truly fathom.

Navigating

As a non-survivor, I’ve been pondering the fact that survivorhood is somewhat like a country with its own language, customs and culture. It is a land that no one wants to enter, but once you are there, you see, hear and feel everything differently from those who are not citizens of Survivorhood. For non-survivors, the word “trauma” might bring to mind blunt force trauma or a traumatic brain injury. For survivors, that word is deeply personal and painful. Likewise, the word “flashback” might make a non-survivor think of a narrative technique in movies or books. For survivors, flashbacks are disturbing and often daily elements of their lives.

I’ve learned to appreciate these new definitions for familiar terms and to respect the culture of Survivorhood. I now choose my words carefully and am determined to always act in a survivor-friendly and trauma-informed manner. Whenever I’m not sure of what to do or say, I pray to God for guidance and I reach out to a survivor for advice. They are always more than happy to help! I have learned so much from them, but I know that I will always have more to learn.

On All Survivors Day, I want to recommit myself to helping all survivors in every way I can. I am fortunate that my job allows me to do this on a regular basis. But no matter what your circumstances may be, you can help survivors!

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The first step is to be the sort of person you’d want to turn to if you were a survivor yourself. If you were dealing with the immense pain and trauma of sexual abuse, what kind of person would you turn to for help or support? Most likely you’d be looking for someone who would believe you, listen to you and show you compassion.

“I believe you.” Just knowing you believe them is a tremendous gift to survivors. Survivors have many burdens to bear – they should not also bear the burden of proof.

Listen. Listen more than you talk. Listen more than you tell. Just listen. Don’t judge, don’t analyze, don’t criticize… treat the survivor as you’d want to be treated.

You may never know how much you’ve helped a survivor just by believing them and listening to them.

From there, compassionately assist them as you’re able. Express your support for them and encourage them to find help if they need it. Maybe you’re able to check in with them occasionally to see how they’re doing. You could invite them to an event they’d benefit from or include them in an activity they’d enjoy. Perhaps you have or know of a therapist who might be a good fit for them. If you’re of the prayerful persuasion, you can keep them in your daily prayers by name. If you have compassion, it will show and it will make a difference. It will help more than you know.

Robert Shelton
Infographic created by Robert Shelton

This helpful infographic shows the progression of engagement from pity to compassion. Compassion comes from Latin and means “suffering with another.” That is what we are called to do to the extent we are able: to suffer with survivors so that they are not alone as they have so often been. We cannot actually experience their suffering, but may we do all we can to relieve it.

Sometimes survivors are told to “move on” or “get on” with their lives. These are not a survivor-friendly or trauma-informed phrases yet they are frequently used. I believe that “carry on” is a much better and more accurate way to look at it. Survivors can’t leave their abuse behind and just “move on.” They will carry their abuse and its effects with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, survivors will continue their journey toward hope and healing, but they may end up taking two steps forward and falling back three. They will have to get back up and try it one more time. Why? Because what they are carrying is extremely hard and heavy:

  • pain
  • trauma
  • fear
  • isolation
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • estrangement
  • flashbacks
  • nightmares
  • trust issues
  • emotional distress
  • loss of faith
  • separation from God
  • loss of family support
  • financial difficulties
  • drug or alcohol dependency
  • self-esteem issues
  • problems with authority
  • anger
  • sorrow
  • physical ailments
  • self harm
  • panic attacks
  • self-blame and shame
  • relationship challenges
  • inability to concentrate
  • insomnia
  • suicidal thoughts

They are carrying on as best they can, but they are bearing burdens heavier and harder than we non-survivors can even comprehend. Let us be there to lift them up and help them as they carry on.

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

The last item on the list above is a tragic but important one to remember. Many survivors are no longer with us because the burdens they carried became overwhelming. Let us remember and pray for them in a special way today. May we also pray for those who mourn them.

Before I close, I want to mention and salute survivors’ spouses, children and loved ones, who are victims of the residual effect of abuse. The ripple effects of abuse know no bounds and impact so many people. Please remember that a survivors’ family members may need support and encouragement just as the survivor themself does.

To all of my survivor friends: thank you for changing my life, helping me to become a better person, and teaching me what strength and resilience mean. Those are no longer mere words to me – they are real people with names and faces.

As you carry on, know that you are not alone. You are believed, respected and loved.

 

Those We Cannot See

[This is a two-part reflection… the first half focuses on the living – the second concerns the dead.]

A great deal of the work of life goes on behind the scenes and is accomplished by people who are not often seen or always acknowledged for it. These behind-the-scene folks are so often extremely humble and hard-working. Please allow me to introduce you to two such people. 

Yesterday was a difficult day for the I-Team at WKBW-Channel 7 as it marked the last day for Jeff “The Wizard” Wick. Jeff has been an integral part of the I-Team investigation into the Diocese of Buffalo as well as the other award-wining investigations they’ve conducted over the past several years. You may never have seen Jeff’s face since he’s always behind the camera – not in front of it, but you’ve certainly seen his work. The stellar graphic design and impeccable production value of the I-Team’s reports are all a credit to Jeff’s skillful talent. As a Catholic and former altar boy, Jeff shared Charlie’s commitment to the Diocesean investigation as well as the sorrow of covering such a dreadful story. Charlie and Jeff have something else in common: humility. Despite being enormously talented, Jeff never made a big deal about it. He and Charlie were always focused on getting the truth out and, in particular, sharing survivors’ stories. It was never about them – collectively or individually.

Although I didn’t work with Jeff as directly or frequently as I have with Charlie, I certainly came to appreciate his talents and his temperament. If you could define an adjective with a person, Jeff would be in the dictionary under “chill.” He remains calm and easy going no matter what time constraints or deadlines he may be facing. “Yeah, sure – yep, I can get that done” would be his relaxed response and then he’d work his magic and make it happen. I so enjoyed watching Jeff and Charlie work together. Theirs was a collaboration marked by congenial, harmonious camaraderie. Jeff was a true teammate to Charlie – keeping up with the Diocesan doings while also covering completely different stories for WKBW. It’s really a wonder that he was able to do it all and do it all so well.

When Jeff mic’d me up yesterday morning for my interview with Charlie, it was a bittersweet moment to know he’d be behind the camera for the last time. I was deeply grateful that I could do one last interview with the two of them, but it saddened me so much to think of Jeff making his departure. Ultimately, gratitude got the upper hand as I considered how fortunate we were to have Jeff on the I-Team especially for these last 18 months. His contributions were extremely significant and made a lasting impact on our diocese and community. It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Jeff. I know that he will be successful in his next endeavor because talent, skill and humility are always a winning combination. Please join me in thanking Jeff for his amazing work and in wishing him well as he heads off to DC to work for Newsy!

I can’t talk about Charlie’s behind-the-scenes guy without highlighting his behind-the-scenes girl… his wonderful wife, Shannon. In fact, I’ve been waiting for just such an opportunity to express my gratitude and respect for her. During the course of Charlie’s work on the DOB story, Shannon has made truly innumerable sacrifices while her husband has been devoted to this difficult and time-consuming work. Especially last summer and fall, Charlie’s I-Team responsibilities resulted in a lot of late nights and weekend work. I remember thinking of Shannon so much during those tumultuous months. A year ago, I wrote this to her in an email: “It’s almost as if you’re a military wife whose husband is engaged in a very unusual battle that keeps him away for extended periods of time. Charlie has the greatest work ethic I’ve ever witnessed, which is awesome and so crucial for our cause, but a real sacrifice for you. Thank you for making that sacrifice for the greater good. You are one of my heroes!” I certainly feel exactly the same way a year later.

Thank you, Shannon, for sacrificing you and your family’s time with Charlie so that he could complete the investigations and reports that have had such a seismic effect on our diocese. Thank you for your crucial input on the stories especially #3 last fall! Thank you for being selfless when it would have been quite easy (and very understandable) for you to have a different reaction. Thank you for helping your three sweet children to understand why Daddy was working so much even though you couldn’t explain the substance of his work due to its dark nature. Thank you for enduring the frustrations, challenges and even harassment that have come your family’s way over the past 18 months. The Mom is like the flight attendant of the family – if she remains calm and composed, everyone takes comfort in knowing that it’s going to be okay. Thank you, Shannon, for keeping it all together through all of the turbulence of this past year. You are the definition of a behind-the-scenes hero and we all owe you more than we realize!

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Paying Pedophiles

“Follow the money” is an expression commonly used when describing suspicious political or business dealings. It is not a phrase that I would have associated with the Catholic Church… at least not before last year. 2018 opened my eyes to the corruption and complicity within the Diocese of Buffalo, which we know is sadly present within the entire Church. But during my time at the Chancery, I never had anything to do with financial matters and had very little ability to follow the money. However, I know someone who did and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share her story with you.

When Kim Petrella started working for the Diocese of Buffalo in September of 2014, she was part of the Payroll Office. Soon after I started at the Chancery in July of 2015, Kim moved to Accounts Payable. Considering the amount of accounts that needed to be paid, I assumed that Accounts Payable was a multi-person department just as Payroll was. But at the Catholic Center, Accounts Payable was just one person: Kim. A single staff member was responsible for writing all of the checks and overseeing all of the money flowing out of Diocesan headquarters. Kim would receive check requests from all of the different departments within the Catholic Center as well as external bills from various vendors.

No matter how busy she was, Kim always had time for a smile and never let me feel bad about adding another request to the pile. The fact that Kim was able to keep Accounts Payable running smoothly is a credit to her work ethic, ability and tenacity. She was exactly the kind of employee the Catholic Center needed: capable of doing more than one person’s worth of work and keeping her chin up while doing so. I remember thinking how crazy it was that one person was responsible for all of that work, which included dealing with a check-writing system that was older than I was.

ibm computer
This is what Kim’s computer looked like with the IBM AS400 software to match. 
ibm software
I used to do a double take every time I saw Kim’s computer screen or saw her using green bar printer paper. Visiting her cubicle felt like traveling back to the 80’s in terms of technology. 

Kim was handling an unbelievably intense workload with only decades-old technology at her disposal. Catholic Center managers were not used to Accounts Payable actually asking them for receipts or reminding them to use tax exempt forms. From Kim’s perspective, they had all been coddled by past employees in her position, who must have looked the other way.

The CFO at the time, Steve Timmel, requested that Kim let her supervisor, Chuck Mendolera, know of any red flags or issues she encountered. But this was purely an illusion – they didn’t actually want to know about any misspending. Kim’s proactive approach resulted in a reactive response from Chuck. When Kim brought up questions about overspending, misappropriation of funds, personal spending, missing documentation or missing petty cash, she was pacified by Chuck with comments such as: “Don’t get involved with budgets,” “That department brings in a lot of money so we can’t tell them how to spend it,” “Leave that department alone” and “Why are you always at my door with another issue?” As Kim explains it, “I never really understood what gaslighting was until it was being shoved in my face anytime I had a legitimate concern while working there.” Despite those legitimate concerns, she was supposed to “just do her job.”

But then the time came when she couldn’t just do her job.

MW

When Michael Whalen stepped forward on February 27, 2018 to tell his story and hold the Diocese accountable, Kim and other Finance colleagues were watching from the windows of the 4th floor reception area. They saw Michael standing in the cold “just speaking his truth” as Kim put it. All Kim could think was “This poor guy has no idea what he’s up against!” Kim reflected on the stark difference between the special treatment priests received and the minimal assistance a few victims were getting. She recalled the lavish spending by Bishop Malone and the mindless spending within various departments. Cringing, she thought of the diocesan lawyers and the millions of dollars they make from defending the Diocese. She knew that the cards were stacked high against Michael Whalen.

When Kim arrived to work shortly after Michael’s press conference, she took a quick glance at the Insurance Services checks to be processed that day. She saw a $500.00 deductible reimbursement check request for Rev. Norbert Orsolits to be sent to his personal mailing address. Kim was flabbergasted. Orsolits? she thought. Wait, no – that can’t be. Just days prior, the WNY community had learned of Orsolits’ crimes against young boys. He had personally admitted to molesting “dozens of them.” And now she was expected to write a check for this man?

InkedOrsolits struck by unknown_LI
This is a photo Kim took from her flash drive of a previously paid reimbursement to Orsolits. Kim no longer has the hard copy – it is with the FBI.

Kim remembers thinking to herself, “This has to be a mistake – there’s no way they’d be paying a priest who was JUST named as an abuser.” Stepping away from her cubicle to clear her head, Kim thought about asking her co-workers if they thought the payment should go through. She knew that if she asked Chuck about the payment she’d be met with opposition. As Kim described it, “In a moment of divine intervention, I happened to look at my co-worker’s chair and saw Michael’s picture on the front page of the paper that was sitting there. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Michael’s picture. I knew I had stumbled onto something bigger. There was something wrong going on if they were knowingly paying and supporting a priest who just admitted to abusing ‘probably dozens of boys.'”

Kim quietly retreated back into her cubicle to try and figure out what was going on. This is how Kim describes her thought process at this seismic moment:

Was this check request intentionally given to me or was there some kind of probation period for an accused priest? As soon as I sat down and started reading Orsolits’ file, I saw that he had four previous reimbursements paid to him within the past few years. They were all for collision work. I even made one payment to him without knowing who he was! At that moment, I realized that this check request in front of me was an intentional payment to Orsolits. I literally felt a shift in reality. Everything I’d seen in the past 4 years finally made sense. A montage of memories paraded through my mind: sorting mail for priests with the 795 Main Street address because they were “unassigned” with no other address, internal memos about priests going on ‘Special Medical’ leave, meetings between Finance and Insurance Services, the Diocesan Review Board meetings, all of the catered priest parties at the Bishop’s Residence, the monthly payments for Art Smith’s luxury apartment in Williamsville – even the treatment I had received from management. I was poking at the scum that was thinly hiding the network of people and paperwork it takes to keep this scam going.

The circumstances of the check request on her desk didn’t help matters. Orsolits’ car had been found on the side of the road in Ellicottville – damaged to such an extent that it required a tow to the nearest collision shop. When the mechanics contacted Orsolits, he stated that he had no idea how his car was found all banged up on the side of the road. At the time, he said, he’d been at a yoga class in Sardinia. (These two locations are a 30-minute drive apart.) No further explanation was required of Orsolits. The Diocesan Insurance Department didn’t look into the matter or take into account the multiple vehicular mishaps Orsolits had experienced over the past few years. All of them were labeled “Hit and run” or “Struck a deer.”

This time, Kim couldn’t “just do her job.” She couldn’t stomach the idea of writing a check for Norbert Orsolits. Not after learning what he’d done to young boys over the course of so many priestly assignments throughout the diocese. She was morally repelled by the idea of preparing a check for Orsolits and mailing that check to the exact same cabin where he had abused young boys – including Michael Whalen.

Kim couldn’t help but think of all the costs the diocese had covered for Orsolits over the years: health insurance, dental insurance, auto insurance, pension, etc. She realized that for decades, the diocese had been paying pedophiles a LOT of money. This was just one such pedophile and he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

orsolits 10 years
This is the pension amount that Orsolits has received from the Diocese of Buffalo over just the past 10 years. This figure was calculated by using the diocese’s own Priests’ Salary Scale. It does not include health or auto insurance premiums and payouts or other costs.

Not long after her Orsolits check awakening, Kim was talking to Chuck in the copy room when he began screaming at her. In fact, he became so apoplectic that the entire Finance and Payroll departments could hear him. At the end of his outburst, he yelled at her: “Get out!” At this, Kim went to the office of Steve Timmel in tears and threw her papers on his chair. She told Steve that she didn’t print out the Insurance Services checks that were due. As she explained: “I had an involuntary, visceral reaction seeing the Orsolits’ payment request and seeing Michael’s story on the front page. I knew that I physically and morally couldn’t print that check. I told Steve I wasn’t being insubordinate, but I wouldn’t pay that pervert priest his check.”

Kim was so upset by the situation that she took a few days off as suggested by Colleen O’Connell, the HR Director at the time. Colleen had recommended that she “cool off.” On the morning of March 13th, which was Kim’s birthday, she received a call from Colleen who said, “Happy Birthday! I need your resignation letter if you’re not coming back.” So Kim sent the following email of resignation:

Kim resignation
Text reads as follows: Hi Colleen,
Please accept this email as my resignation and two week notice as of March 13, 2018.
The reasons I gave to Chuck were that I owe it to myself to start looking for a job where my hard work is recognized and appreciated. I can’t stay at a job where I’m crying, shaking and throwing up. And that I’m tired of getting ignored or yelled at whenever I bring up a concern. Either involving financial red flags I thought I was supposed to be looking for or any suggestion I asked from him regarding struggles I have with department managers, concerns about timely check processing or concerns about my job duties in general. I have been an outstanding employee and I am to the point where I am physically sick from the work environment and atmosphere. Starting with my bullying concerns with [Employee name removed by their demand] I experienced within my first few months of employment, and ending with having Chuck Mendolera screaming at me to get out on March 12, 2018 I can no longer perform my duties in that environment.
Kimberly Petrella
Kim Petrella couldn’t pay pedophiles. So she resigned from her position.

Kim Petrella left a steady job for the sake of her conscience.

Michael Whalen stood outside of the Catholic Center and courageously told his story of abuse.

Kim Petrella took a stand inside the Catholic Center for the sake of Michael Whalen and all other victims of abusive priests.

She wouldn’t and couldn’t do her job one day longer. She couldn’t write one more check or insurance payout to a pedophile while also knowing that Payroll was taking care of paying pedophile their pensions.

We owe Kim a tremendous debt of gratitude for courageously following her conscience.

Earlier this month, Michael Whalen was able to extend his gratitude to Kim. After meeting Kim, he listened as she told her story and how his actions had influenced her so much last year. Michael was awed by Kim’s story and her courage in the face of such pressure to “just do her job.” He told her again and again how proud of her he was and how grateful he was to her. As Kim shared her story, there were some laughs and a few tears and there was a great big hug at the end of it. Michael told Kim that she’s now “part of his family” – the family of survivors and supporters he has been gaining for well over 18 months now.

For Kim, this is what meeting Michael meant to her: “Finally being able to meet Michael was a huge honor for me. I wanted him to know that I saw him that day when he stood on the corner bravely naming his abuser. He had no idea I was watching from the 4th floor. I needed him to know that I SAW him.”

Do you want to know what made Michael smile the most during his meeting with Kim?

The fact that her departure from the Accounts Payable department meant that the check for Orsolits wasn’t written for approximately 7 weeks. It gave Michael some satisfaction to know that his abuser had to wait for that check instead of receiving it right away as he normally would.

For decades, the Diocese of Buffalo has treated its pedophile priests better than the survivors of those pedophile priests.

Thanks to Kim, we know about it. And so does the DA and the FBI.

Kim has fully cooperated with the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and looks forward to speaking with the Attorney General’s office regarding the financial concerns she discovered during her employment with the Diocese of Buffalo. 

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Nota Bene: There are 23 (alleged) pedophile priests on the Diocese of Buffalo’s current payroll. 22 deceased priests stayed on the DOB payroll after abuse allegations against them were known to the diocese. The Diocese of Buffalo has been paying pedophiles for decades. These abusers were never held accountable for their crimes and they continue to receive regular financial support from the Diocese. Members of the Diocese of Buffalo have been unknowingly funding this pedophile payroll the whole time.

[Here is the Diocese’s current list of Priests with Substantiated Allegations of Abuse of a Minor: https://www.buffalodiocese.org/documents/News/PublishedDiocPriests91219.pdf?fbclid=IwAR1G5Cge0e0zaLex_t9n_R2zTouB5goatBuTcdEPgeMxFpV86z1MgAjsm7w]

In 2001, Pope John Paul II issued a motu proprio entitled Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela. Motu proprio means “of his own accord,” which indicates that the order was drawn up and issued by a pope on his own initiative, and not conditioned by any petitionary requests. A motu proprio is always signed personally by the pope.*

The salient section of this motu proprio is as follows:

Whenever an Ordinary (Bishop) has at least probable knowledge (notitiam saltem verisimilem habeat) of the commission of one of the reserved grave delicts**, after having carried out the preliminary investigation, he is to inform the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which, unless it called the case to itself because of special circumstances, would indicate to the Ordinary how to proceed. 

By Bishop Malone’s own admission, this process of sending cases to Rome would have resulted in many abusive priests in the DOB being dismissed from the clerical state. They would have lost all of the rights and privileges of the clerical state INCLUDING FINANCIAL SUPPORT. The Diocese of Buffalo would have saved millions of dollars since 2001. We would not have been financially supporting clerical criminals as they lived in their cabins, cottages and condos. 

Bishop Malone likes to go on and on about how his predecessors didn’t follow this motu proprio and send cases to the Vatican as they should have. It is undeniably true that Bishop Mansell and Bishop Kmiec didn’t follow this protocol and they’ll have to answer for that in this life and/or the next.

But the fact remains that Bishop Malone allowed those same cases to languish in the Secret Archives! The infamous black binder – which he received a month after he was installed as our bishop – clearly alerted him to the existence of all of these cases. He knew about the “bad guys” and the “broken toys,” as he and Bishop Grosz referred to the abusive priests. Bishop Malone knew they were in there and he did nothing about it. He put the black binder in the vacuum closet and was done with it.

Prior to August 2018 – exactly 6 years after he was installed as bishop – only one case had been sent to Rome for adjudication. And that did not happen at Bishop Malone’s initiative! Rather, it was Father Bob Zilliox who initiated the filing of that case***. If it hadn’t been for Father Bob – with support from Father Ryszard – NO CASES WOULD HAVE GONE TO ROME BEFORE AUGUST 2018.

Bishop Malone would have been here for SIX YEARS and never processed EVEN ONE CASE despite a papal order from nearly twenty years prior.

Meanwhile, the people of the Diocese of Buffalo continued to innocently contribute to the pedophile payroll. 

Bishop Malone has publicly stated that a decision about bankruptcy will be made before year’s end. For many reasons, the Diocese of Buffalo should not file for bankruptcy. One of the primary reasons is that bankruptcy wouldn’t even be a consideration if pedophile priests hadn’t been on the diocesan payroll for decades.

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*Thanks to the Catholic Dictionary for this definition.

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** The delicta graviora are as follows:

Delicts against the sanctity of the Most Holy Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Eucharist:

1. Throwing away, taking or retaining the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose, or profaning the consecrated species (CIC can. 1367; CCEO can. 1442).

2. Attempting the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice or the simulation thereof (CIC can. 1378 § 2 n. 1, can. 1379; CCEO can. 1443).

3. Concelebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice together with ministers of ecclesial communities which do not have Apostolic succession nor recognize the Sacramental dignity of priestly ordination (CIC can. 908, 1365; CCEO can. 792, 1440).

4. Consecrating one matter without the other in a Eucharistic celebration or both outside of a Eucharistic celebration (cf. CIC can. 927).

Delicts against the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance:

1. Absolution of an accomplice in the sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue (CIC can. 1378 § CCEO can. 1457).

2. Solicitation to sin with the confessor against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, in the act of, context of or pretext of the Sacrament of Penance (CIC can. 1387; CCEO can. 1458).

3. Direct violation of the Sacramental seal (CIC can. 1388 § 1; CCEO can. 1456).

Delicts against morality:

The violation of the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, committed by a cleric with a minor under the age of 18.

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*** This was a case that I wanted to take with me because it involved Bishop Malone having assigned the priest as a pastor when that priest had multiple allegations of abuse of minors in his file. However, this case had finally gone to Rome for adjudication and I was worried about messing with the process. I figured our Diocese had only sent one case to Rome and I didn’t want any actions of mine to disturb that long-awaited process. I trust that this story will come out eventually. The truth always does.

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Both of the staff members mentioned in Kim’s resignation letter have been promoted this year:

Employee Name Removed by Their Demand

Chuck Mendolera: https://www.wnycatholic.org/news/article/featured/2019/04/10/103600/diocese-announces-new-executive-director-of-financial-administration

 

Photo credits: Kim Petrella and Michael Whalen with thanks for allowing me to interview them.