“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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
*Thanks to the Catholic Dictionary for this definition.
** 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.
*** 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.
Both of the staff members mentioned in Kim’s resignation letter have been promoted this year:
Employee Name Removed by Their Demand
Photo credits: Kim Petrella and Michael Whalen with thanks for allowing me to interview them.