As Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York faces serious scrutiny of his handling of sex abuse cases, a whistleblower appeared in an interview with 60 Minutes.
Bishop Malone has been accused of mishandling cases of sexual misconduct by priests in his diocese. Although he rejected calls to resign, Malone said he would appoint a task force to review how sexual abuse claims are handled. By March, the diocese released the names of 42 priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors over decades. However, Siobhan O’Connor, the former executive assistant to Bishop Richard Malone, says the number of priests accused of sexual abuse is actually much higher. Ms. O’Connor said she knew there were more names because she had seen a much larger list but that the bishop and his lawyers decided they would not reveal the names of accused priests still in ministry.
O’Connor worked for Bishop Malone for three years. Over time, she began seeing some unsettling information that showed how the diocese handled sexual abuse and that Malone engaged in cover-ups. She said that even after Malone said he would take action, she witnessed more efforts to protect the church’s reputation than the victims.
Ms. O’Connor said her decision to take action was influenced by phone calls she received from dozens of victims. She said their stories were heartbreaking, and when she tried to get the bishop to be more responsive, he would tell her it's not her concern. Out of concern for victims, O’Connor wrote a newspaper opinion piece, where she said victims “deserved compassion, not criticism.” How did Malone respond? He said she was not supportive enough of him.
Initially, O’Connor leaded hundreds of pages of secret internal documents indicating a cover-up of clerical sexual abusers to a local news station. She also turned over to the FBI confidential diocese documents about abuse allegations. On Sunday, O’Connor made her first public appearance – on 60 Minutes.
O’Connor told correspondent Bill Whitaker that among the most troubling cases was that of Fr. Arthur Smith, who despite allegation of sexual abuse and being removed from ministry by Malone’s predecessor, was allowed to minister as chaplain of a nursing home, function as a priest in the Buffalo Diocese, and serve as a priest on a cruise ship. O’Connor said that this might have really been the moment when she knew that she had to do something. “There were so many things [Malone] could have done, but he didn’t,” she added. “Instead, they locked down those files, and it went just to that, ‘Protect the diocese, protect the bishop.’”
When Whitaker said that some people would say she betrayed Bishop Malone, O’Connor didn’t disagree. “I did betray him, and yet I can't apologize for that, because there was a greater good to consider,” she replied. O’Connor said that she felt by not doing something, she would be betraying the victims.
I commend Ms. O’Connor for coming forward. I know how difficult it can be to stand up to one of the biggest institutions. I am also not surprised by what I saw on Sunday night. I, too, have first-hand experience with such cases. As an attorney in the 1980’s, I faced significant roadblocks in my pursuit of justice for the clergy abuse victims due to a conspiracy of silence within the Church.
Things will not change until the church leaders take action; until they stop choosing to conceal the abuse rather than end it. How can one have faith when faith, itself, is corrupt? That is a question I ask in my first, award-winning novel, Betrayal of Faith. It is time to stop covering up the decadent acts of the priest and circumventing justice. We must continue to expose the dangerous practices employed by the Catholic Church.