Sean Kirst: A vulnerable child, an abusive priest – and lasting scars

The Buffalo News

February 28, 2018

By Sean Kirst

What Michael Whalen remembers, when he thinks back on it, is the orange jacket.

He wore it almost 40 years ago, along with a pair of children’s snowpants, when the Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits, a priest at St. John Vianney in Orchard Park, took Whalen and two other boys on what was supposed to be a weekend ski trip to the Bluemont Ski Area in Yorkshire, south of Buffalo.

Whalen’s family, at the time, didn’t have a lot of money. When you had a coat, you kept it until you outgrew it. At Bluemont, the staff attached one of those tickets for a ski lift to the zipper.

Whalen, now 52, said he was wearing the orange jacket when Orsolits began sexually abusing him in a cottage not far from the ski area, a cottage where Orsolits still lives. Whalen saw no choice except to keep using the jacket in the months afterward, despite the memories it unleashed.

He could not bring himself to explain to his mother what it meant.

“I thought about it every time I saw that ski tag,” Whalen said.

Tuesday, Whalen went public in Buffalo with his account of being abused by the priest when Whalen was “13 or 14 years old.” He was accompanied at his news conference by Robert Hoatson, a former priest who advocates for abuse survivors. Whalen immediately braced himself for cynics, for people who would remember some of his struggles in life and insist he was lying.

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