Abuse accusations against priests, bishops and cardinals reach levels not seen in years

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

July 26, 2018

By Peter Smith

[This article appeared on the front page of the Post-Gazette.]


Michael Whalen returned last year to his childhood Catholic parish in Western New York to unload a decades-old burden on his conscience.

He handed the priest $131, he told Buffalo-area media. That had been his share as a kid decades ago, when he and friends had split the proceeds from a stolen parish collection plate.

But as Mr. Whalen spoke to the current priest, he also revealed a far darker burden: that he had been sexually abused by his childhood priest, the Rev. Norbert Orsolits.

After that conversation, and more discussion with the local diocese, Mr. Whalen publicly identified his abuser this February.

A Buffalo News reporter sought comment from Father Orsolits — who candidly admitted to molesting “probably dozens” of boys before quietly retiring in 2003.

That unleashed months of revelations about the history of sexually abusive priests in the Diocese of Buffalo, and criticisms of the bishops who kept them in ministry.

Pennsylvania may be preoccupied with its own Supreme Court drama — drawing in batteries of legal, legislative and clerical players — over whether the public can see a mammoth grand-jury report into sexual abuse in Pittsburgh’s and five other Catholic dioceses. The report remains sealed pending challenges from some of those named in it.

But scandals are flaring up in Catholic dioceses throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions, and in countries ranging from Chile to France to Australia to the upper ranks of the Vatican. Pope Francis himself, after initial defensiveness, is now removing bishops in Chile and lamenting a “culture of abuse and cover-up.”

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