Priest Who Starred in "the Exorcist" Accused of Sexually Abusing Student in the 1980s

By Steve Orr
USA TODAY and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
August 16, 2019

Father Bill O’Malley, an outgoing Jesuit teacher who became a Rochester, New York, celebrity after a star turn in the supernatural film "The Exorcist," has been accused of sexually abusing one of his students at McQuaid Jesuit High School three decades ago.

The Rev. William J. O’Malley S.J. joined the McQuaid faculty in 1965. By the time he left the Brighton school in the mid-1980s, he was one of the best-known clergy members in town.

He now lives, at age 87, in the Jesuit community at Fordham University in the Bronx. He is widely known not only for his Hollywood stint, but as the author of more than three dozen books and as a lively ambassador for the Jesuit order and Catholic faith.

Until last week, his reputation had been sullied only by his abrupt dismissal in 2012 from Fordham Prep, whose authorities told the New York Post that O’Malley’s old-school teaching style was too "abrasive."

But on Wednesday, the first day for bringing old sex-abuse claims under New York’s Child Victims Act, O’Malley’s name appeared, buried deep within in a legal complaint listing a dozen local suspects.

The Democrat and Chronicle has reached out to O'Malley for comment.

'Multiple times'

Rev. William J. O'Malley, 1984 (Photo: File photo)

Like most of the complaints filed Wednesday, the language is purposefully vague. It accused O’Malley of sexually abusing a 17-year-old McQuaid student "multiple times" in 1985 and 1986. Some acts of abuse occurred at the school, in a classroom or in hallways. Some occurred at school-sponsored activities.

The plaintiff, identified by the initials J.W., now lives outside Atlanta. According to the complaint, the abuse caused him to suffer "severe emotional and psychological distress, humiliation, fright, dissociation, anger, depression, anxiety, family turmoil and loss of faith."

As horrifying as that language is, it’s boiler plate. Identical wording describes 10 of the 12 alleged victims of separate allegations in the complaint, which was filed by a pair of law firms from White Plains, New York, and Seattle.

A spokesman for the firms declined to provide any further information about the allegations but did verify the man they are accusing is the high-profile former McQuaid teacher. (A priest named William P. O’Malley III has been accused of molesting numerous boys in western Pennsylvania. They are two different people.)

O’Malley left McQuaid for Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx after the 1985-86 school year, when the abuse allegedly took place. It was not uncommon for church, religious orders and school officials, confronted with evidence of sexual misconduct, to shift the accused perpetrator to a new location rather than turning him in to police or dismissing him from the priesthood.

But the current administration at McQuaid has no record of any sexual offenses involving O’Malley and had never heard of the 1985-86 accusations until the lawsuit was filed last week, spokesman Sean Mullen told the Democrat and Chronicle.

Likewise, officials at the Jesuit province for the northeastern United States had not been aware of misconduct allegations against O’Malley until last week, spokesman Michael Gabriele said. O'Malley's name was not included in a list of priests suspected of sexually abusing minors that the province released in January.

However, both the school and the province were found lacking when the Democrat and Chronicle looked into their response to the naming of sexually abusing Jesuits earlier this year.

The newspaper found officials at both locations unable to provide basic information about those who had been accused and found the school denied knowing about accusations that earlier school leaders themselves had received and forwarded to police.

'Humor and charm'

O'Malley would have to be considered among McQuaid's most celebrated teachers.

By day, O'Malley taught advanced English and religion and was the drama director at the all-boys school.

When class let out, he gave public talks, appeared on local television, went to socials, directed extravagant school musicals and performed with aplomb in local theater.

He was quite good, according to a November 1971 review of a production of "The Glass Menagerie" in which he co-starred with well-known Hollywood actor and Rochester native Robert Forster.

"There was humor and charm and realness in his performance," the D&C’s Jean Walrath wrote.

Two months later, Walrath broke the news: Father O'Malley had been given a role in the "Exorcist."

As he has related many times, the role came about when O'Malley reviewed the "Exorcist" novel for the Books Sandwiched In program at the Rochester Public Library in the fall of 1971.

The book's author, Jesuit-educated William Peter Blatty, read the review and asked O'Malley to meet. They became friends and when production of the movie was being planned, he asked O'Malley to play the role of Father Joseph Dyer.

O'Malley's role was a meaningful one. He wise-cracked his way through several scenes, wept over the body of a priest who dies in the film's climax, and appeared in the final frames where O'Malley and actor Lee J. Cobb riff on the famous "Louis, this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship" line that closes "Casablanca."

The film about demonic possession came out in 1973, and is still considered one of the most successful and frightening horror tales ever made.

After the film's release, O'Malley's celebrity spread nationwide. As the priest who played a priest in a movie about the devil, he was in great demand for interviews and TV appearances. He returned to McQuaid in 1974, then took a year's sabbatical during which he taught courses at two universities, wrote four books, two plays and a screenplay and did more amateur theater.

When he came back from the 1975-76 school year, he told a D&C reporter that while he enjoyed "showing off," he wouldn’t miss the film star’s life.

"I was a moonlight actor, but I’m a teacher," O'Malley said. "My life is with the kids."

Follow Steve Orr on Twitter: @SOrr1








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