Sexual abuse victims and advocates urge state to pass Child Victims Act

Feb 27, 2018

The push is being renewed to pass legislation in Albany that would allow childhood sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits for incidents that happened decades ago. Speaking in downtown Buffalo Tuesday was one Western New York man who says he was molested by a local priest while he was 14 years old.

The Child Victims Act would ease current statutes of limitations for criminal and civil sex abuse cases. It is supported by a majority in the State Assembly and by Governor Andrew Cuomo but has stalled in the State Senate.

Michael Whalen speaks in downtown Buffalo about sexual abuse he suffered at age 14. Whalen said it was conducted by a retired Catholic priest. Advocates for childhood sexual abuse victims are pushing for passage of a state law that would ease the statues of limitations that currently prevent adults like Whalen from pursuing civil action.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Supporters of the Child Victims Act were expected to gather in Albany Tuesday to push for its passage in the current legislative year. Another supporter, a child sex abuse survivor, stood with his advocate in downtown Buffalo. 

Michael Whalen stood across the street from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo headquarters, where he told his tale of being abused. He openly identified his alleged abuser as Father Norbert Orsolits who, in 1980, was with the St. John Vianney parish in Orchard park.

"He took me up to his cabin in Springville, where the abuse took place," Whalen said. "He got me out there on the means of going skiing at Kissing Bridge."

Whalen says he and two others were served alcohol and marijuana. He did not identify the others nor would he say whether they were abused, telling reporters it would be up to them to come forward. 

His story continued about keeping the abuse contained, turning to drugs and alcohol to try coping with his pain, how it resulted in a failed marriage and continued estrangement with a daughter. He explained he did report his long-ago abuse recently to Bishop Richard Malone and diocesan officials and was offered free counseling but nothing more. 

Whalen says coming forward now has been a part of his therapy.

"This means a lot to me and my family," he said. "If there's any other victims from Father Norb, step forward. You don't have to hide anymore. It took me a long time to step forward and confront this."

Under current New York State law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have until the age of 23 to pursue civil action. Supporters of the Child Victims Act say many victims are unable to come to terms with their past and muster the courage to seek help until long after that age.  

Whalen's advocate is Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, an agency that assists sexual abuse victims and their families. He identified himself as a former priest who was fired from a New Jersey parish after reporting abuse there.

Hoatson expressed confidence that the Child Victims Act will be passed this year. 

"Unfortunately, when Michael Whalen approached the Diocese of Buffalo with his request for assistance, I'm sure Bishop Malone and his attorney wiped the sweat off their brows and said 'whew, thank God for the statute of limitations. Here's another one we don't have to worry about,'" Hoatson said. "Bishop Malone, you have to worry about Michael Whalen."

Hoatson identified another local priest, Father Robert Conlin, as an alleged sexual abuser. 

The Diocese of Buffalo released the following statement in response to Tuesday's gathering outside their headquarters: "Since 1990, the Diocese of Buffalo has had policies to address sexual abuse.  Every complaint that we receive is addressed pursuant to a protocol that is designed both to protect children and to respond to victims.  We will have more to say about these important issues later this week.  We will not comment on these particular complaints except to note that Fr. Norbert Orsolits was removed from ministry in 2003 and that Fr. Robert Conlin died in 1997."