BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A former priest for Buffalo’s Catholic Diocese is now admitting he sexually abused teenage boys in the late 1970’s.
That admission comes a day after a South Buffalo man accused the priest of abuse.
Michael Whalen came forward as a victim of a sex abuse by the now retired Reverend Norbert Orsolits.
We spoke to the former priest on the phone Wednesday.He didn’t want to do an on camera or phone interview, but does admit to engaging in sexual contact with multiple teenage boys, all of it fueled by alcohol.
Former Reverend Normand Orsolitis says he doesn’t remember 52-year-old Michael Whalen.
But, he did admit to touching multiple teenage boys sexually and having had them touch him.
Whalen said it destroyed his life and led him to abuse drugs and alcohol. He went back to the church last year and told the current priest there about the alleged abuse.
Whalen said, “They told me, the bishop and the lawyer told me the statue of limitations had passed.”
But after this abuse happened, Orsolits still continued to work as a priest.
He says after 1980, Bishop Edward Head sent him to a recovery institute in Canada, for six months of “psychological” treatment.
It’s something he says stopped him from pursuing sexual abuse further.
After treatment, Orsolitis says he then worked as a priest in a Portville and taught at a high school.
He later served as Chaplain at Buffalo General Hospital and for Hospice Buffalo.
In 2003, Bishop Henry Mansell told Orsolits he had to retire from ministry.
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Tuesday confirmed Orsolits was removed from ministry in 2003.
Whalen is fighting for the Child Victim’s Act which would extend the time-frame for victims to bring criminal and civil cases forward.
This is something District Attorney John Flynn supports, and is on the Governor’s agenda for state budget negotiations.
He says those in charge didn’t handle this case the right way. He said, “Whenever you have an entity or an institution take on those roles as Prosecutor, Judge and jury by them-selves, that is problematic.”
Orsolits says the Diocese called him to try to confirm Whalen’s accusations, but he couldn’t provide details.
The retired priest also says Whalen had a time span when he should have reported this, but he didn’t.
He believes that’s why this is coming out now. When we asked him his thoughts about the Child Victims Act, He said, “I think it has a purpose, but it can become too political.”
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 snow pants, when the Rev. Norbert 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 Orsolitis 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.
That night, his brother called to tell him about the kind of ultimate affirmation Whalen never believed he would receive.
Orsolits, removed from ministry as a priest in 2003 by the Diocese of Buffalo, admitted Tuesday to Buffalo News reporter Jay Tokasz that he abused “dozens” of boys during the time he wore a clerical collar. He suggested those incidents were consensual and typically involved alcohol, and he said he had been “led on” by some of the boys.
For Whalen, despite disbelieving fury that Orsolits would blame his youthful targets, it was if a boulder had been lifted from his shoulders. He said the abuse contributed to his years of alcohol and drug abuse, to feelings of self-contempt and shame. For decades, remembering the esteem in which priests were held when Whalen was a child, he didn’t believe people would understand if he dared to tell the truth.
While Oroslits said he didn’t recall Whalen specifically, he did not deny abusing him. Whalen said the priest’s admissions supported his core memories of that day, “almost word for word.” He hopes other survivors of abuse will finally feel safe in coming forward.
Whalen said he now sees he was a classic target for a predator. His father died when he was 6. His home life was turbulent, and he was eager to emulate impressive role models who seemed to show real concern.
Orsolits was a priest who supposedly related to his students, a guy who conducted “rock ‘n’ roll Masses” for young people at St. John Vianney. The priest would include music by Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and other bands Whalen loved.
Whalen said he trusted and admired Orsolits, a bond forged at a time when Whalen was beginning to rebel. He recalls that he smoked marijuana for the first time on a class trip to Crystal Beach. He described himself as a confused kid, moving a little closer to the edge.
Orsolits, he said, zeroed in on that confusion. The priest asked him to get his mother’s permission for the ski trip, which involved two other boys. Whalen does not know if those children were also abused that weekend. He lost contact with one. The other died of cancer.
Whalen said Orsolits was drinking and smoking marijuana with the boys when his friends decided to go outside, while the priest intensified the party atmosphere.
“He’s feeding me drinks,” Whalen said. “He’s getting me high.”
The abuse “started with a thigh rub and you kind of froze,” Whalen said. He said Orsolits completed a sexual act, then told him to never speak of it.
“As soon as what he did to me was done,” Whalen said, “he got up and washed his hands.”
Whalen, horrified and ashamed, went to bed. By the next morning, he decided he would never speak of it. Orsolits, he said, never brought it up or invited him on another excursion. After that day, Orsolits kept his distance, although Whalen said Orsolits would sometimes quiz him aggressively – almost with hostility – during religion classes, as part of his preparation for Confirmation.
Today, Whalen is a grandfather and the father of four children from two marriages. His drinking, he said, undermined much of his life. His grades in high school suffered from substance abuse. He lost his license for a time due to drinking and driving, and Whalen said he was absent as a father and a husband during his first marriage, mistakes he said he’s tried to remedy with his second wife.
He lives on disability, the result of multiple surgeries on his spine and back. He first told a counselor about the abuse in the late 1990s, a moment he described as an unforgettable relief that triggered the start of recovery. He wants his grandchildren to understand “there’s evil out there, and you don’t have to be quiet.”
Yet the cascade that led to the revelations of the past few days really began only a year ago.
When Whalen was in high school, another student confided to him that he had stolen hundreds of dollars from the collection at St. John Vianney and hidden it in the woods. Whalen and two friends found the money and split it up. They burned the checks, left the change and each stole $131 in cash.
“It haunted me,” Whalen said. As things kept going wrong, he believed God was punishing him for the theft. Finally, after speaking with a counselor, he decided it was time to return the cash. Last year, he brought a money order for $131 to St. John Vianney, where he handed the check to a priest and told him the story.
Then he described what Orsolitis had done to him.
The priest told Whalen he was going to report the abuse to the diocese. That led to a phone call from Bishop Richard Malone, whom Whalen said offered to provide free counseling. Whalen, who already was working with a counselor, turned it down.
Not long afterward, he saw an ad from a law firm on Facebook urging survivors of sexual abuse by priests to make contact. Whalen responded, and the firm put Whalen in touch with Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston lawyer whose work with survivors was a critical part of the movie “Spotlight.”
Garabedian agreed to represent Whalen, who declines to speculate on where that might lead. Both lawyer and client said Wednesday that Orsolits’ story underscores why the names of any priests whom the Diocese of Buffalo believes were guilty of abusing children ought to be made public.
As for Orsolits, he told Tokasz the diocese sent him to a six-month psychological treatment program in Canada. When he returned, he said, he was reassigned to a rural parish and also taught in a high school, before the diocese removed him from ministry in 2003.
Think of it, Whalen said. If Orsolits’ account is correct, a man who by his own admission abused and wounded dozens of children returned to a school environment – and then went to live in retirement in a community where area parents had no idea of what he had done.
How many times, Whalen asked, have such decisions been repeated, at such risk?
For that reason alone, he said, the names of abusive priests ought to be made public.
Maybe it would spare another child from the scars Whalen still bears, the ones he feels when he thinks of an orange jacket.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A South Buffalo man claims he has been sexually abused by a retired priest of the Diocese of Buffalo.
Tuesday he’s shared his story for the first time.
Michael Whalen tells us this sexual abuse happened when he was just 14 years old.
He says he trusted the Priest from st. John Vianney Parish in Orchard Park.
But when he invited Whalen on a weekend long ski trip to his home in Springville, their relationship changed. And he claims that weekend of sexual abuse changed his entire life.
Whalen said, “It ruined by life. It ruined my first marriage, I don’t have a relationship with my daughter from my first marriage, the drugs and the alcohol, just consumed me.”
52-year-old Michael Whalen says the alleged sexual abuse happened during a weekend ski trip south of Buffalo more than 40 years ago.
Whalen said, “He served us alcohol and smoked marijuana with us in the cabin, he tried to be that, “cool priest” doing this rock and roll mass, and trying to be friendly with the youth and all that.”
Whalen named Reverand Norbert Orsolits as his abuser.
The former priest has never been charged: As the statute of limitations has run out. Whalen said, “Back then, you trusted the priest, the police and the fireman. That’s who you go to if you have trouble.”
Robert Hoatson, a former priest and survivor of sexual abuse, is advocating on Whalen’s behalf. Now both Whalen and Hoatson want to support the Child Victims Act which is up for a vote in the senate this spring. Hoatson said, “We’re pressuring republicans in the senate to do the right thing, and let people have their day in court.”
The Diocese of Buffalo said in a written statement that Orsolits was removed from the ministry in 2003.
As for Whalen, now he wants to give other victims the strength to come forward. He said, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. There is help out there, I want people to step forward, if this has happened to you step forward.”
A retired priest from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo admitted Tuesday he had sexually abused “probably dozens” of teenage boys in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Rev. Norbert F. Orsolits made the admission after a South Buffalo man publicly accused Orsolits of abusing him when he was a teenager during a ski outing more than 35 years ago.
Michael F. Whalen, 52, said Orsolits was his parish priest at St. John Vianney in Orchard Park when the abuse occurred.
Orsolits, 78, said he did not recall Whalen. But he described other incidents of sexual contact with teenage boys to a Buffalo News reporter who visited the priest Tuesday afternoon at his cottage home in the Town of Ashford.
He told The News that he was later sent for treatment at a psychological facility in Canada, before the diocese assigned him to work at a small rural church and school. He was removed by the diocese from ministry in 2003.
During a 10-minute interview, Orsolits talked casually of having had sexual contact with teenage boys, saying it had been fueled by alcohol. He admitted to having touched teenage boys sexually and having had them touch him.
He suggested that the contact was consensual and that he was “led on” by some. He also said that he never persisted with any sexual touching if a teenage boy resisted.
The priest did not deny that the alleged abuse of Whalen occurred.
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo on Tuesday would not answer specific questions about Whalen’s allegations, but a spokesman confirmed Orsolits was removed from ministry in 2003.
Orsolits told The News that then-Bishop Edward D. Head sent him to Southdown Institute in Canada, 40 miles north of Toronto, for six months of treatment. Southdown provides comprehensive psychological services and is one of a handful of institutions where U.S. priests accused of sexual abuse were sent by church officials for help.
Orsolits did not say what year he was sent to Southdown, but church directories indicate it would have been between 1980 and 1985.
Orsolits said he did not engage in any further sexual contact with teenage boys after his time at Southdown.
Following his treatment, the diocese assigned him to work as a priest in a small rural parish in Portville and he taught at a high school, Orsolits said. After working in parishes, Orsolits served as a chaplain in Buffalo General Hospital and for Hospice Buffalo.
In 2003, Bishop Henry J. Mansell informed Orsolits he had to retire from ministry and could no longer perform priestly functions in public, Orsolits said. A priest relieved of his duties can no longer celebrate Mass publicly, administer the sacraments or wear clerical garb.
The diocese portrayed Orsolits’ removal at the time as a retirement, even though he was among a handful of priests in the Buffalo diocese who were removed from ministry so that the diocese would be in compliance with a newly implemented “zero tolerance” national church policy regarding sexual abuse allegations.
The diocese on Tuesday issued a short written statement in response to Whalen’s allegations.
“Since 1990, the Diocese of Buffalo has had policies to address sexual abuse,” George Richert, a spokesman for the diocese, said in the statement. “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.”
Orsolits talked openly about his past during the 10-minute interview outside his home until the reporter tried to take handwritten notes. At that point, the priest asked if what he had discussed would be put in the newspaper. He then said he would need to call the diocese before saying anything further.
Orsolits served at St. John Vianney parish in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Whalen attended the parish school.
Whalen made the allegations at a news conference Tuesday morning in front of St. Louis Church on Main Street in downtown Buffalo, across the street from the Buffalo diocese’s main offices.
There was one incident of abuse, but it destroyed his life, Whalen said. It led to his own abuse of drugs and alcohol and affected his first marriage. He said his drinking led him to quit the Army after about a year.
Whalen said he and two other teenage boys went on a weekend ski trip with Orsolits in 1979 or 1980. The priest served them alcohol in the ski lodge and smoked marijuana with them in his cabin prior to the abuse, Whalen said.
In the interview, Orsolits acknowledged taking many kids on ski trips. He lives a short distance from Bluemont Ski Area in Yorkshire, and he said he often skied there and in Ellicottville with kids.
Whalen declined to describe what Orsolits did to him. He also said he doesn’t know if either of the other teenage boys on the trip was abused or if they ever made allegations. One of them is now deceased, he said.
Whalen, who is originally from West Seneca, said he first told someone else about the alleged abuse during a group counseling session in Rochester about 10 years ago. At the time, he was going to outpatient rehabilitation in order to get his driver’s license back.
“In that group setting, that was the first time I was able to say anything,” he said. “It was like a ton of bricks off me. And from that point on, I was able to tell my mother, my family, my kids and it just snowballed from there.”
Last year, Whalen went back to St. John Vianney, a trip spurred by guilt. When he was a kid, he and other students stole money from the collection at the church, he said.
He brought $131 to pay back his share of the stolen money. He talked to a priest at the church, and opened up about the alleged abuse from decades ago.
That priest reported the allegation to the diocese, Whalen said, and he received a phone call from Bishop Richard J. Malone. Malone offered Whalen counseling paid for the by diocese, Whalen said. Whalen said he was already receiving counseling at Catholic Charities of Buffalo in South Buffalo.
Whalen said he was speaking out about the alleged abuse now to encourage other victims of clergy abuse to come forward.
“I’m not scared to hide my face or what happened to me anymore,” he said. “I did it for too long.”