Earlier this month, U.S. attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. served the Diocese of Buffalo, New York with a subpoena, seeking documentation about cases of clerical sexual abuse – marking one of the first cases where the U.S. federal government has become involved in investigating abuse within the Catholic Church. Yesterday, 60 Minutes ran an interview with Siobhan O’Connor, the former executive assistant to Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, who leaked hundreds of pages of secret internal documents indicating a cover-up of clerical sexual abusers to a local news station earlier this year and spoke with the FBI earlier this month about what she had uncovered.
The 60 Minutes interview also features commentary from Fr. Bob Zilliox, a diocesan priest who has a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America and whom 60 Minutes describes as having “advised the bishop on church law, including abuse cases.” Both O’Connor, who claimed to have “loved” Malone as her bishop and her boss, and Zilliox, who was selected by the bishop to be a close adviser, expressed their disbelief at how the man they knew and worked for handled cases where priests were credibly accused of abuse.
Fr. Zilliox – who says he was willing to risk challenging his bishop publicly after having been a victim of clerical abuse himself at age 13 – told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker that “at least eight or nine” priests in cases he was aware of should have been removed from ministry but all are still currently active in the priesthood. O’Connor, who described her decision to leak confidential internal documents as a “betrayal” that she could not apologize for, said she went to the media because she “felt that there could be other victims between now” and when an independent investigation could be convened and that she “couldn’t have that on” her “conscience if there was a way to prevent that.”
Paul Snyder, a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Buffalo, has publicly called for Bishop Malone’s resignation and has “sent letters and documents to prominent bishops demanding an investigation.” Asked why he had faith that any of the bishops he was contacting would take action, Snyder offered a candid assessment:
Well, I don’t have faith right now that any particular bishops have the courage to do the right thing. I mean we all praise our martyrs on Sunday and we praise and we sing, but boy, it sure as hell is hard being a saint when it’s your ass on the line. And I want these cardinals and bishops to start putting their ass on the line and start protecting their people.
It’s a familiar sentiment across a broad spectrum of problems in the Church: cardinals and bishops who are too afraid to do their job and protect their flocks.
The full interview with O’Connor, Zilliox, and Snyder is 14 minutes:
Also noteworthy is a behind-the-scenes interview with Whitaker and producer Guy Campanile about how this story came together. Campanile describes asking O’Connor if she was certain about sharing her story on 60 Minutes, because her “life would change.” Asked if O’Connor had held anything back in the interview, Whitaker responded without hesitation, “Not at all. She gave from the heart. I have talked to a number of whistleblowers, but I have never met one for whom it was so painful to reveal the information.”
O’Connor, when asked by Whitaker why she was willing to do what she did, answered in a way reminiscent of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò:
“The reality of what I saw,” she said, “really left me with no other option. Because at the end of my life, I’m not going to answer to Bishop Malone. I’m going to answer to God.”
Viganò, in his most recent statement on clerical abuse cover-up at the highest levels of the Church, wrote:
To bear witness to corruption in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was a painful decision for me, and remains so. But I am an old man, one who knows he must soon give an accounting to the Judge for his actions and omissions, one who fears Him who can cast body and soul into hell. A Judge who, even in his infinite mercy, will render to every person salvation or damnation according to what he has deserved. Anticipating the dreadful question from that Judge – “How could you, who had knowledge of the truth, keep silent in the midst of falsehood and depravity?” – what answer could I give?
The behind-the-scenes interview is 6 minutes and can be viewed here:
The U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania has taken similar action to that in Buffalo, following the state grand jury report in which it was revealed that over a thousand alleged victims were abused by over 300 Pennsylvania priests in six dioceses. It appears that federal involvement in the Church’s widespread mishandling of the abuse crisis is only just beginning. Last Friday, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Justice Department had “sent a sweeping request to every Roman Catholic diocese in the United States not to destroy documents related to the handling of child sexual abuse, a sign that the federal investigation into the church could grow far more extensive.” Speculation is mounting that there is an increasing likelihood that the federal government may file racketeering charges against the Catholic Church in the United States under the RICO Act – legislation that was originally designed to prosecute criminal organizations like the Mafia.