BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Nearly two years after Siobhan O’Connor saw sex abuse survivor Michael Whalen stand outside the Buffalo Diocese headquarters and tell the world his story, her former boss, Bishop Richard Malone, has stepped down.
“This is that first step that we’ve been waiting for, and it shows too that Rome hasn’t forgotten about us,” O’Connor told News 4 Wednesday morning.
O’Connor was Malone’s executive assistant, who turned whistle blower, over Malone’s handling of the sex abuse investigations in the Diocese. She was standing across the street from the Diocese headquarters Wednesday morning when she got the news Malone would no longer be bishop.
She called the moment surreal.
“If Bishop Malone had made different decisions and taken different courses of action, I would most likely still be working across the street and not here with you looking at the building ,” she told News 4. “I really feel like he let all of those opportunities pass him by: Times when he could have been honest about the number of priests, times when he could have been honest about different priests and their abuse histories.”
While working for the Diocese, O’Connor copied documents she says proved Malone was covering up clergy sex abuse cases. Then, fearing more abuse would be allowed if she didn’t act, she leaked what she had to the media.
She says she wishes the situation had not gotten to the point it is now.
“And even since those stories broke, his reactions were always such that I thought why won’t he just be honest and open with us, and eventually it just got to a point where there was no turning back, there was no salvaging it.,” O’Connor said. “And it’s really bitter sweet that it had to come to this but I’m grateful that it did ultimately.”
Even so, there is some concern about the semantics. The Vatican says Malone resigned. Malone says he retired.
O’Connor, like other victims advocates, says calling Malone’s move retirement is an insult to survivors.
“A retirement to me would be an evasive action. It would be a way to skirt around the obvious issue here. Bishop Malone needs to be held accountable for the actions he took or did not take,” she said.
With Malone stepping down now, though, O’Connor says she’s hopeful the Catholic faithful who have had their faith shaken by the scandal will feel a sense of relief.
“People are very aware of the dysfunction in the Diocese and they are skeptical about why anyone would remain faithful,” she said, “and I just keep trying to focus on why I was Catholic in the first place, which was for Jesus, not for Bishop Malone.”