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2018 Whistleblower of the Year Candidate – Church Abuse Whistleblower Siobhan O’Connor

Posted  December 20, 2018

Siobhan O’Connor was a devout, lifelong Catholic when she landed her dream job as the executive assistant to Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo. In her own words, she was “overjoyed” to be working for her “beloved Church.” But the job “went from a dream to a nightmare in about three years.” During that time, O’Connor learned that the Bishop and diocese leadership had deliberately protected-and continued to protect-priests credibly accused of sexually abusing both children and adults.

She first became concerned in March, when the diocese announced an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for abuse victims. As part of the program, the diocese released a list of 42 priests who had left the priesthood after facing abuse allegations. It also set up a hotline for victims. By all appearances, the diocese was finally doing the right thing, and it took pains to spread that narrative.

But O’Connor knew from internal emails and documents that the list was far from complete-at least 60 more priests should have been on it. She had seen a much longer draft list exchanged by diocesan lawyers and Bishop Malone, who ultimately decided to exclude accused priests still in the ministry and those accused only once.

O’Connor was alarmed by the missing names, particularly those of Fathers Art Smith and Fabian Maryanksi. Despite being accused by two young men of inappropriate touching in 2013 and receiving counseling after repeated contact with an eighth-grade boy two years prior, church records showed that Bishop Malone recommended Father Smith for a job as a cruise ship chaplain. The recommendation stated that the Bishop was “unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children.” Similarly, although Father Maryanski had been accused of sexual contact with a minor in the 1980s, records showed that the church omitted him from the list because the diocese’s “full knowledge of the case” would “require an explanation.”

O’Connor was also disturbed by the diocese’s treatment of victims. Despite its name, the victim hotline was “very cold.” In its first three weeks, calls were sent to an abandoned office and directed to a voicemail system answered by a single part-time employee. Victims began showing up at the diocese office to share their stories. O’Connor listened.

After hearing these stories and witnessing the Bishop’s feigned transparency, O’Connor quit her job and shared church records with a local investigative reporter. Since then, the story has been featured on 60 Minutes, and both the FBI and local U.S. attorney’s office have begun investigations.

Although some fellow Catholics have questioned O’Connor’s decision to go to the media instead of church hierarchy, O’Connor hoped to protect existing and potential victims and believed the media “would have the most direct impact.” She was also concerned that internal reporting would cause the truth to get stuck in “a kind of episcopal bureaucracy” with a questionable track record.

O’Connor struggled with her decision to speak out. She suffered from insomnia, crying spells, and even a panic attack. Ultimately, she “acted out of love for the survivors, my diocese, my community and my Church.” As she told 60 Minutes, “I am a very ordinary person and I found myself in rather extraordinary circumstances and the way I look at it is, I was the right person in the right place at the right time, and God gave me the strength to do the right thing.” While O’Connor maintains that she is no hero, we nominate her for 2018 Whistleblower of the Year for her courage and compassion in bringing this story to light.

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