“The statute of limitations may have run out on a former Pavilion man’s molestation allegation.
Still, he hopes the claim he made about a former St. Mary’s Church priest will inspire others who were molested by priests to come forward.
Wayne Bortle of New Hampshire, who lived in Pavilion and attended Pavilion Central School until he was about 15 years old, has come forward publicly, alleging abuse by Father Robert Conlin, a former St. Mary’s priest who passed away in 1997.
Conlin’s name was not on a list of 42 priests whose names the Buffalo Diocese released earlier this month. The list identified diocesan priests who, since 1950, have been removed from ministry, were retired, or left the ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
Bortle says his kids have seen him cry more recently than previously.
“Since this has come out, the amount of support I have received, it’s incredible,” he said Wednesday. “There’s still others that will say mean and nasty things through social media, but the kind words will far outweigh the negative,” he said. “I hope other people come forward and if me coming forward gives them strength, I hope they can. It’s been an emotional roller coaster in the last week.”
Bortle, 53, says he lived in Pavilion until 1980 and attended Pavilion Central School during that time.
“I grew up a Baptist,” he said. “My grandparents were more strict Baptists in Pavilion. That’s the religion I grew up with and that’s what I knew.”
The former Pavilion resident said he lived with his mother and his older sister, Amy Jo Griffith.
“I grew up in a single-parent household,” Bortle said. “I was raised by a single mother who was very young herself. She worked full time. I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do drugs.”
His connection to St. Mary’s and Conlin lasted roughly from ages 13 to 15.
“He had built a full-length basketball court outside the rectory,” Bortle said of the priest. “From there, he put in a foosball table on the first floor in the rectory. He had a Ping-Pong table and a pool table in the basement.
“About a year after building a relationship with him, I started to go to the church,” he continued. “It could have been six months before I attended the first time to a year later.”
Bortle said he was never an altar server and did not take part in other community groups or other programs through the church.
“I would just attend the services on Sundays and play games at the rectory,” he said.
CONLIN AND THE ALLEGED ABUSE INCIDENT
“He was big and boisterous, appeared to be loved by all,” Bortle remembered. “He’d take me to (Pavilion High School) baseball games. Anytime I ever went to a game with him, it was just him and I.
“He’d take us to lunch. He would take us, there was a place called Tom Wahl’s, I specifically remember him taking me there after one of the baseball games.”
Bortle said in his relationship with Conlin, the priest was more of a father figure or friend.
“We never had anything but great times until that night (the night of the alleged abuse),” he said. “Almost every night there would be kids there (at the rectory). We would play basketball during the day and go over there at night. I came to find out now, that was the lure … to get us kids over there.”
Bortle said he was about 15 years old the night Conlin allegedly abused him in 1980.
“The one night, he invited me over there (to the rectory). I went over there, walked in. I went upstairs, started watching TV. I was sitting in a chair,” Bortle remembered. “At the time it didn’t dawn on me “Why aren’t there other kids?’ He came over and from that point, started touching me.”
Exactly how long this went on, Bortle said, he couldn’t remember.
“I couldn’t hear anything as this was going on,” he said. “I couldn’t catch my breath. I said, finally, ‘I have to go.’ It could have been five minutes, it could have been 15 minutes. I was terrified. There were just so many different emotions.”
Bortle remembered going down the stairs and not being able to get out of the building.
“I couldn’t get out the door,” he said. “The door was locked. It was never, ever locked. I was panicking that I couldn’t get out.
“I figured out that it was locked,” he continued. “I unlocked it. I ran home. I can picture the lock. It was one of those bolt locks that has the circle that you turn.”
The distance to his home was about a quarter-mile, Bortle recalled.
He said there were no other incidents with Conlin and that he never saw the priest again after that night.
“Once I left that room, I never saw him again after that,” Bortle said. “I was just focused on unlocking that door and getting out. I ran into my house. I ran right up to my bedroom. I didn’t say anything to anyone.
“(My mother) either saw me or heard me,” he continued. “She asked me what happened. I said ‘Fr. Con was touching me.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said ‘He was touching me all over.’
“She promised that she wouldn’t do anything about it, that it would be buried. I never told anyone. I didn’t even tell my sister, but I found out that my mother did tell my sister shortly thereafter, because my sister was also attending that church at that time. At that time, her boyfriend and his family went to the church.”
Bortle said his sister kept the alleged incident with Conlin a secret until she told her boyfriend years later. She also told a close friend.
In 1980, Bortle and his family moved to Danvers, Mass. He graduated from Danvers High School in 1982.
“I moved away shortly thereafter (following the alleged abuse that night by Conlin). It would have been approximately six months later,” he said. “When I was in Pavilion, I was a good athlete. I was a popular kid. Had that (the alleged incident) not happened, there was no way I would have wanted to move.”
Bortle said the move to Danvers was tough on his sister.
“My sister didn’t want to,” he said. “She was going into her senior year in high school. I felt safer (after moving). I was extremely introverted after that (the alleged incident). I had a small group of friends (at Danvers High) who are still my friends to this day.”
Bortle said his sister, who was very outgoing and social, eventually adapted to the move to Danvers. Their mother had moved in with her boyfriend and he had been offered a job there.
Today, Bortle, living in New Hampshire, works for a Fortune 100 company. He said the alleged incident still has an impact on him and that he told his wife what happened after they were married.
“I told my son approximately two years ago. He is 16. I told my 14-year-old daughter approximately two months ago,” he said.
Bortle said on Feb. 27, he came out anonymously about the alleged abuse while Michael Whelan of South Buffalo was coming forward publicly about his own abuse claim during a press conference.
“This past Friday (March 23), I came out after hearing Michael Whelan come out publicly. I came out to try to find my own healing, if you will,” he said. “I did a press conference outside the Diocese in Buffalo. It was my wife, Stacey Bortle, my sister and my niece.
Bortle said at the time of the press conference, he hadn’t heard or seen Bishop Richard Malone’s video apology for the priest abuse scandal in the diocese.
“In the press conference … it was more about the event, it was more about Bishop Malone’s recent apology and whether I accepted it or not. Apparently, he had just made the apology an hour or so before the press conference.
I said, ‘It doesn’t impact me. It doesn’t mean anything to me.’
WHAT SHOULD THE DIOCESE’S RESPONSE BE?
The church needs to do more in response to the scandal, such as be more transparent and release information such as the number of complaints against the priests accused.
“They haven’t provided anything like that. They gave a list of 42 names,” Bortle said. “The priest who abused me, his name was not on that list. I can promise you, that was much more significant than what they decided to share.”
“I know there’s a building essentially that is named after him (Conlin) with his picture in there. During the press conference, we asked for that to be renamed and for the picture to be taken down,” he said.
Bortle’s attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, agreed there is a need for transparency.
“The documents must be released, the documents that say which priests sexually abused children and the names of supervisors who knew about these incidents,” he said.
“If the bishops of the diocese of Buffalo knew of the sexual abuse of children, but hid it … they were part of the conspiracy and part of the crime,” the attorney said.
“All the bishop did was list names. He didn’t state the parishes (they belonged to),” Garabedian said. “He didn’t list deacons. He didn’t list Father Conlin.”
Garabedian said there needs to be a truly independent investigation concerning pedophilia in the Catholic Church.
“Screenings have to be put in place, programs have to be provided and supervisors have to be effective,” he said.
Garabedian said he contacted the diocese’s attorneys Jan. 18 with his client’s claim of abuse and they responded Jan. 24. As far as a criminal case, the statute of limitations has run out.
“Their attorneys have notified me they’re investigating Mr. Bortle’s claim,” he said.
The Office of Communication for the Diocese of Buffalo could not be reached for comment Thursday”