Dem­ler re­sponds af­ter com­ments at fo­rum on clergy abuse strike a nerve

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By Alan Pergament NEWS TV CRITIC

At a Catholic church fo­rum Mon­day de­signed to move for­ward from the sex­ual abuse cri­sis in the Buf­falo Dio­cese, WGRZTV (Chan­nel 2) an­chor Maryal­ice Dem­ler up­set some in at­ten­dance who in­ter­preted her re­marks as an un­pro­fes­sional cri­tique of a com­pet­ing TV sta­tion.

Mul­ti­ple peo­ple came away from the panel at St. Joseph Univer­sity Church near the Univer­sity at Buf­falo South Cam­pus call­ing Dem­ler “un­pro­fes­sional” in what they termed her “insin­u­a­tions” about the way whistle­blower Siob­han O’Con­nor and WKBW-TV (Chan­nel 7) re­porter Char­lie Specht han­dled the story – with­out men­tion­ing the two by name.

In an email re­sponse, Dem­ler said her re­marks were mis­rep­re­sented and that she has the sup­port of an­other pan­elist.

The panel, ti­tled “Re­build My House: Go­ing For­ward in Faith To­gether,” was a fol­low-up to a re­cent fo­rum on the cri­sis in the church. The event was billed as a chance “to ad­dress the sex­ual abuse cri­sis, how it has been han­dled by the church, and how we might be able to move for­ward to­gether.”

Maryal­ice Dem­ler

Dem­ler Buf­falo Phil­har­monic Orches­tra con­duc­tor JoAnn Faletta has added some fun twists to her yearly “Clas­si­cal Christ­mas” concert. Re­view on Page B2.

No au­dio was avail­able of the panel dis­cus­sion, and some of Dem­ler’s crit­ics ac­knowl­edged they didn’t hear her re­marks per­fectly.

The con­tro­versy over the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Dem­ler’s re­marks would seem to val­i­date the de­ci­sions of Specht and Buf­falo News re­porter Jay Tokasz to de­cline to be part of the panel. Dem­ler was a re­place­ment for Specht, who has been the tele­vi­sion leader on the sex­ual abuse scan­dal.

“As a work­ing jour­nal­ist, I didn’t want to be in a po­si­tion where I was be­ing asked to give my per­sonal opin­ions,” said Specht. “I wanted my work to speak for it­self.”

Jim Faluszczak, a for­mer priest, a whistle­blower and a vic­tim of sex­ual abuse, was one of the at­ten­dees up­set by Dem­ler’s re­marks.

“I found her re­marks to be dis­turb­ing,” he said. “It was more in­sin­u­a­tion than any­thing about Char­lie and Siob­han O’Con­nor. I was dis­turbed by her bold­faced pos­tur­ing as set­ting her­self apart from other jour­nal­ists. The in­sin­u­a­tion about her sta­tion’s cov­er­age was counter to Char­lie and Siob­han.

“She said we (at Chan­nel 2) are a pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion and my col­leagues ad­here to com­monly held pro­fes­sional stan­dards. She didn’t name names. But given the con­text, it is clear what she was in­sin­u­at­ing.”

He felt Dem­ler was crit­i­ciz­ing Chan­nel 7’s re­ports, which were aug­mented by O’Con­nor’s doc­u­ments.

“She said they were un­fair in shar­ing in­ter­nal doc­u­ments with only one news out­let,” said Faluszczak. “She crit­i­cized the re­lease in dribs and drabs. She was in­sin­u­at­ing they were try­ing to keep the story go­ing.”

“She was very un­pro­fes­sional,” said J. Car­roll Becker, an­other at­tendee. “She couldn’t sep­a­rate her Catholic hat from her news hat. She re­ferred to her­self as the per­son at work who re­deems the fallen Catholics and sends them to St. Joseph’s.”

Becker, who said she is a sex­ual abuse vic­tim, also was struck by what she viewed as Dem­ler’s sug­ges­tion that O’Con­nor could have han­dled the mat­ter in­ter­nally.

“I tried to go through the church in­ter­nally and I got re­vic­tim­ized,” said Becker.

Ju­dith Burns-Quinn, who runs the vic­tims sup­port group Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), had a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion to Dem­ler’s re­marks.

“I felt Maryal­ice acted un­pro­fes­sional, speak­ing neg­a­tively about a com­pet­ing sta­tion that has worked so dili­gently and pro­fes­sion­ally in ex­pos­ing the se­crets of the Buf­falo Dio­cese,” said Burns-Quinn. “I came out of the fo­rum an­gry. Ev­ery vic­tim I know Char­lie in­ter­viewed has praised him for his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and em­pa­thy. She was den­i­grat­ing an­other chan­nel, and this isn’t what the fo­rum was about. I was an­gry. I was pound­ing my knees.”

Lee Cop­pola, a for­mer Chan­nel 7 in­ves­tiga­tive re­porter and for­mer dean of the Rus­sell J. Jan­doli School of Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at St. Bon­aven­ture Univer­sity, was the mod­er­a­tor of the de­bate.

“The tenor of her com­ments I dis­agreed with,” Cop­pola said of Dem­ler.

Cop­pola, who was one of Specht’s teach­ers at St. Bon­aven­ture, said he was “sur­prised” by Dem­ler’s re­marks and said he con­sid­ered Specht a “hero” for his re­port­ing.

“I’m sur­prised, and I didn’t agree with her,” said Cop­pola.

“I thought it was jour­nal­is­ti­cally proper,” he said of Specht’s re­ports. “I thought the way the in­for­ma­tion was re­searched and re­ported was pro­fes­sion­ally sound.”

Any sug­ges­tion that the in­for­ma­tion should have been given to more than one news out­let would have il­lus­trated an alarm­ing mis­un­der­stand­ing of how in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing works.

“That is what in­ves­ti­gat­ing re­port­ing is all about,” said Cop­pola. “You know how many sto­ries I would have lost if they would have been given to all kinds of peo­ple?”

Cop­pola added he wanted to be fair to Dem­ler, who said she was talk­ing as a “faith­ful Catholic, not as much as an an­chor.”

Dem­ler said in a writ­ten re­sponse that the sum­mary of her com­ments was not ac­cu­rate and a mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

“Mon­day night’s event was emo­tion­ally charged, how­ever,” wrote Dem­ler. “I made many com­ments as an un­bi­ased jour­nal­ist – which may not have been crit­i­cal enough for some at­ten­dees who are un­der­stand­ably very hurt and an­gry at Bishop Malone. I also shared the stages of grief I have ex­pe­ri­enced as a cra­dle Catholic. In the begin­ning there was de­nial, shock, dis­be­lief … and then ul­ti­mately af­ter read­ing all the doc­u­ments my­self … res­ig­na­tion, dis­ap­point­ment and more shock.

“I did at­tempt to ex­plain our jour­nal­is­tic process at Chan­nel 2 be­cause I have been asked pre­vi­ously why we did not re­port on this story un­til af­ter all the doc­u­ments were re­leased. I ex­plained we could not in­de­pen­dently ver­ify the doc­u­ments be­cause Ms. O’Con­nor chose to give them to one sta­tion. That is not a crit­i­cism of Chan­nel 7 nor Char­lie Specht – and I do not know why some­one would draw that con­clu­sion about my com­ments.”

Sis­ter Margaret Car­ney, pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of St. Bon­aven­ture Univer­sity, was the pan­elist who sat next to Dem­ler. She sup­ported Dem­ler’s ex­pla­na­tion.

Car­ney noted that Dem­ler didn’t name O’Con­nor or Specht in her re­marks. She added that Dem­ler ex­pressed her ini­tial dis­com­fort about hear­ing that a key ad­min­is­tra­tor of the dio­cese had leaked the doc­u­ments and won­dered if there wasn’t an­other path to get the in­for­ma­tion to oth­ers in­ter­nally.

“But she said, ‘Once I had the op­por­tu­nity to see the doc­u­ments and ap­ply a pro­fes­sional read­ing and judg­ment, I rec­og­nized the se­ri­ous­ness of the prob­lem,’ ” said Car­ney.

Car­ney said Dem­ler noted that she had some dif­fi­culty get­ting the doc­u­ments be­cause they were only given to one out­let.

“There was no crit­i­cism im­plied,” said Car­ney. “It was a fac­tual state­ment.”

“It is dan­ger­ous to in­fer any­thing be­yond the lit­eral state­ment of the speaker,” added Car­ney. “Given the height of emo­tions and anx­i­ety of this cri­sis, any­one is sub­ject to be mis­in­ter­preted. Peo­ple come with the views, con­cerns and ex­pe­ri­ences. Peo­ple were not sit­ting in a neu­tral emo­tional state.” N.Y. Evening Num­ber: N.Y. Mid­day Num­ber: Win Four Evening: Win Four Mid­day: Take Five: 11 13 18

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