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Woman Speaks Out On Alleged Priest Abuse

May 10, 2002 | The Buffalo NewsTM A woman who claims she was sexually assaulted years ago by a since-retired priest in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo Thursday called for state legislative reform that would make the church more accountable in sexual abuse cases.
Colleen McMullin Ptak, whose complaints about the abuse have been public since 1995, called for extending or eliminating statutes of limitation in both civil and criminal cases involving sex abuse. During her news conference in front of the Catholic Center at Main and Goodell streets, she also called for mandated reporting of child abuse cases.

"If we've learned anything in the past 20 years, it's that the church cannot police itself. No institution can. And no institution does, with the exception of the church. So that must stop," said Ptak, who was 15 at the time of the alleged abuse. She is now 43.

"The district attorney should not give the Easter homily at the cathedral, and, likewise, the bishop should not conduct criminal investigations," she added.

Kevin A. Keenan, spokesman for the Catholic diocese, pointed out that Bishop Henry J. Mansell previously has said that "these issues need to be addressed with a view to providing justice for all."

The news conference in Buffalo was one of 20 held Thursday outside of chanceries in cities from Maine to Southern California by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a 4,000-member, Chicago-based support group for men and women victimized by clerics.

Ptak, who lives near Flint, Mich., said she and other abuse victims have been "waiting for years to be given a personal apology."

In a lawsuit filed in 1995, Ptak alleged that she had been sexually assaulted and abused more than 20 years earlier by the Rev. Robert J. Biesinger, a Buffalo priest who is now retired.

Ptak revealed today that the Buffalo Diocese had paid her and her husband, Stanley, $125,000 in 1996 to settle the lawsuit.

At the time of the settlement, she said they had accepted an undisclosed amount of money and signed a confidential settlement agreement to end the litigation.

In the lawsuit, Ptak, a Buffalo native, alleged that while she was a high school student, Biesinger repeatedly sexually assaulted and abused her in 1974 during a school-related trip to Chicago for a drill-team competition.

Legislation pending in the Assembly would require that church officials turn over to police any information that raises a "reasonable suspicion" of child abuse involving clergy, church employees or volunteers, whether or not the victim approves of filing the report. Parents also would have to be notified under the measure.

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