Diocese Notes Efforts Regarding Abuse Allegations

By Mike Latona
Catholic Courier
November 14, 2008

Responding to news reports of a negligence lawsuit filed against the Rochester Diocese Nov. 12, a diocesan spokesman outlined key steps in diocesan officials' efforts to communicate abuse allegations that had been made against the late Father David L. Bonin, as well as overall efforts in the diocesan Creating a Safe Environment program.

The lawsuit — which also names Bishop Matthew H. Clark as a defendant — was filed in State Supreme Court at the Schuyler County Clerk's Office in Watkins Glen by Odessa attorney John Hayes. Although it has appeared in other media, the Catholic Courier is withholding the name of Hayes' client to protect his privacy.

The suit claims that from 1998 to 2001, Father Bonin sexually molested Hayes' client, now 21, on an almost weekly basis at the rectory of St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen and on one occasion at St. Margaret Mary in Apalachin.

Father Bonin died in March 2002 at the age of 53. He had served as pastor of St. Mary of the Lake and St. Benedict in Odessa from 1989 to 2001 and at St. Margaret Mary from 2001 until his death.

The suit charges that the Rochester Diocese failed to properly train, evaluate, supervise, suspend or terminate Father Bonin. It further contends that the diocese failed to warn Hayes' client, the client's family or parish about Father Bonin or to protect Hayes' client from the abuse.

Yet according to Douglas Mandelaro, diocesan director of communications, "it is important to note that no complaint of any kind had ever been received against Fr. Bonin" until the allegations listed by Hayes first were made to the diocese in 2007, long after the priest's death. At approximately the same time, the diocese learned of a similar complaint against Father Bonin by a second individual, Mandelaro said in a Nov. 12 statement. The diocese soon announced these allegations to parishioners where Father Bonin had served, he added.

"We publicly provided information on how to report any incident of sexual abuse and receive assistance. In addition, we reported the allegations in the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Courier (a story appeared on the Courier Web site March 28, 2007, and in the paper's April 4, 2007, monthly print edition), and urged readers and parishioners to come forward with any additional information. We received no additional information. We also contacted civil authorities," Mandelaro said, noting that Bishop Clark also reached out during that time through a visit to St. Mary of the Lake.

"We have been in contact with Mr. Hayes and have offered assistance to his client," Mandelaro added, also noting that Father Bonin "unfortunately is not here to defend himself."

Mandelaro emphasized that the diocese continues to encourage anyone abused as a minor by any church personnel to report the matter to civil authorities as well as to Barbara Pedeville, the diocese's bishop-appointed victim-assistance coordinator. She may be reached at 585-328-3228, ext. 1215; toll-free at 1-800-388-7177, ext. 1215; or by e-mail.

Mandelaro pointed out that since 2002, more than 23,000 clergy, diocesan employees, parish employees and volunteers have had mandatory training through the diocesan Creating a Safe Environment program, which includes criminal background checks done by an independent firm. He added that 33,000 young people have completed awareness training regarding sexual abuse, and that the safe-environment program is detailed on the diocesan


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