Alleged Victims Speak Out About Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priest

By Kristina Papa
March 2, 2016

[with video]

CLINTON COUNTY -- One day after the announcement that dozens of Roman Catholic priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese molested children for decades. Two of those alleged victims reached out to Newswatch 16 to share their stories. The diocese includes Catholic churches in both Centre and Clinton counties.

The alleged victims we spoke with on Wednesday tell us they were 6 or 7 years old when they were molested by Father Joseph Bender in Renovo. Now, in their mid to late 50s, they contacted Newswatch 16 because they want people to know the truth. They want people to hear their stories.

At 55 years old, Robert Holtzapple remembers a lot about his childhood and his time as an altar boy at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Renovo.

"Benderites, I don't know where that came from. They called us bender boys," said Holtapple.

Holtzapple kept some memories about Father Joseph Bender tucked away for decades.

"He led you to believe that he cared about you and he loved you. You know what I mean? That's what he did. He manipulated you mentally as well as physically,” said Holtzapple.

This week, the attorney general accused dozens of priests of rape and molestation and two bishops of covering up their actions.

The claims come from a grand jury investigation of the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which covers part of central Pennsylvania. More than a half dozen priests who served at St. Joseph's were on the list, including Father Bender.

"Everybody was out playing and he would bring you in singly so he knew he was safe, so to speak," said Holtzapple.

Holtzapple believes he was one of Father Bender's favorites. He said the priest would invite boys up to a cabin near Renovo. That's where Holtzapple claims he was assaulted.

"I remember thinking, 'Man, you know this isn't right. I'm a little kid, but this isn't right.' But at the same time, nobody talked about it,” said Holtzapple.

Other alleged victims have come forward and tell Newswatch 16 they were also molested by Father Bender. Those men tell us there are dozens of others who feel shame and guilt over the entire ordeal, talking about it would just be too much to deal with.

"I know positively there was at least 30 or better kids that were molested," said Stanely Schenck.

Schenck wanted to share his story as well. He says he was a victim and buried memories until now.

"When I asked about it, I was told, you know, 'That's the way he showed his love for kids,' and it was supposed to be alright I guess," said Stanley.

Father Bender passed away back in 2000.


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