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  Ex-Altar Boy: Orlando Priest Abused Me
The Diocese of Orlando Said Its Former Chancellor Was Suspended a Year Ago after an Investigation

By Gene Yasuda
Orlando Sentinel [Florida]
February 15, 1995

A former altar boy has accused a priest of sexually abusing him while the priest was serving as chancellor of the Diocese of Orlando, according to a civil lawsuit filed in Orlando. The chancellor is one of the top-ranking Roman Catholic posts in the region, reporting directly to the bishop. The accuser, unidentified in the lawsuit, said the priest, Arthur Bendixen, began abusing him in 1982 when he was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Mary Magdalen, where Bendixen also served.

Diocese officials said Tuesday that Bendixen was suspended a year ago following an internal investigation based on allegations of sexual misconduct, and since has been prohibited from performing priestly duties.

Bendixen, 44, who is living in Chicago, could not be reached for comment.

Officials would not disclose the nature of their investigation, and said they could not say whether it was linked to the lawsuit because it identified the man only as John Doe.

Bendixen also was the target of allegations by three other people who said he sexually abused them, according to Maitland attorney Charles Harrison, who represents them. Harrison and church officials said they reached a "resolution" in December 1994. They would not say whether a financial settlement was made or whether the accusers were minors.

Merritt Island attorney Sheldon Stevens, who is representing the former altar boy, said his client and the three other individuals plan to meet this month with the State Attorney's Office to discuss criminal charges against Bendixen.

During the investigation of Bendixen, diocese officials contacted the Florida Abuse Hotline and spoke several times with Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services officials about the allegations, said Sister Lucy Vazquez, the diocese's chancellor who spoke on behalf of Bishop Norbert Dorsey. No other law enforcement agencies were contacted, she said.

"Once we did that (notify HRS), it was their responsibility to pursue an investigation," Vazquez said. A local HRS spokesman would not comment, citing confidentiality laws.

The suit also named Dorsey as a co-defendant, saying the diocese should have known about Bendixen's behavior and failed to properly monitor his actions.

A close friend of Bendixen, Frank Corso, didn't believe the allegations.

"I can only speak as a close personal friend of his. . . . He has always conducted himself A-1 around my family." Corso said he has known Bendixen for 12 years. Bendixen last visited Corso's home during the Christmas holidays.

The suit, filed Friday in circuit court, accuses Bendixen of beginning the abusive relationship in 1982 when the man was a 13-year-old altar boy at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Altamonte Springs. Bendixen climbed the diocese hierarchy and served in several positions, including chancellor from 1984 to 1991. The chancellor serves as one of the bishop's top administrators and typically oversees personnel matters for the diocese.

The suit chronicles a 12-year history between Bendixen and the man. It accuses Bendixen of using his position to entice the man, the son of devout Catholics, into a "special relationship."

According to the suit, what began with Bendixen giving the boy neck massages and back rubs, progressed to sexual acts - before the man's 16th birthday.

The suit states that Bendixen "continued to exert control and domination over (the man) whereas (the man) did not understand the nature of the acts that were perpetrated against him, had no free will, was unable to give valid consent to any of the acts. . . .

"The (man) looked upon Bendixen as a 'holy presence,' felt obligated to comply with his requests . . . and was unable to either get out of the relationship, stop the relationship or report the relationship," the suit states.

It was only about a year ago that the man, now in his mid-20s, informed someone about the relationship, Stevens said.

"He was dominated by someone who he thought was next to God." When the man was 14 to 16, the suit accuses Bendixen of introducing marijuana and alcohol and sleeping with the teen-ager in Bendixen's rectory bed. Such incidents were observed by other priests, the suit alleges.

Diocese officials, however, denied they were aware of earlier accusations against Bendixen and said the allegations reported to them a year ago were the first time that they had heard of any problem.

"When allegations are made we remove the individual immediately from the position until an investigation is completed," Vazquez said. "That's exactly what we did."

Diocese officials said Bendixen was suspended indefinitely after he refused to seek treatment.

"Given the information we had at the end of our investigation, the conclusion was . . . that he could not be reinstated," Vazquez said.

Born in Lima, Peru, Oct. 10, 1950, Bendixen was ordained in 1976 and served at St. Margaret Mary in Winter Park from 1976 to 1979.

For the next two years, Bendixen served as associate pastor at Good Shepherd in Orange County and then in 1982 began assisting the pastor at St. Mary Magdalen.

In 1984, Bendixen was appointed chancellor and served in that position until 1991, when he left to become rector of St. Vincent de Paul, a seminary in Boynton Beach.

He stepped down from that post in July 1993, citing health reasons, according to the rector who immediately succeeded him.

"He said he was leaving due to health reasons," said Father Pablo Navarro, St. Vincent de Paul's rector. "That didn't surprise me. He had mentioned problems with his back, and the tension and pressures of the job."

 
 

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