Diocese: Ex-Auburn Priest Not Qualified for Years
Rev. Bernard Casper, Founder of Unity House, Accused of Abusing Albany Twins.
By Beth Beer
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
February 20, 2003
A former Auburn Catholic priest, who has been accused of sexually abusing twin brothers, should not have been practicing as a priest for at least three decades, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester.
The Rev. Bernard Casper was one of the founders of Unity House, a home for mentally ill veterans, and celebrated occasional weekend Masses at St. Mary's Church in Auburn from the 1970s until last fall. In 1963, Casper "took a leave" for undisclosed reasons from the Pueblo Diocese in Colorado, where he was ordained, according to Michael Tedesco, spokesman for the Rochester Diocese, which oversees Cayuga County. Upon coming to Auburn in the 1970s, he practiced again as a priest, he said.
The Rochester diocese found out about Casper's status last fall and Casper was told he could no longer say Mass at St. Mary's, Tedesco said.
"He really ought not to be representing himself as a priest if he doesn't have the faculties of the diocese," Tedesco said. "The faculties mean that you're able to carry out the mission and the duties of a priest."
Tedesco said it's not clear what happened in Colorado, referring questions to the Pueblo diocese. The Rev. Mark Piewka, chancellor of the Pueblo diocese, is out of town until Tuesday and no one else at that diocese could be reached for comment.
Casper, 74, now lives in Buffalo. He referred all questions to his lawyer, Mark McNamara of Hiscock & Barclay. An assistant said McNamara was out of the office Wednesday.
Casper confirmed he celebrated Mass at St. Mary's for more than three decades, but was never officially employed by the church or the diocese.
Tedesco said he thinks Casper approached one of the predecessors of the current priest, the Rev. Robert Schrader, and asked to help out on the weekends.
"It kind of became a matter of course," Tedesco said.
Sexual abuse allegations
Around the same time the Rochester diocese discovered Casper's status, twin brothers Mark and Paul Zimmerman filed a notice of claim in September against Casper with the Albany diocese, saying that Casper sexually abused them in the early 1970s when they were adolescents.
"We just put it out of our heads and out of our minds. We were hoping we'd never have to deal with this," said one of the brothers, Mark Zimmerman. He and his brother live in Albany. Only Mark Zimmerman spoke for this story.
Ken Goldfarb, director of communications for the Albany diocese, confirmed a complaint had been brought against Casper. He said the diocese began an investigation to determine the facts.
"Because it's still a pending investigation, we're not free to discuss it with the media at this point," Goldfarb said.
Goldfarb also pointed out a ruling made on Feb. 10 by Albany Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi that prevents parties from talking publicly about current, future and potential sexual abuse cases involving priests.
He said Casper was never given any assignments nor was he employed from the Albany diocese, and, apart from the complaint, the diocese has no record of him.
Zimmerman said the abuse began while Casper was at St. Patrick's Church in Albany in the early 1970s. The Albany diocese has no record of Casper serving there.
The twins were two of 13 children who escaped with their mother from an abusive relationship, Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman's mother had turned to the church for help and befriended Casper, he said. The twins would sometimes spend weekends at Casper's farmhouse in Bethlehem, an Albany suburb, which is when, Zimmerman alleges, the abuse began.
Zimmerman said his mother couldn't handle the care of 13 children, and his siblings were eventually scattered to different relatives' homes. The twins went with Casper to live in the Unity House in Auburn for a couple of years sometime in the early 1970s, Zimmerman said.
Unity House started in the 1970s as a residential facility housing 24 people with mental illness in the historic Theodore Case family mansion on South Street. The agency now provides services and programs to more than eight counties in Central New York.
The alleged abuse continued, Zimmerman said, until he and his brother Paul stole Casper's car and drove to their mother's home in Albany in 1975.
Zimmerman said the abuse led to him being estranged from his twin brother and contributed to Mark Zimmerman attempting to commit suicide three times.
The twins reunited in the spring of 2002 and decided to come forward. An attorney they knew connected them to John Aretakis, a Manhattan attorney who represents a number of clients in Albany who claim sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
Aretakis confirmed the twins are his clients, but "I'm compelled and constrained not to comment much further than that due to this gag order that's outstanding."
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