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  Rites " Valid" Despite Improper Priest
Sacraments Performed by Bernard Casper Also " Illicit," Diocesan Spokesman Says.

By Scott Rapp
Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY)
February 21, 2003

Although the Rev. Bernard Casper was improperly practicing as a priest for at least three decades, any sacraments administered by him would be considered valid, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester said Thursday.

"They would be valid because he is technically still a priest, but they would also be illicit. ... (That) strictly means the sacrament has been carried outside the parameters of the law of the Roman Catholic Church," said Michael Tedesco, diocesan spokesman.

Casper celebrated Mass at St. Mary's Church in Auburn for about 30 years until he was ordered to stop last fall amid allegations he had sexually abused two Albany boys in the 1970s. He never had the "faculties," or permission, to celebrate Mass at the Auburn church from the governing Rochester Diocese, Tedesco said.

A priest without "faculties" can "remain a priest in title but can't publicly carry out his ministry," he said.

Catholic priests with "faculties" can perform the seven sacraments of their faith: Holy Communion, baptism, confirmation, penance, matrimony, holy orders and anointing the sick. The sacramental rites commemorate the life of Jesus Christ or signify a belief in his presence.

Casper, 74, of Buffalo, was never employed by the Auburn church or the diocese, Tedesco said. Casper referred all questions to his lawyer, Gerald Whelan, of Buffalo, who declined to comment for this article.

It is not known whether Casper administered any sacraments while at St. Mary's, although it is common for priests who celebrate Mass to distribute Holy Communion during the service.

While in Auburn, Casper helped found Unity House, a home for mentally ill veterans. The facility was purchased by First Presbyterian Church from the Carmelite Fathers in July 1976.

Its current mission is to provide a community residence licensed by the state Department of Mental Hygiene for people released from mental hospitals or other institutions for treatment of emotional or behavioral problems. Casper was not involved with the current operation.

The Rochester Diocese told Casper to stop celebrating Mass about the time it discovered twin brothers Mark and Paul Zimmerman had filed a notice of claim in September against him with the Albany Diocese.

In the legal document, the Zimmermans allege that Casper sexually abused them in the 1970s when they were adolescents.

Mark Zimmerman, 44, said he and his brother met Casper while he was a priest and they were altar boys at St. Patrick's Church in Albany. Their mother, who was active at the church, had befriended him.

In the early 1970s, the twins left an abusive family life and lived with Casper at Unity House for a couple of years in the early 1970s before they stole Casper's car and returned to Albany, Zimmerman said.

The Albany Diocese never employed Casper and has no record of him working at St. Patrick's, said Ken Goldfarb, a diocesan spokesman.

"That doesn't mean he was or wasn't there," Goldfarb said.

Zimmerman said Casper celebrated his mother's funeral Mass at St. Patrick's Church in 1976.

He said he cannot fathom how the Albany and Rochester dioceses could claim to be unaware that Casper was practicing as a priest in their jurisdictions.

"It is still unacceptable to me that he could serve the Catholic Church for over 30 years and nobody knew about it. ... He's the invisible man," Zimmerman said.

While he was a priest in Pueblo, Colo., Casper disappeared after taking an indefinite medical leave of absence in June 1963, said Paul Willumsted, the lawyer for the Pueblo Diocese.

"He basically never came back. He abandoned his vocation. Basically, he was on his own, just AWOL," Willumsted said.

Casper, who was ordained in Pueblo in 1955, was granted the leave for undisclosed medical reasons in June 1963 and sought treatment in the Albuquerque, N.M., area, Willumsted said. He did not know the name of the facility or the nature of Casper's problems.

The Catholic Order of the Paracletes ran a treatment center for Catholic clergy with mental health problems, including pedophilia and alcohol and drug additions, at a facility at Jemez Springs, about 60 miles northwest of Albuquerque, a spokesman for the clerical order said.

The center provided treatment from the 1960s until it closed in the mid-1990s, the spokesman said. It was featured on a "60 Minutes" segment several years ago.

 
 

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