Man who rejected $650K priest abuse settlement calls offer ‘insignificant’

Buffalo News

June 18, 2019

By Jay Tokasz

A man offered $650,000 by the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo after he accused the Rev. Michael Freeman of sexually abusing him in the mid-1980s said he turned down the offer because “it just didn’t feel right.”

“That’s not going to help. It’s not going to change any policies. It’s not going to help any kids,” said James Bottlinger. “For what I went through, that was pretty insignificant.”

James Bottlinger, 50, spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday about the alleged abuse and the $650,000 offer, the largest settlement award in the diocese’s recently concluded $17.5 million program compensating childhood victims of clergy sex abuse.

“I was going to take this to the grave,” he said of the secret he kept for three decades.

Now Bottlinger said he intends to sue the diocese under the Child Victims Act, which gives plaintiffs a one-year window to file court claims in sex abuse cases that previously were time-barred by statutes of limitations.

“There needs to be a story behind that money,” he said of rejecting the $650,000 offer. “I don’t want the church to determine here’s some money, go away. I’d like the trial to happen to see how much of the story we can get out. To get the church to come to the table and admit the wrongdoings.”

He said diocese officials, including former Bishop Donald Trautman, who served as the Buffalo Diocese’s auxiliary bishop before being named bishop of the Erie Diocese in 1990, knew he was being molested by Freeman but did nothing to stop it. He said Trautman once saw him on a couch in Freeman’s bedroom at the rectory of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Lancaster, and did nothing.

“Monsignor Trautman knew Father Mike was a pedophile,” he said. “He’s not the only monsignor that knew Father Mike was a pedophile.”

“The church purposely covered this up. There were victims before me,” Bottlinger said.

He said Freeman was allowed to remain a priest – and abused other children – even after he told diocese officials about what Freeman did to him.

Bottlinger was 14 or 15 at the time of the abuses, which are alleged to have occurred while Freeman was associate pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church.

In his application last year to the diocese’s compensation program, Bottlinger said that Freeman pointed a gun at him and provided absolution of his sins following acts of abuse.

Bottlinger and attorneys Steve Boyd, Jeff Anderson and J. Michael Reck met with reporters Tuesday inside WNED-TV studios.

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