Binghamton, NY: Diocese Accused of Sex-Abuse Coverup
Suspended Rector Claims Retaliation by Bishop
By Brian Liberatore
January 15, 2006
BINGHAMTON, NY: (January 15, 2006)--An Owego rector is suing the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York for $4.35 million, saying a bishop retaliated against him in an attempt to cover up sexual misconduct allegations the rector had brought to his attention.
David Bollinger, the rector of St. Paul's in Owego for more than 20 years, has been barred from his church for nearly a year by the diocese, which was served with the suit on Thursday. The diocese accused Bollinger of misusing church funds - a false accusation, Bollinger said, that has never led to charges.
"It was totally manufactured," Bollinger said. "A falsehood on their part to create a diversion away from what they had done to me and what they were doing to me."
The lawsuit, filed in Tioga County Superior Court, names Bishop Gladstone Adams, the diocese and the controller at the time, whom Bollinger claims broke into his personal bank account.
Adams did not immediately return calls Saturday seeking comment.
Bollinger said the trouble with the diocese began when a former parishioner came forward in 2002, making allegations of sexual abuse against another priest no longer in New York state.
Bollinger said he reported the abuse to the bishop but no action was taken. After more victims came forward, Bollinger said, he continued to push the diocese to pursue an investigation.
Still, he said, there has been no action taken against the alleged pedophile priest.
Adams told the Press & Sun-Bulletin in November that the alleged victim never came forward to meet a diocesan response team that investigates such allegations, nor was the committee provided with a name - a process that's a requirement for an investigation. The committee was created since 2002 in the wake of priestly misconduct in the Roman Catholic church, Adams has said.
Bollinger claims the diocese, in retaliation for his complaints, began improperly prying into his personal finances - a claim Adams has denied.
The investigations focused on accounts handled by Bollinger. The diocese conducted an audit that has not been made public.
"I did not have any hand in the financial matters of the church," Bollinger said. "I only had power over the discretionary fund. The vestry said I had done nothing wrong with the money."
Bollinger's temporary removal from the parish as rector should expire by the end of this month. Under Episcopal policy, Adams could restore Bollinger to the parish or he could have him defrocked.
Members of St. Paul's vestry - leadership chosen democratically from parishioners - said in November they supported Bollinger and that they could prove Adams' allegations to be without merit
Bollinger said the parish has suffered during his absence. In a September letter to Adams, vestry members said parish membership had dropped from about 125 before Bollinger was removed to about 70. The parish has had to pay for a priest to conduct services on Sundays.
Bollinger will be paid through February, he said, but after that there was no guarantee of income. His suspension from the church, he said, has put tremendous strain on his family. One of his three daughters is suffering from thyroid cancer.
"I haven't worked as a priest since last February," Bollinger said. "It's been very painful. They've basically ruined my life's work."
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