Priest Sues Bishop, Diocese

By Renée K. Gadoua
Syracuse Post-Standard [New York]
January 16, 2006

A Central New York Episcopal priest is suing the local Episcopal bishop and diocese for $4.35 million, saying the bishop tried to silence his efforts to investigate alleged sexual abuse that occurred in the 1970s.

"I reported accurate information to him and I was punished for it," said the Rev. David Bollinger, rector of St. Paul's Church in Owego.

"I deny that completely," Bishop Gladstone "Skip" Adams said Sunday. "Any actions taken concerning Father Bollinger have been done completely independently."

Bollinger said he first contacted Adams in 2002 about a victim of alleged sexual abuse by a former rector at the Owego parish. He said the diocese has failed to respond.

Bollinger said he told Adams in 2003 of a second alleged victim. He said a third victim came forward last week.

Adams confirmed he learned last week of an alleged victim but has been unable to contact

him. He said a diocesan investigation has not confirmed the other allegations.

"We do not have a victim," Adams said. "If and when that happens, we will move forward."

The lawsuit names the former rector as the Rev. Ralph Johnson. He is retired and lives in Pennsylvania. Adams said he is unaware of any complaints against Johnson and he does not think any legal action has been taken against him.

"He denies all wrongdoing," said Adams, spiritual leader of the 22,500-member diocese based in Syracuse.

A man who answered the phone Sunday night at Johnson's residence in Pennsylvania said the former rector was not home.

The suit also names Gael Sopchak, diocesan administrative officer, and accuses her of accessing Bollinger's personal bank account and changing his password.

Adams said an independent church investigation found that Sopchak had done no criminal wrongdoing. He said she has accepted another job in the Syracuse area; her last day with the diocese is Friday.

Bollinger also said the diocese began auditing his parish's finances in January 2005 as retaliation.

Adams said an ongoing investigation concerning Bollinger and the use of parish funds is unrelated to the investigation of alleged sexual abuse.

The lawsuit also challenges Adams' "temporary inhibition" of Bollinger. The inhibition is an Episcopal church process that means Bollinger cannot function as a priest, cannot have contact with his parishioners and cannot be on the church property.

Adams said a third, 90-day inhibition will expire at the end of February. He said he took that action because of the financial investigation involving Bollinger's parish. He also said the priest failed to comply with a pastoral directive, a confidential communication between priest and bishop. The diocese's Standing Committee has upheld Adams' inhibition of Bollinger.

The civil complaint, filed Wednesday in state Supreme Court in Tioga County on behalf of Bollinger and his wife, Kelly Bollinger, seeks:

Õ $1 million as a result of Adams' libel and slander.

Õ $1 million for the "willful, wanton and intentional conduct of the defendant."

Õ $1 million for mental anguish and emotional pain.

Õ $1 million in punitive damages.

Õ $100,000 against Sopchak and the diocese.

Õ $250,000 for loss of service and consortium.

Renee K. Gadoua can be reached at 470-2203 or


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