Central New York: Episcopal Ecclesiastical Court Vindicates Orthodox Priest

By David W. Virtue
Virtue Online
July 17, 2007

Owego, NY: Fr. David Bollinger, 52, the former rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church was cleared of allegations that he financially mismanaged his parish by a diocesan ecclesiastical court and was restored to "good standing."

"I am elated by the decision and vindicated by a group of my peers," he told VirtueOnline.

By canon law, the right to celebrate the Eucharist and perform the other functions of a clergyman have been restored to Bollinger. The bishop took them away a year and a half ago when he inhibited Bollinger.

"I'm technically retired because of a heart attack I suffered last year from all the stress connected to my being inhibited. I am receiving disability from the church. I believe that the trial court did an outstanding job trying to be fair and I am very grateful for their real high handedness in doing a good and even job with everything," he said in a phone interview with VOL after the church trial in Syracuse.

"I am grateful for the people who have supported us and for God's strength to get through this, but I want to emphasize that the last three years have been a time of extreme stress for me, my family and former parish."

Bollinger was temporarily inhibited some six times by the Rt. Rev. "Skip" Adams while the bishop pursued a policy to destroy the orthodox priest, after the priest blew the whistle on a pedophile priest who served in the 1970s who subsequently resigned and left the diocese.

"My call with St. Paul's is now finished. I need some time. I am technically restored in good standing. I have been exonerated. for that I am thankful to God and the justice of the diocesan court. I am waiting for the decision in writing." Asked if he had heard from Bishop Adams with an apology, Bollinger said no.

"This is a black eye for the liberal bishop of Central New York," said a source close to the situation.

Attorney Raymond Dague, who has represented Bollinger on other matters, said the case was clear-cut. "The federal rules of evidence govern a case like this as it comes before a Title IV Review Committee. You cannot ambush the other side with your case. There are requirements for full disclosure, which Adams never presented. What happened here was that Bollinger asked the ecclesiastical trial court that he wanted to see the evidence. The other side balked. They could produce no witness lists or the findings of the Schafer Report."

In a statement issued by the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. Adams, Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York, stated, "It is unfortunate that the facts regarding the charges were unable to be heard in an open court. My concerns and prayers remain with the members of St. Paul's Episcopal Church as they seek to be faithful to God's call to ministry in their community."

Dague disputed this, saying that the judge cited numerous procedural problems with the case brought by the bishop and the diocese against Fr. Bollinger.

"Carter Strickland, the judge in the ecclesiastical court, had previously directed the prosecutor, church attorney James Sparks, to give Fr. Bollinger copies of the evidence against him, but the diocese refused to release it to the priest. One of the pieces of evidence was the so-called Schafer Report. That was a report commissioned by the diocese and prepared by a previous judge of the ecclesiastical court. That report was believed to have contained evidence to the effect that Fr. Bollinger was not guilty of misconduct.

"One of the basic rules of due process of law is that someone accused of an offense should be able to see the evidence against him," continued Dague. "The failure of the diocese and the bishop to disclose this evidence to Fr. Bollinger was the straw that broke the camel's back in their case against this priest. We applaud the faithful judge who was able to stand up against a bishop and tell him that he was not above the law and rules of fair play."

Bollinger defended the proceeding which resulted in the church court refusing to allow any evidence to be introduced against the priest or any witnesses to testify against him.

The bishop brought the charges against Fr. Bollinger after Bollinger publicly challenged the bishop. Fr. Bollinger had claimed that the bishop was covering up an alleged sex abuse of young boys by a retired priest at Bollinger's Owego, New York parish. That retired priest, Fr. Ralph Johnson, renounced his orders as an Episcopal priest when later confronted by the allegations of the sexual abuse, but the bishop kept moving forward with the case against Fr. Bollinger despite that development.

When the diocese realized that the judge in the ecclesiastical court was directing the prosecuting church attorney to turn copies of evidence over to Fr. Bollinger, the diocese tried unsuccessfully to get the judge off of the case and to transfer the case to another church court.

"Ignoring the orders of Judge Strickland to show their evidence to Fr. Bollinger was the basis of the dismissal," said Dague. "But I am sure that the challenge to the court by the diocese did not help their case much either."

The 18-month agony is over for Fr. Bollinger now that a four clergy, four-member laity court has exonerated him. Bollinger told VOL that he and his family are worshipping at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Vestal NY. St. Andrew's priest Fr. Tony Seel recently severed parish ties with the diocese and the Episcopal Church over the Robinson consecration and Holy Scripture.

Asked about his plans for the future, Bollinger told VOL, "I want to see where I go with all this. I hope to have a priestly ministry, but I don't know where as yet. I am uncertain about the future, but I plan to stay an Episcopal priest."

In other news, the diocese is getting ready to sue St. Andrew's over church property. The bishop is also setting his gun sights on the Rev. Matt Kennedy in Binghamton, NY's, Church of the Good Shepherd, another orthodox priest under siege by Adams. "The bishop is tearing apart his allies and his enemies," said Dague.

In another diocesan incident, Bishop Adams temporarily inhibited Fr. Edward Putnam three weeks ago for reasons not widely known in the diocese. He was the Dean at both Syracuse and Albany cathedrals, "Nobody knows the reasons. He is very close to the bishop. He was retired but served on the bishop's Executive Committee," said the source.


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