Roch. Diocese Sued over Alleged Abuse

By Ray Finger
Ithaca Journal

November 13, 2008

ODESSA — A lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges a priest sexually molested a former Watkins Glen resident at the rectory of St. Mary's of the Lake Church in the village and at St. Margaret Mary rectory in Apalachin.

Odessa lawyer John Hayes said he filed the lawsuit against the Diocese of Rochester and Bishop Matthew Clark Wednesday morning in state Supreme Court at the Schuyler County Clerk's Office. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

“I'm suing the bishop and the diocese for their failure to protect my client from this priest,” Hayes said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon in front of the Watkins Glen church that is next to the rectory where the majority of the molestation incidents are alleged to have occurred.

“Their failure to supervise him, to train him, to terminate him, and their failure generally to look out for the well-being of all of their child parishioners, is the basis of the lawsuit,” he said.

“They certainly have failed in their duty to warn parents.”

Hayes represents Jason C. Hartley, who is now 21 and lives in Chemung County, according to the lawsuit.

The suit charges that from 1998 through 2001, the Rev. David Bonin, then pastor of St. Mary's on the Lake, sexually molested Hartley almost every Friday from when Hartley was 9 to when he was 12.

Hartley would spend Friday nights at the rectory to put drops into the priest's eyes.

“The priest had some sort of an eye condition, and on Friday nights my client put drops in his eyes,” Hayes said.

“... On Saturday night, another young man put the drops in his eyes, and then they spent the night,” Hayes said.

“The boys may have been staying with the priest in case something happened overnight,” Hayes said. During the week, a housekeeper checked on the priest and put the drops in his eyes before going home. “On the weekends, she was not there, so the boys would come and do it.”

The lawsuit also alleges Hartley was molested once when he and his family spent the night with Bonin at the Apalachin rectory for Christmas 2001.

Bonin died in March 2002 at the age of 53, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the diocese. He also served as pastor of St. Benedict Church in Odessa.

Hartley had come to speak with Hayes about an unrelated legal matter when Hartley blurted out what had happened to him, Hayes said. He would only say the legal matter involved substance abuse.

“That is one of the biggest problems for victims of childhood sexual abuse. To numb the pain, they abuse substances. We were discussing why he needed to feel numb, why he didn't want to be in the present,” Hayes said.

“He just sort of blurted out, ‘Well, maybe it's because of the sex abuse at the hands of a priest.'”

Hartley did not tell anyone about what had happened until many years later, Hayes said.

“He mentioned it once to his mother and saw a counselor for one session and then backed away from it,” he said. “This is a very hard topic to address as a young man, and he sort of put it on a back shelf until that day in my office.”

Diocese responds

A statement issued by the diocese Wednesday said allegations described by Hayes and a second person were first made in 2007 against Bonin, five years after his death.

“We have been in contact with Mr. Hayes and have offered assistance to his client,” the statement says.

The diocese says it had conversations with the second complainant, but Douglas Mandelaro, director of communications for the diocese, said Wednesday he did not know the status of the second person.

Shortly after receiving the complaints in 2007, the diocese said it reported the allegations to the parishioners whom Bonin served.

“We publicly provided information on how to report any incident of sexual abuse and receive assistance. In addition, we reported the allegations in the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Courier, and urged readers and parishioners to come forward with any additional information. We received no additional information. We also contacted civil authorities,” the statement says.

In addition, Clark reached out through a visit to the Watkins Glen parish, the statement says.

Hayes said even though charges cannot be brought against Bonin, the legal action focuses on the responsibility of the people who are in charge.

“The action is about the diocese and the bishop failing to warn parents about this sex abuse that was happening right in this diocese. It's about their failure to protect children generally,” he said.

“It's time they took pro-active, aggressive steps through their diocesan Web site, their newspapers, et cetera, to bring this issue to the fore so that everyone who's taking care of children or who is a child is aware of the problem.”

The diocesan statement addresses training efforts and background checks in recent years.

“Since 2002, more than 23,000 people — clergy, diocesan employees, parish employees and volunteers — have had mandatory training in the diocesan Creating a Safe Environment program, which includes criminal background checks done by an independent firm,” the diocesan statement says. “In addition, more than 33,000 young people have completed training to raise their awareness of protecting themselves from sexual abuse,” the statement says, referring to a Web site on the Creating a Safe Environment program at

The topic is particularly sensitive to Hayes, who said he had been an altar boy at the Watkins Glen church and was molested himself in 1966 when he was 9 years old by another priest. He filed a complaint in 1993, but the statute of limitations had run out, and he eventually settled with the diocese out of court for $70,000.

The diocese said Wednesday in its statement that victims of abuse should always report to the civil authorities.

To report a case of possible sexual abuse and to receive help and guidance from the diocese, victims are encouraged to contact Barbara Pedeville, the victims' assistance coordinator appointed by Clark, by calling (585) 328-3228 ext. 1215 or (800) 388-7177 ext. 1215 or by sending an e-mail to, the statement says.



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