Priest Videotaped Having Sex with Teen, Lawsuit Says

By Tracy Jordan
Morning Call
September 28, 2010,0,120807.story

A Berks County couple became suspicious of the Roman Catholic priest who was supposed to be helping their daughter, so they secretly set up a video camera in the basement of their home -- and caught him having sex with the 18-year-old.

That's according to a lawsuit in which the parents also say the Rev. Luis A. Bonilla Margarito got their daughter pregnant.

Bonilla seduced the girl while she was 17 and a senior at Reading Central Catholic High School, and they had a sexual relationship that led to her giving birth at age 19, the suit says.

The parents allowed their daughter to meet with the priest for counseling because she had severe mental health issues as a result of prior sexual abuse by another man, the suit says. It says she also suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

According to the suit, Bonilla was removed as chaplain of the high school and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Reading after the videotaping, which took place in November.

The Allentown Diocese announced Bonilla was removed as a priest at St. Joseph's in November because he had a relationship with an 18-year-old woman. At the time, a church spokesman said Bonilla would be sent to a treatment facility and no criminal charges were pending.

The suit claims church officials knew of the "illicit relationship" when it began and that it continued after she graduated.

Bonilla, 41, left the treatment facility earlier this year, according to the diocese. He now lives in Norristown, Montgomery County. He could not be reached for comment Friday night.

Diocese spokesman Matt Kerr said Bonilla is still a priest but does not function as a priest and has no assignment. Kerr declined to comment on the suit.

According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Berks County Court :

The parents decided to videotape one of the counseling sessions their daughter had with Bonilla because they had become suspicious of his intentions.

The parents overheard Bonilla tell their daughter she didn't have to obey them anymore because she was 18. They also claim he alienated their daughter from them by "leading them to believe his relationship with their daughter was superior to theirs."

With the video evidence, the parents informed the Allentown Diocese of the relationship. Bonilla was transferred to a treatment facility and not supposed to have contact with their daughter, but he continued to see her without their knowledge.

The suit goes on to say the young woman "recently gave birth to a girl prematurely."

Bonilla, who was ordained in 2000, was assigned to Reading Central Catholic and St. Joseph's in Berks in June 2008 after serving the previous eight years at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Orefield, St. Ann Church in Emmaus and St. Peter Church in Reading.

The lawsuit, filed by Jay N. Abramowitch of the Leisawitz Heller Law Firm in Wyomissing, seeks damages for gross negligence, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty.

The suit says the parents gave money to the church and school expecting their daughter would be protected from "sexual abuse and exploitation by sexual predators such as Father Bonilla."

Named as defendants are Bonilla, the Allentown Diocese, Reading Central Catholic High School, Bishop John O. Barres and retired Bishop Edward P. Cullen.

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