Shared, Secret Pain LED to Abuse Claim
Albany Twins Accused the Rev. Bernard Casper

By Andrew Tilghman
Times Union (Albany, NY)
February 26, 2003

For nearly 30 years, Mark and Paul Zimmerman said they concealed memories that the Rev. Bernard Casper molested them for years, starting when they were altar boys at St. Patrick's Church in Albany in the early 1970s.

The 44-year-old twins never even acknowledged it to each other.

"It just never occurred to me that it was happening to him, too," said Paul Zimmerman, a former truck driver and a married father of two.

It was not until last year that the brothers, who both live in Cohoes, shared their identical stories of alleged abuse and reported them to the church. Their complaint, filed in September last year, elicited an unusual response from church officials.

Although Casper said Mass at various times in Albany and elsewhere for nearly 30 years, the Albany and Rochester Roman Catholic dioceses contend he never had their authority to act as a priest in upstate New York and was never employed by, nor assigned to, their churches.

Casper was ordained in 1955 in the Diocese of Pueblo in Colorado. He took a leave of absence in 1963 for undisclosed medical reasons and was never reassigned, a Rochester diocesan spokesman said.

However, Rochester Bishop Mathew Clark learned last year that Casper had family in Auburn and occasionally said Mass at St. Mary's Church.

"We put a stop to things as soon as we found that out," Michael Tedesco, the spokesman for the Rochester Diocese, said Tuesday. The diocese sent Casper a letter prohibiting him from saying Mass.

Last week, Albany church officials said that Casper "did reside in the Albany Diocese for a brief period in the mid-1970s, although he never received an assignment from the Albany Diocese."

Also last week, however, the Rev. Nellis Tremblay, now retired, recalled working alongside Casper at St. Patrick's. Tremblay recalled that Casper said Mass and conducted himself as a priest in active ministry some 30 years ago at the Central Avenue church.

In the early 1970s, Casper met the Zimmerman brothers through their mother, who was involved in church activities in Albany. Casper befriended the twins, two children in a large family headed by a single mother struggling with poverty and alcoholism, the brothers said.

In 1973, when they were young teenagers, Casper became their guardian and moved them -- with their mother's blessing -- to Auburn where they attended a local high school.

In Auburn, Casper helped found Unity House, a home for mentally ill veterans run by the Carmelite Fathers. He also celebrated occasional weekend Masses at St. Mary's Church, the brothers said.

After Casper put the boys in separate bedrooms, the sexual abuse became more frequent, the brothers said.

Paul Zimmerman said: "I used to barrier my bedroom door at night with my dresser."

Mark Zimmerman said he was reluctant to resist because "our mom loves this guy."

When they were 16, the twins drove to Albany and moved back into their mother's home. Shortly afterward, in 1976, their mother died and Casper conducted the Mass at her funeral, the Zimmermans said.

The brothers said their alleged experience of sexual abuse remained a source of unspoken tension between them until last year, when reports of sexual abuse by priests emerged in Boston and elsewhere. Mark Zimmerman was compelled to call his brother to talk about Casper.

"He started asking me questions, and I started asking him how he knew that, how he found that out," Paul Zimmerman said.

Awkwardly, the two brothers recalled, they shared memories of similar experiences. "He said, 'Are you talking about you or are you talking about me?' " Mark Zimmerman said.

Casper, now 74 and still listed as a weekend pastor on the Auburn church Web site, lives in Buffalo. His attorney, Gerald Whelan, declined to comment on the Zimmermans' claim.

Their attorney, John Aretakis, also would not comment, citing a warning from state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi regarding public statements by attorneys involved in potential lawsuits against the Albany Diocese.

The Rev. Mark Piewka, chancellor of the Pueblo Diocese, did not return calls for comment.

The twins said they have grown closer in recent months.

"I had always kind of blamed him," Paul Zimmerman said of his brother. "I always kind of thought he could stop him from coming into my room at night."

"There was always a barrier between us," Mark Zimmerman said. "He said he hated me for 30 years because he always thought I didn't stop the abuse that was happening to him."


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