Accused Priest Retired to Fairhope, Helped at Church

By Rena Havner
Mobile Register
June 8, 2003

Catholic officials relieved the Rev. Charles Bordenca of his ability to act as a priest last year in response to allegations of sexual abuse, including what a prosecutor said was a claim that the now-retired Fairhope priest molested a 12-year-old altar boy in the 1960s.

The allegations against Bordenca never made it to court and he was never charged with a crime, but new Vatican-approved policy prohibits anyone with at least one "credible allegation" of sexual misconduct from serving as a priest.

Bordenca, 74, retired from active ministry in 1991 and has been stationed at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Fairhope, where he has performed some priestly duties over the years, including the celebration of weddings and funerals.

The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the Mobile archdiocese, said that to his knowledge the archdiocese has not received any complaints against Bordenca since he arrived in Fairhope.

"From those who know him over there, only good things have been said," Farmer said. "But that doesn't change the fact that if he did something wrong, he did something wrong."

The rules that led to Bordenca's removal took effect March 1, but Birmingham Bishop David Foley said he decided to remove Bordenca from the ministry nine months earlier, in June 2002. That month, U.S. bishops adopted a new policy about sexual abuse that has since been revised and made church law.

"He was restricted from service because he had an allegation, even though it had not gone to court," Foley told the Mobile Register last week.

"I reminded him that he could not present himself as a priest," he said. "This case was handled very correctly."

Foley, who became Birmingham's bishop in 1994, after Bordenca had left, said he could not comment on the circumstances of Bordenca's retirement.

Farmer said Bordenca is no longer presenting himself as a priest with St. Lawrence or any other church in the Mobile-Baldwin area.

Bordenca was still assigned to the Birmingham diocese at the time he relocated to Fairhope soon after his retirement. A handful of Fairhope-area funeral and wedding announcements in the Mobile Register note him as the celebrant between 1994 and 1999.

Attempts to reach Bordenca were unsuccessful. He did not return telephone messages left by the Register, and did not respond to a Federal Express letter delivered Thursday to a house listed in his name and that records reflect he signed for.

Bordenca underwent treatment at St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., for a year in 1989, according to Bob McGregor, a former Jefferson County assistant district attorney who investigated the priest.

St. Luke's -- located just outside of Washington, D.C. -- is a psychiatric hospital known to treat Catholic priests who have sexually abused minors, according to The Washington Post.

Bordenca was never officially assigned to the Archdiocese of Mobile, but it is common for a retired priest to step in for a church's regular priests as needed, even if it's in another diocese, Foley said.

Farmer said that because Bordenca's ability to act as a priest was removed before the rules governing sexual misconduct came into effect this March, officials did not have to notify church members of the allegations against the priest. "So I don't think the people of Fairhope were informed," Farmer said Thursday.

Ordained in 1955, Bordenca was first stationed at Daphne's Christ the King Church in 1956. From there, he went to St. Michael's in Pensacola -- then part of same diocese -- in 1963. In 1966, he moved to Birmingham and worked at six separate churches, according to the Official Catholic Directory.

Farmer said he was not sure what Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb knew about the allegations against Bordenca at the time the priest retired and moved to Fairhope. Lipscomb was on retreat last week and could not be reached for comment.

The Catholic Church has been embroiled in a scandal over priests who sexually abused children and in some cases were shuttled from parish to parish. Last spring, Pope John Paul II denounced such abuse as an "appalling sin" and a "crime."

The emergence of the scandal has led to revelations about priests across the country, with a number of allegations having been brought forth already in Mobile County, where the district attorney is conducting a criminal probe.

In Mobile, Brother "Vic" Bendillo, recently pleaded not guilty to four sex abuse charges. Four priests affiliated with the Archdiocese of Mobile are also subjects of a criminal investigation in Mobile County.

New Catholic guidelines stipulate that priests be removed from public ministry after "even one act of sexual abuse of a minor." That allegation does not have to be proven in court if law enforcement officials deem it "credible," Foley said.

Foley would not comment specifically on the credible allegation against Bordenca, which he said was investigated jointly by the Jefferson County district attorney's office and the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

Foley also would not divulge details about two other complaints against Bordenca, one verbal and one written, which he said he received since becoming Birmingham's bishop in 1994.

But McGregor, who is now an assistant U.S. attorney in Birmingham, did review his investigation with the Register.

"My honest opinion is that he is not a pedophile," McGregor said, using a term commonly used to describe adults who have sexual desire toward prepubescent children.

"Bordenca is a readily admitted homosexual who would pick out his victims early and young, around 15 or 16. He did appear to take advantage of young men who were not in a position to help themselves," McGregor said.

Nationally, reports indicate that the majority of the abusive Catholic clergy who have recently resigned or been removed had sexually abused teenagers, not young children.

McGregor would not go into specifics about the allegations involving the 12-year-old altar boy in Birmingham. "The kid's father apparently threatened to break Bordenca's neck, but back then (the 1960s) cases like that weren't prosecuted," he said.

He said he could not take the case to court because it was not reported to authorities until the 1980s. By then, Alabama's statute of limitations -- which at the time of the incident required that such allegations be reported within three years -- had run out.

Alabama law changed in 1985, allowing prosecution of any alleged sex crime against those under 16 that occurred after Jan. 7, 1985, regardless of when the allegation is reported.

According to McGregor, other allegations involving Bordenca include:

In 1987, a local therapist passed on to McGregor the names of "five or six" grown men who had reported to her that they had been molested by Bordenca when they were younger.

McGregor said he asked the men separately if they had been touched inappropriately. Each said he had, but only as an adult, according to McGregor.

Alabama law makes it difficult to prosecute someone for sexually molesting an adult, McGregor said.

"At this point, all we were looking at was a homosexual priest," McGregor said. "This priest seemed to understand that they all might be in a vulnerable position, so he would come on to them."

A 17-year-old man at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Birmingham told McGregor in the late 1980s that Bordenca, a friend of his family, had touched him inappropriately.

"Apparently, he made this kid feel very uncomfortable, and he did so on more than one occasion," McGregor said. But, he added, this case also would have been difficult to prosecute. For example, the teen said that on one occasion he was touched on the outer thigh, which under Alabama law does not constitute molestation, McGregor said.

Bordenca was assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows from 1982 to 1988.

Bordenca was accused of performing a sexual act with a young man who was being treated at a mental hospital in Birmingham. Because there was no actual penetration in that case, McGregor said, it could not be prosecuted.

McGregor said he approached Bordenca with these allegations in 1988.

"I told him 'You're a homosexual and a child abuser,'" McGregor said. "He told me, 'I'm a homosexual, but I'm no child abuser.'"

McGregor said he told Bordenca that while the statute of limitations had expired on the molestation allegation from the 1960s, "I suspect you haven't stopped.

"I'm going to keep looking under every rock as hard as I can. However, if you leave Our Lady of Sorrow and go somewhere where there are less children, my interest will drop."

That Sunday, Bordenca announced to his church that he was ill, then resigned, McGregor said.

According to the Official Catholic Directory, Bordenca went on leave from 1989 to 1990. McGregor said that is when Bordenca went to St. Luke's in Maryland. Foley would not confirm where Bordenca went or comment on what kind of treatment he may have received.

Foley said Bordenca retired when the treatment was complete and moved to Fairhope.

McGregor said he called Lipscomb and Pat Guyton, director of the Child Advocacy Center in Mobile, and told them about Bordenca and the investigation.

Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone said he does not know of any allegations that have been made against Bordenca since the priest moved to Fairhope.

Whetstone said that in the wake of the Mobile County investigation, "We're looking to determine if there were any allegations that may have occurred in this county, due to the proximity."


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