Abuse by N.Y. Priest Alleged

By Scott Goldstein
Boston Globe
May 4, 2005

An Albany, N.Y., priest removed from the ministry in 2002 for sexual misconduct is now accused of abusing and raping a child on overnight trips to Boston in the 1980s, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Suffolk Superior Court.

David Bentley allegedly sexually abused Michael Cleveland, now 34, over a four-year period, beginning in 1981, when Cleveland was 11.

The 17-page complaint also alleges that Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Catholic Diocese of Albany knew of and failed to stop the abuse. The lawsuit seeks $4 million.

According to the complaint, Bentley took Cleveland on trips to "Saratoga Lake, Washington Park, and other areas to fish, a sport [Cleveland] loved as a child and which the defendant Bentley used as a way to lure the child." Cleveland alleges that much of the abuse occurred on Bentley's boat, which he docked in Boston.

Bentley engaged in "vile acts of sexual abuse," according to the complaint, which also alleges that Hubbard engaged in a conspiracy to hide and allow the abuse.

Cleveland and his lawyer, John A. Aretakis, interviewed by phone yesterday, said he met Bentley through his three half brothers. Aretakis said Cleveland's brothers received settlements for alleged abuse by Bentley. Michael Cleveland did not.

Officials in the Albany diocese have long acknowledged that they were notified of allegations of sexual misconduct against Bentley in 1986, at which point he was removed from active ministry and sent to a treatment program.

"Upon the completion of several months of rehabilitative therapy, an independent board of psychologists pronounced him fit to return to ministry, but under supervised conditions," the diocese said in an April 2002 statement. Diocese spokesman Kenneth J. Goldfarb said there have been no complaints against Bentley alleging abuse since 1986.

Bentley and five other Albany priests were removed from their posts in 2002 after the American church instituted a child-protection policy requiring bishops to remove any priest or deacon who has abused a minor.

In a statement yesterday, the Albany diocese said it would investigate Cleveland's accusations.

"The diocese received a complaint from Michael Cleveland in 2000, and as is our policy and irrespective of culpability, we offered him counseling assistance," the statement said. "Mr. Cleveland's original complaint made no mention of the incidents he now alleges took place in Massachusetts. We will investigate these complaints and respond accordingly."

Cleveland, who has agreed to speak publicly about his case, said he told the diocese of the abuse on the Boston trips when he first brought his accusations to the church.

Aretakis said the abuse also occurred in Albany, but the statute of limitations in New York had already expired, forcing them to pursue the case in Massachusetts.

The lawyer said he represents about 110 clients who were abused by priests in the Albany diocese. He said he has filed six lawsuits in Boston against other Albany priests he said abused children in the area during trips.

Last year Hubbard himself was accused of sexual misconduct, including an allegation that he had paid a male prostitute for sex decades ago. A private investigator hired by the diocese concluded the accusations were unsubstantiated.

Cleveland said yesterday that he avoids churches because of the abuse.

"I'm a lost soul, as I put it, a lost soul trying to find answers without dealing with a priest because I'm petrified of them," Cleveland said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.