Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Halleluia! It is Finished!

The whole saga of the trial of the Rev. David Bollinger was finished today. The ecclesiastical court dismissed the case.

Since 2005 this case of alleged fiduciary misconduct against Fr. Bollinger has hung in the wind. Bollinger a veteran priest of 24 years and almost 20 years at St. Paul’s, Owego has served as a district dean, and on the Diocesan trial court.

This began when allegations of sexual abuse of minors by a previous rector began to surface in the congregation. Fr. Bollinger went to the bishop and asked for an investigation of these allegations. At the same time an auditor found irregularities in the parish accounting system. Bishop Gladstone, “Skip” Adams, ordinary of the Diocese of Central NY refused to deal with the abuse and focused the attention on the financial irregularities on Fr. Bollinger. He called for a forensic audit of the Discretionary accounts of the parish at the cost of $30,000 to the diocese . In 2005 the Standing Committee brought charges against Fr. Bollinger and then turned the case over to the State’s Attorney for prosecution of alleged crime. Fr. Bollinger was inhibited, removed from his parish and the parish declared vacant without a trial. He was disallowed contact with members of the clergy, those who had reported their abuse to him and denied access to the parish buildings. No civil or criminal charge has ever been brought against Fr. Bollinger by state or federal authorities.

From the beginning Fr. Bollinger has denied the accusations leveled against him. Members of his parish have been mystified by the bishop’s actions. All the questioned expenditures by Fr. Bollinger had been allowed by the parish Vestry (lay council). But these explanations by the Vestry and Wardens of the parish were ignored by the Diocese.

For three years Fr. Bollinger was not allowed to work at his chosen profession, denied health care at a time when a member of the family was battling cancer and left without pastoral care or concern. He was basically shunned by the diocese in which Fr. Bollinger had grown up.

He was denied hearings that were required by the canons before the Standing Committee. He was denied legal assistance when the diocese could have provided it when it was shown that he did not have sufficient funds to provide counsel for himself. Fr. Bollinger suffered a heart attack in the ensuing years and is now on disability retirement.

Today, some three years following the inhibition, the case against Fr. Bollinger was dismissed for lack of evidence.

The court in its judgment said that the Diocese had not made its case. Several times in the two-day trial, the court reminded the Diocese that it had made clear the deadlines for providing materials in the discovery portion of the deliberations. The Diocese had not provided the court with a list of witnesses or a description of the evidence that they intended to present in a timely fashion. Fr. Bollinger had met those criteria in all of those occasions.

In June Bishop Adams asked the Standing Committee for a change of venue to another diocese. The Standing Committee voted unanimously to deny that change. The Court said that it took umbrage at the cavalier attitude that the Diocese took regarding the discovery period deadlines. They summarily dismissed all evidence and witnesses of the Diocese saying that it was trying to “even the playing field” so that the process of the trial would be fair.

When the Court judged that the Diocese had not proved their case, some sharp criticism by the Chair of the Court, Carter Strickland, Esq. and member of Trinity Parish, Fayetteville, said that they had strived to make sure that any trial procedures were done in a way that both the Diocese and Fr. Bollinger were treated fairly and with equal access to the legal system.

The Court was made up of the Rev. Jennifer Montgomery, the Rev. William Lutz, the Rev. John Rafter, Ms. Mary Lou Crowley, Esq. and Mr. Carter Strickland, Esq.

Comments: There has been considerable anxiety in the diocese regarding this trial. Many clergy of the diocese watched anxiously to see if the rights of the priest were going to be upheld. Since the changes in Title IV, the disciplinary canons, have been revised, there have been many questions about whether the check and balances that were once in effect would safe guard the rights of the cleric. In this case, it is gratifying to note that the Court upheld the fairness of the legal system. The Court is to be congratulated for the bravery to address their bishop’s or his lawyers’ flagrant disregard for the rules of the Court. It is sad to see the Diocese either resort to such tactics or ignore the dictates of the Court that was elected by the Diocese in Convention when the case is being watched by so many in TEC.

As a result, there will most likely be several resolutions or attempts to change the canons of the Diocese to provide for better handling of matters in which the accused is provided with appropriate counsel and access to pastoral care when there is a presentment is made.

In this case, most likely the irregularities in the financial structures of the parish would have been found to stem from the priest that had crossed the boundaries of conduct with children in his diocese. It is well-known that financial misconduct often is seen when there is also sexual misconduct. It is sad that the jump to accuse the present rector for another’s deeds has led to such pain for the Diocese and for Fr. Bollinger and his family. We as a diocese need to be willing to hold the proper authorities accountable for this affair.


PseudoPiskie said...

Thank God! And prayers ascending that there is no lingering malevolence for you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wow! What a saga! What lessons to be learned for the whole state of Christ's church. Thank God and Fr. Bollinger for the courage to take a risk or two for the sake of the gospel. I'm sure there will be some real changes to Title IV canons because of this case.

Diane said...

glad for the outcome, though

Magdalene6127 said...

but... he lost his ministry, his insurance, and his health. The Diocese should pay restitution, imho.


terri c said...

Coming late to this whole sad case; thank heavens the court acted justly, though I do agree that it would be right for Fr. Bollinger to receive compensation from the diocese.

Muthah+ said...

I didn't know that it is considered a presentable offence to bring civil charges against one's bishop. This is a violation of one's civil rights according to the Constitution but it is a part of our Canons now.

In a case like this, it might be possible to prove vidictive behavior against the Bishop and the Diocese in a presentment against the Bishop. But the way that past presentments against bishops have gone, I doubt if it would ever get to a court.

This is the case, I believe, when a man in anger said too much and he can't take it back. The bishop's career may be over.
The Greeks may have been right when one flaw in character can change the destiny of a whole society.

I have learned much from this whole scene.

PseudoPiskie said...

"in anger said too much and he can't take it back."

Saying something in love can also have its ill effects as we all know, especially one we cherish.

The internet is both a Godsend - where many of us have found great support and encouragement - and living hell - when we are not careful or others mistakenly or deliberately misinterpret. Takes some getting used to, eh?

We all have much to learn. And, God, why must it sometimes be so stressful?

Paul (A.) said...

Muthah+: "I didn't know that it is considered a presentable offence to bring civil charges against one's bishop. This is a violation of one's civil rights according to the Constitution but it is a part of our Canons now."

Do you have a citation for this to either the national canons (where I don't see it unless it is someone's interpretation of conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy) or CNY (which unless amended from what is on the website only incorporates the national Title IV by reference)?

I have seen this stated before and am puzzled by the claim.

Muthah+ said...

Paul[a], I am not sure where it is in the canons, but I do know it was one of the charges by +Skip against David.

I didn't know that the failure to participating in enforced psychiatric care also could be a part of a presentment either. Especially when the priest went to another widely respected program on his own.

I think that what has marred this case from the get-go was the intransigence of the bishop and his willingness to participate in manifestly unfair proceedures before the court.

Paul, I know you to be very up on the canons and would appreciate from you any knowledge of a bishop prohibiting a priest from working in a diocese where s/he is cannonically resident without bring some kind of charges.

Paul (A.) said...

A touchy situation, Muthah+: When a priest is called as a rector the bishop is the sole judge of whether the priest is "duly qualified" to serve (III.9.3(a)(3)). The leading case on this actually comes from the Diocese of Central New York (Rector of St. James' Church ve Huntington, 82 Hun 125, 31 N.Y.S. 91 (1894)).

This determination by the bishop is not apparently required for the hiring of an assistant (III.9.3(c)).

Other employment under III.9.3(e) requires the advice and consent of the Standing Committee as well as the bishop.

Formal inhibition (IV.1.2) requires the filing of formal charges or the receipt of information by a bishop that would justify formal charges.

The grounds for charges against a priest (or bishop or deacon) are listed in IV.1.1. The kinds of things you mention are not listed but may have been included in a Pastoral Direction, defined (IV.15) as follows:
"Pastoral Direction shall mean a written solemn warning from a Bishop to a Priest or Deacon setting forth clearly the reasons for the Pastoral Direction given in the capacity of pastor, teacher and
canonical overseer, which is neither capricious or arbitrary in nature nor in any way contrary to the Constitution and Canons of the
Church, national or diocesan, and directed to some matter which concerns the Doctrine, Discipline or worship of this Church or manner of life and behavior of the Priest or Deacon addressed, and shall be deemed to include without limitation admonition and Godly admonition."

I am unaware of any caselaw on the propriety or content of a Pastoral Direction if challenged. Presumably the procedure would be to ignore it and then challenge its validity at the ecclesiastical trial -- a risky choice.

The above is fairly general, but I don't know if a more specific question might yield any further on my end.