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.