Bishop Trautman Blamed Victim of Abuse

News: US News
by Christine Niles  •  •  June 22, 2019   

Bishop to victim: 'You never should have put yourself in that position'

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ( - Bishop Donald Trautman admits he blamed an abuse victim who was molested by a priest, and stands by his statement.

"You should have never put yourself in that position," then-Msgr. Trautman, vicar general in the diocese of Buffalo, New York in the 1980s, reportedly told an unnamed teen victim of Fr. Michael Freeman.

In another case, Freeman also allegedly molested James Bottlinger, who turned down a $650,000 offer from the diocese — the largest single payout through its victims compensation fund — choosing to sue the diocese instead for keeping in ministry a priest it knew to be a sexual predator.

I don't want the Church to determine here's some money, go away.

"I don't want the Church to determine here's some money, go away," said Bottlinger at a press conference Tuesday. "I'd like the trial to happen to see how much of the story we can get out. To get the church to come to the table and admit the wrongdoings."

Trautman served as vicar general in the diocese of Buffalo in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was made aware of at least three allegations of abuse against Freeman. Freeman was allowed to remain in active ministry for years in spite of the allegations.

In response to queries by local news station WKBW, Trautman admitted he probably did blame the victim, and sticks to his original statement.

"That sounds like me," Trautman said Friday. "I would say that to someone. I don't remember the conditions or what the person said to me, but he should not have placed himself in those conditions."

Another of Freeman's victims, Paul Barr, has also refused an offer from the diocese for $45,000, suing for abuse he claims took place at Sacred Heart Church in Niagara Falls when he was a teen. Although he informed the diocese of his abuse in 1982, Freeman was kept in active ministry.

"Bishop Trautman knew Paul Barr had complained, two others had complained, and each time there was a complaint they just moved Father Freeman around until he ended up at St. Mary's in Lancaster," said Steve Boyd, attorney for Bottlinger. "And that's where he met James."

Kathy Spangler, spokeswoman for the Buffalo diocese, is refusing to comment on the allegations.

"Mr. Bottlinger and his lawyers have indicated that litigation will soon commence," Spangler told The News. "As is customary, the Diocese will respond to all requests for documents and information regarding Fr. Freeman during the litigation process."

Bottlinger claims Msgr. Trautman walked into Freeman's room at St. Mary of the Assumption rectory in the mid-1980s — after he had already been made aware of three allegations of abuse by Freeman — and showed no concern that Freeman was alone in his room with a male teen.

"Monsignor Trautman, he knew Fr. Mike was a pedophile," Bottlinger said at the press conference. "Seeing me there in his room didn't faze him one bit. He said hello, how are you, they had a few laughs. He left."
Seeing me there in his room didn't faze him one bit.
"I think they don't take it seriously," he added.
Trautman has denied the meeting took place. He also justifies his handling of Freeman, saying that it was their "regular approach" to send troubled priests away to psychiatric treatment centers for a time, after which they were placed back in ministry.
"That's what we always did," he said.
Trautman was named in the Pennsylvania grand jury report released last August, where he was criticized for permitting known abuser Fr. Chester Gawronski to remain in active ministry in the diocese of Erie, where Trautman served as bishop.
The report also published two secret memos, in which Trautman ordered the diocese not to contact additional witnesses in the case of abuser Fr. William Presley: "additional witnesses should not be contacted, especially given the fact that it is not likely that they will lead to information" about other crimes, Trautman wrote.
Although Trautman released a statement in August hitting back at Attorney General Josh Shapiro for his portrayal of Trautman, he did not deny that he allowed Gawronski and Presley to remain priests in his diocese for years after he knew of their abuse.
James Faluszczak, a former priest of the diocese of Erie, is calling on Bp. Lawrence Persico to impose penalties on Trautman, based on new rules recently adopted by the U.S. bishops that allow a sitting bishop to restrict the ministry of retired bishops found to have mishandled sex abuse.
Faluszczak is skeptical, however, that Persico will take action.

"Persico's been aware of Trautman's behavior for well over a year and has not conducted an internal investigation," he said. "There’s no reason to think they won't sidestep their own protocols."

He dismissed the new protocols adopted in Baltimore as achieving anything new: "All it means is the bishops are going to continue to investigate themselves."


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