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EAST NORTHPORT, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Church officials in the diocese of Rockville Centre are circling the wagons in an attempt to defend their embattled local prelate, Bp. John Barres, who as head of the diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania from 2009–17 did nothing to remove Msgr. Thomas J. Benestad from ministry after credible allegations were filed against him.
In 2011, a man reported that Msgr. Benestad had sexually abused him in the early 1980s, beginning when he was 9 years old.
According to the Pennsylvania grand jury report, Benestad took the boy out of class to his private office and ordered the boy "to get on his knees and start praying." Benestad then "unzipped his pants and told the victim to perform oral sex on him. The victim did as he was told. Benestad also performed oral sex on the victim."
The victim told authorities that "after the abuse, Benestad would produce a clear bottle of holy water and squirt it into the victim's mouth to purify him." The report went on to note that "[a]dditional complaints have been made against Benestad, who has denied all allegations."
After these accusations — deemed credible by law enforcement — were filed against the monsignor, the diocese of Allentown did nothing. According to the report, under Bp. Barres, the diocese "elected to rely on Benestad's word rather than the word of the victims and the determinations of law enforcement. No attempt was made to remove Benestad from ministry."
In the wake of the release of the grand jury report, Bp. Barres, who left Allentown for Rockville Centre in 2017, has sought to shield himself from parishioners' anger. Ordering his PR machine into action, he crafted a statement disparaging the grand jury's findings. But Barres' move is backfiring, serving only to fan the flames of anger against him.
Case in point: Long Island Catholic Roseanna Ponturo, who was livid over what transpired during Mass last Sunday at St. Anthony Padua Catholic Church in East Northport.
Church officials, she said, ordered a choir boy to read Barres' statement denying cover-up of child sex abuse.
"The statement reiterated Barres' dedication to protecting children, and asserted that the statements by police were exaggerated, unfounded — blah, blah, blah, blah," she told Church Militant.
It should have come as no surprise to me — since our Holy Father the Pope himself has put blame on the victims of sexual assaults by priests — that my local church would use a child to read a statement in defense one of our local bishops, who has been found by duly authorized legal authorities to have enabled and protected child predators and pedophiles within our Church.