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BUFFALO, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A victim who was abused at gunpoint refused a $650,000 settlement to force the Church to be more transparent and ensure that no other children are victimized.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday with members of Jeff Anderson & Associates and whistleblower Siobhan O'Connor, James Bottlinger admitted he was going to lose a lot of friends and acquaintances and make a permanent record of his abuse by coming forward. Despite the personal risks, he and his family decided a trial "was the right thing to do to protect future victims and more or less, force the Catholic Church to be more transparent."
"The Church is not going to change," Bottlinger said. "They're resisting change so I think we have to see this through and make them change."
Although Bottlinger's story about Fr. Micheal R. Freeman abusing him at gunpoint has been widely reported, Tuesday's press conference was the first time he spoke publicly about it.
He explained that he initially approached the diocese of Buffalo through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), calling the process "very odd."
He ended up telling only a "small snippet of his experience" and didn't hear back from the diocese. He retained a lawyer and then got a $650,000 settlement offer. No one from the Church took part in the process, and he was never offered any information nor were any of his questions answered.
Bottlinger wanted to know why they left Freeman in ministry and allowed him to victimize other kids despite other victims coming forward before and after he did.
With the IRCP and the programs being instituted in other dioceses, in order to receive the money, victims have to sign away their rights to pursue the Church. To Bottlinger, it didn't feel right to take the money and go away.
"There needs to be a story behind that money," he said. "I'd really like to let a trial happen to see how much of the story we can get out to make the Church actually come to the table and admit their wrongdoings."
"The Church purposely covered this up," Bottlinger said.
During the years when he was abused, he met Bp. Donald Trautman, the auxiliary bishop of Buffalo from 1985 to 1990. He was in Freeman's private quarters alone and Bp. Trautman walked in, "said hello and left."
He said he was about 15, had been drinking and the two talked for a while.
At least three other victims had face-to-face meetings with Bp. Trautman, but each time Freeman was transferred to another parish until he was eventually transferred to Pennsylvania — where Bp. Trautman was later installed as the bishop of Erie, Pennsylvania.
Bishop Trautman was one of the Catholic clergymen who tried to block the Pennsylvania grand jury report's release last year. He admitted that the efforts to block its release "could further injure victims of abuse" and withdrew his appeal on the condition that certain accusations made in the report did not apply to him.
Those claims Bp. Trautman didn't want to apply to him were that victims "were brushed aside," priests were reassigned with full knowledge of accusations of child sexual abuse, victims were dissuaded from going to the police and investigations were biased and the police were pressured to drop the investigation.
When Bottlinger was 19, he was approached by a monsignor who wanted him to sign a statement about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Freeman. Bottlinger didn't want to but did so to get Freeman removed from ministry and protect other children.
He was promised that Freeman would get help, not be allowed to have access to children and wouldn't contact him. But for the next two or three years, Freeman continued to call him.
Bottlinger only recently learned that all of the promises were broken and Freeman was kept in ministry after his statement.
Bottlinger also explained that Freeman worked as a police chaplain and the police knew about his abuse. He mentioned news reports describing former vice squad detective Martin Harrington's claim that there was an "unwritten policy" not to arrest Catholic priests.
The police handed the offending priest over to the Buffalo diocese "but they would not be arrested."
"I saw it first-hand," Bottlinger said. "Back then, that's the way it was done."
Bottlinger could have sued anonymously and instead chose to go public with his name. He explained he was inspired by O'Conner's bravery and by the reporters who have been trying since the 1980s to break open the story.
"The Church is a powerful corporation, organization, they have the police in their pockets," he said. "It's not easy being a whistleblower for a very powerful and corrupt organization."
He wants this to go to trial because it's the "right thing to do" and to force transparency. He explained that he wants to see the treatment plan they devised for Freeman explaining he once met with the Church's therapists, saying, "That didn't go well."
Mike Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates, said, "This organization does not and can not do the right thing of its own volition. This diocese and this bishop only does the right thing when they're forced to do the right thing."
Reck called out the inaction of Buffalo's current bishop, Bp. Richard Malone, saying they released their report because he wouldn't.
"When Bp. Malone would not release the identities, histories and whereabouts of known offenders, we released our list," he said.
He explained in response, Bp. Malone released the list of 42 names.
"We now know 42 is a far cry from where we are," Reck said. He believes the bishop's own list is "in excess of 80" and public records are well over 100.
"We will uncover and disclose the identities of all those who endanger children and we will be able to seek some accountability and some transparency into what was known by diocesan officials, including Bp. Trautman, and when they knew it," Reck said.
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