Alleged abuse victim suing Buffalo diocese after rejecting $650,000 settlement

Jun 18, 2019

A former local man who says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1980s is taking the Diocese of Buffalo to court.

Attorney Steve Boyd says James Bottlinger's story involving Father Michael Freeman of St. Mary's in Lancaster is well-documented. But Boyd says up until now, Bottlinger, 50, was known as "John Doe."

James Bottlinger, seen here in a photo when he was 17, with Father Michael Freeman, who he claims abused him sexually.
Credit Photo courtesty of James Bottlinger

In going public on Facebook from the WNED-TV studio on Tuesday, Bottlinger said after meeting with judges from the diocese's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, he rejected a $650,000 settlement because it "didn't feel right" taking the money and going away. He said the church is not being transparent.

"I want to know why they let Father Mike, after complaints, before he knew me, and then I made complaints, but they still moved him, and then there were more victims. They never answered any of that. So I think the only alternative we have is to go to a trial and maybe then they can answer what happened," Bottlinger said.

Freeman is now deceased. Bottlinger is married with two young children and now lives in Okinawa, Japan. He said he was planning to take his story to the grave, but is going public and suing the Diocese in order to protect future victims and to make the Catholic Church be more transparent.

Bottlinger is being represented by attorney Steve Boyd (on the right).
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

"I just want the other victims to know, I know how hard it is to come out and tell these kinds of stories. You will lose a lot of aquaintances, but it's the right thing to do. You've got to think about the future [and] protect these kids. The Church is not going to change. They're resisting change. So I think we have to see this through and then make them change," he said.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the diocese said, "The Diocese of Buffalo established the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (“IRCP”) to address the known claims and to bring some measure of closure to the eligible survivors. The Diocese committed to paying whatever amount was awarded by the independent retired judges who evaluated the claims. The overwhelming majority (over 85%)  who received monetary awards from the administrators accepted them. Unlike the Diocese, the people making claims were not bound by the decisions of the administrators, and a small percentage of people rejected them, including the person who received the very highest award. That, of course, is his right. If litigation is commenced, the Diocese will address the case in the appropriate forum."