Legal battle pits law against church _lowres

This Dec. 1, 2012 photo shows a silhouette of a crucifix and a stained glass window inside a Catholic Church in New Orleans. 

A former priest named this week in the sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse in Catholic Church was transferred to the Diocese of Lafayette in the 1990s.

Details concerning the transfer and other key points of Father John Bostwick’s tenure are sketchy, and the grand jury report leaves some to the imagination. Foremost among the unresolved questions are whether church officials knew about the allegations prior to the transfer.

What’s certain is that Bostwick transferred to Lafayette in 1992, and that he was removed in 1996 while serving as administrator at Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Franklin. Bostwick's removal came just as sexual abuse allegations against him surfaced from the previous decade.

Three years before the transfer to Lafayette, Bishop Walter Sullivan of the Richmond, Virginia, diocese recommended that Bostwick receive psychological counseling. The recommendation came in a letter to the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Bostwick was a member of the Diocese of Richmond but worked part time in Harrisburg from 1976 to 1990, according to the grand jury report. He refused to get counseling, but nonetheless received official permission to minister outside Richmond in 1990. He was transferred to Lafayette less than two years later.

Mike Barley, a spokesman for the Harrisburg diocese, said the diocese knows of Sullivan’s 1989 letter because it was cited in a diocesan memo, but the diocese does not possess the letter itself.

The reason Sullivan recommended counseling is not clear, Barley said.

“I don’t know what’s in that letter from Bishop Sullivan, but the records I’m seeing here doesn’t indicate anything about child sex abuse,” Barley said.

Barley said he does not know why Bostwick received permission to minister outside Richmond, or why he transferred to Lafayette. 

“I have no idea,” Barley said. “There’s nothing there in the file about it.”

Bostwick had two short assignments in the Harrisburg diocese prior to moving to Louisiana. They lasted a combined 15 months, with the last one ending after just four months.

A spokeswoman for the Lafayette diocese, Blue Rolfes, said Bostwick came at the invitation of former Bishop Harry Flynn, who had become friends with Bostwick at Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.

Flynn's successor, Bishop Edward O'Donnell, immediately removed Bostwick upon learning of the allegation, Rolfes said in an email.

"Despite an invitation from Bishop O'Donnell for any other victims to come forward, no complaints against Father Bostwick were ever made by anyone in the Diocese of Lafayette," Rolfes said. 

Bostwick was removed from the ministry altogether in 1996, following an investigation, according to the York Daily Record. Barley said Bostwick contested the allegations, but he could not confirm the results of the investigation.

“He got an attorney and was fighting it,” Barley said. “But then the records kind of just trail off, and it goes into nothing.”

Bostwick is still alive, according to officials with the Harrisburg diocese, although Barley said his whereabouts are unknown. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. 

It’s not clear why the investigation started in 1996. The grand jury report does not say when Bostwick’s two known victims came forward with their accusations of previous abuse.

One victim said Bostwick abused him on at least three occasions, from 1980 to 1982, when the victim was between the ages of 12 and 14.

Bostwick was a friend of the victim’s family, and the priest fondled the victim after the two drank beer together during an overnight visit, according to the grand jury report. The other incidents occurred in a seminary room and an undisclosed location.

Bostwick tried to make the boy touch his genitals, according to the grand jury report, but “the boy became scared and locked himself in a room.”

“The boy remembered Bostwick becoming emotional, falling to the floor crying and apologizing,” the report states.

The other victim said Bostwick tried to “make genital contact” in the summer of 1987 when the boy was between 14 and 15 years old.

Bostwick’s time in Louisiana came on the heels of a child sex scandal that rocked the Lafayette diocese in the 1980s. The diocese in 2004 disclosed that 123 victims of 15 priests received $24.4 million in legal settlements. The money was paid out by insurers, who were forced to pay following a decade-long lawsuit that concluded in 1998.

The insurance companies accused the diocese of endangering children by moving predatory priests from one parish to another.

The diocese has never released the list of 15 priests. An interview request with Bishop Douglas Deshotel was pending as of Thursday afternoon. 

Advocate staff writer Bryn Stole contributed to this article.

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.