March 29, 2006

After 1988 conviction, ex-priest was placed near youth center

The Morning Call

By Kathleen Parrish
and Daniel Patrick Sheehan Of The Morning Call

In the years after his 1988 conviction for molesting a child, the Rev. Thomas J. Bender lived and worked at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Easton, home to a school and a popular youth center.

Serving out probation, barred from saying Mass and other priestly functions, he worked in the parish office a situation that lasted until Bishop Edward Cullen took charge of the Allentown Catholic Diocese in 1998 and removed him as part of a revision of policies on troubled clergy.

Bender, 72, a one-time pastor whose priesthood was essentially nullified two years ago, was arrested March 21 on Long Island, N.Y. He is accused of traveling there to have sex with a 14-year-old online pen pal who turned out to be an undercover detective. In instant messages and e-mails, Bender said he ''wanted to spank the 14-year-old male on various parts of his nude body,'' according to court documents.

Though Bender was never accused of improper behavior during his time at St. Anthony's, critics say the assignment exemplifies how dioceses often dealt with abusive priests before the explosion of the clergy abuse scandal in 1998 by moving them into new parishes where they continued to have access to children.

Posted by kshaw at March 29, 2006 07:19 AM