BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Donald W. Trautman, a retired bishop and high-ranking administrator of the Buffalo and Erie (Pa.) dioceses, admitted Friday that he blamed a victim of clergy sexual abuse for putting himself in the position to be molested.
In a telephone interview with the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team, Trautman said that he could not recall specifics but that it was likely he blamed the victim for being abused, as the lawyer for the abuse survivor alleged Thursday in The Buffalo News.
"In the paper this morning, it was an article that said that I told the young man, ‘You’ve placed yourself in bad circumstances,’" Trautman told I-Team Chief Investigator Charlie Specht. "That sounds like me. I would say that to someone. I don’t remember the conditions or what the person said to me, but he should not have placed himself in those conditions."
Trautman, second-in-command of the Buffalo Diocese before he went on to become Bishop of Erie, said then-Buffalo Bishop Edward D. Head revoked the faculties of the Rev. Michael Freeman and sent him to Southdown Institute, a church-approved rehab center in Canada.
"That was our regular approach," Trautman said. "That’s what we always did."
Tuesday, abuse survivor James Bottlinger held a news conference to allege that he was abused by Freeman at St. Mary's in Lancaster in the 1980s. He said Trautman once encountered him in the priest's bedroom but did nothing to stop subsequent instances of abuse. His attorneys also alleged that at that moment, Trautman already had been told of two other boys who were previously abused by Freeman at a different parish.
Trautman said Friday he had difficulty remembering the exact details of the incident because it happened more than three decades ago. He questioned whether he was even at St. Mary's rectory that day, but attempted to put his words into context.
"That sounds like me saying to a...candidate, who committed...uh, did something wrong, ‘You should not have put yourself in those circumstances,’ whatever they were, whatever he told me at the time," Trautman said.
Trautman said he planned to review the files of the Buffalo Diocese so that he could familiarize himself with more details. Asked why he did not act if he knew about two prior instances of child sexual abuse by the now-deceased Freeman, Trautman interrupted.
"Something was done," he said. "His faculties were revoked and he was sent to Southdown for psychiatric evaluation. That was done."
Trautman, who served as chancellor and also as auxiliary bishop under Bishop Head, played a key role in the processing of sexual abuse claims throughout the 1980s, records obtained by the I-Team show.
Asked whether he ever called the police after learning of child sexual abuse by Buffalo Diocese priests, Trautman did not directly answer.
"Look...I’ll have to look at the file to examine what we did...35 years ago, all right?" he said.
At about the same time that Trautman was making his admission to the I-Team, former priest James Faluszczak was holding a news conference in downtown Buffalo to criticize the bishops of Erie and Buffalo for allowing Trautman to say Mass in their dioceses given the allegations of sex abuse cover-up against him.
"They are wolves in shepherd’s clothing," Faluszczak said of bishops like Trautman. "It is not enough that they still be allowed to function. It certainly is not enough yet that these men are not in jail."
Faluszczak, who served under Trautman in the Erie Diocese, was joined by Paul Barr, an abuse survivor of Freeman who said his pleas to the Buffalo Diocese to stop the now-deceased priest from molesting more boys were ignored.
"Numerous times I reported to this diocese myself, and their turning their back on me resulted in what happened to James [Bottlinger]," Barr said. "And that’s infuriating."
Siobhan O'Connor, the former secretary to Bishop Richard J. Malone who became a whistleblower about his handling of sex abuse allegations, made a plea to Malone, Trautman and other bishops to come clean and release all their files on clergy sexual abuse.
"At the end of their lives, they’re not going to be able to get away with this," O'Connor said of the bishops. "You can’t deceive God. He knows what’s in those files. He knows what they were aware of, what they did and did not do."
In response to Trautman's comments, a spokeswoman for the Erie Diocese said in a statement, "Bishop Trautman speaks for himself, as does Mr. Bottlinger." A spokeswoman for the Buffalo Diocese said in a statement, "Bishop Malone has no knowledge of the background of the comments attributed to Bishop Trautman regarding events that occurred nearly forty years ago. Bishop Malone’s position has always been clear that a victim does not share blame for abuse."
Click here or see below for a full transcript of Charlie Specht's interview with retired Bishop Trautman.