BUFFALO — James Bottlinger said he was prepared to take his secret to the grave.

But watching others speak out about the Catholic Church's handling of its child sexual abuse scandal gave him his "voice." 

Bottlinger rejected what is reportedly the largest compensation settlement ever offered by the Diocese of Buffalo, $650,000, because he says he wants answers instead regarding why church leaders repeatedly exposed children to a priest that they knew was a pedophile. 

"There is truth that needs to be told and facts that need to be revealed," said Jeff Anderson, one of Bottlinger's attorneys. "(Bottlinger) found his voice and chose to take powerful action. He wants other survivors to come forward and he wants the Catholic Diocese and (Bishop Richard Malone) to come clean."

In a mid-day news conference Tuesday, Bottlinger said he was abused as a teen by Father Michael R. Freeman, one of 176 diocesan priests, order priests, former priests or deceased priests who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor were made against them.

Bottlinger said he had been "groomed" for abuse by Father Gerald C. Jasinski, who is also on the diocese's list of abusive priests. 

But the most explosive claim Bottlinger made is that the abuse took place under the watch of the former auxiliary bishop of the Buffalo diocese, and later Bishop of the Erie, Pa., Diocese, Donald Trautman.  

Bottlinger's abuse took place while Freeman was assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Lancaster.

Earlier allegations of sexual abuse had been made against Freeman while he was serving at the Sacred Heart parish in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls lawyer and victim advocate Paul Barr has said Freeman abused him during his time at Sacred Heart. The parish later became home to another priest on the diocesan list of sexually abusive clerics, Father Bernard M. Mach.

Another of Bottlinger's attorneys, Steve Boyd, charged that Trautman was aware of complaints about Freeman before he arrived at St. Mary's Parish.

"Bishop Trautman knew that Father Freeman was an abuser," Boyd said. "And every time there was a complaint, they just moved him around until he landed at St. Mary's in Lancaster."

At the Lancaster parish, Bottlinger said first Jasinski, and then Freeman, befriended him. Soon, he said, he had "free rein" in the church rectory and on one occasion found himself sitting in Freeman's bedroom when a visitor arrived.

The visitor was Trautman. And Trautman, Bottlinger said, did nothing.

"Monsignor Trautman knew Father Mike was a pedophile," Bottlinger said. "He saw me in (Freeman's) bedroom and it didn't faze him one bit. It didn't faze him at all."

Now, in rejecting the diocese's offer of compensation through its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), Bottlinger says he will seek answers to his many questions by filing a lawsuit against the diocese under New York's Child Victims Act.

"It's the right thing to do to make the Catholic Church more transparent," he said. "I went to the IRCP, they were very nice. But there was no church representative there. That didn't seem right to me. It was just take the money and go away. Why did they just move Father Mike? They knew there were more victims. Maybe if we go to court, they'll have to answer those questions."

Another of Bottlinger's attorneys promised to find the answers to his client's questions.

"This organization (the Catholic Church) does not and can not do the right thing. They only do the right thing when they are forced to do the right thing," attorney Mike Reck said. "We will expose all those who endangered children."

Bottlinger, 50, now a high school guidance counselor, is expected to file suit against the Buffalo diocese on Aug. 14, the first day such lawsuits are permitted under the Child Victims Act.

"I want full transparency from the church," Bottlinger said. "The money is insignificant. "What did (Trautman) know and when? Why didn't he do anything? He's got a lot of answering to do." 

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