Twins file abuse claim
By John Haughey / Managing Editor
AUBURN - A Catholic priest who founded Unity House and said Mass for nearly three decades at St.
Mary's Church is being investigated for sexually abusing twin brothers in Albany and Auburn in the early
Mark and Paul Zimmerman filed a formal sexual abuse claim with the Albany Diocese against Rev. Bernard
R. Casper on Sept. 13, the first step in what could be a civil lawsuit.
The twins are represented by attorney John Aretakis of Manhattan, who has filed claims against Catholic
dioceses throughout New York state on behalf of hundreds of alleged sexual victims.
Aretakis, who has 14 cases against the Rochester Diocese and at least six against the Albany Diocese
pending, won a $997,500 out-of-court settlement in 1997 from the Albany Diocese on behalf of a man
sexually abused as a teenager in the 1970s by a priest.
According to Mark Zimmerman, he and his brother were abused by Casper when they served with him as
altar boys at St. Patrick's Church in Albany, and while they were living with him as teenagers at Unity
House in Auburn from 1973-75.
"He molested both of us," Zimmerman said last week, noting he first approached the Albany Diocese with
his charges against Casper in 1993. "I told them they have a pedophile saying Mass at St. Mary's in
Auburn. They swept it under a rug; they did nothing."
Casper, 75, who is retired from active duties and living in the Buffalo area, acknowledged the Zimmermans
lived with him at Unity House, but denied any inappropriate relationship with them.
"That's ridiculous," Casper said. "I am appalled at the allegations leveled against me - especially
considering those who make them. I've never had any type of physical contact with either one of them."
Albany to Auburn
Mark Zimmerman, now 44 and living in the Capital District area, said he and his brother were two of 13
siblings of volatile, alcoholic parents.
"My mom turned to the church for help escaping from our father and the church moved us," he said. "Our
father found us, so the church moved us again."
Zimmerman said after moving into a house in St. Patrick"s parish in Albany, the family first met Casper,
who encouraged the twins to be altar boys.
"On weekends, he would take my brother and I to a farmhouse in Bethlehem," he said. "That where the
Despite church assistance, in 1973 the family disintegrated. Older Zimmerman children remained with their
mother while younger siblings were assigned to relatives and foster care. Zimmerman maintains Casper was
given guardianship of him and his brother by his mother, although Casper said the agreement was
Shortly after, Zimmerman said, he and his brother moved to Auburn with Casper and were enrolled in
Auburn High School. They lived in Unity House, a home for mentally disabled veterans, established in
1972 by Casper in the former Case mansion at 108 South St. Casper also frequently said mass at St. Mary"s
Residents and volunteers were limited to the first two floors of Unity House, Zimmerman said. Over the
next two years, he said, the alleged abuse started in Albany continued in Unity House"s third-floor living
quarters shared by Casper and the twins.
In late 1975, Zimmerman said he and his brother stole Casper"s car and drove to their mother"s last known
address in Albany. "We ran away because we couldn"t take the abuse any more," he said.
Casper never charged the twins with stealing his car, Zimmerman said, and they stayed with their mother
until she died in June 1976. The last time he saw Casper, Zimmerman said, was at his mother"s funeral.
Casper said he would respond to specific questions about the allegations via fax but, as of Tuesday night,
could not do so because of his health. However, he said, he was stunned by the Zimmermans" claims.
"Whatever has happened to them in the intervening 25 to 30 years since I last knew them, I have no idea,"
he said. "There certainly has been a radical change in personality and I can only speculate what that might
Taboo subject broached
Zimmerman said after his mother died, he dropped out of school. His family never reunited. "We"re not
close," he said. "We remind each other of our past."
The twins suffered years of strife, Zimmerman said. Both tried suicide, he said. In 1993, he confronted the
Albany Diocese without his brother with allegations about Casper.
"They wouldn"t speak to me," he said. "Basically, they blew me off."
However, as stories of sexual-abuse claims against Catholic clergy emerged in the media, Zimmerman
broached what had been a taboo subject with his brother.
"We started talking and it was remember this? Remember that?" he said. "A few conversations later, we
started talking about how Father Casper abused us."
The twins established a Web site called altarboys.net to monitor allegations and court proceedings against
"I wanted to help other victims, to encourage them to come forward," Zimmerman said. "Doing this type of
work put the breaks on our case."
In July, the brothers decided to pursue Casper. "We sat down, talked it over," he said. "This time we didn"t
go to the diocese. We went to an attorney, and he was overwhelmed with the stuff we were telling him."
The attorney recommended they go to a specialist -- Aretakis.
Mitigation procedure askew
Aretakis would not address the specifics of the Zimmermans" allegations, explaining he was prohibited by
Albany County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi on Feb. 11 from speaking publicly about any of his
cases against the Catholic Church as part of a "severe cautionary gag order."
"All I will say is I do represent the twin brothers and it is a horrific, horrific case," he said.
Aretakis would discuss how he tries to convince clients to file claims with the church first, before pursuing
a civil lawsuit in court.
"I could just go and file suit, but I am trying to comply with the process, to make something of it," he said.
"Not all claims deserve to end up in civil court. Not all claimants are perfect candidates; a lot are pretty
Aretakis said he encouraged the Zimmermans to take their case to the Albany Diocese, following
procedures outlined in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Persons adopted in June by
the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Aretakis said the process requires, among other elements, a misconduct panel to review allegations,
psychiatrist examinations and "pastoral counseling."
Aretakis would not elaborate on how the procedure has worked for the Zimmermans, other than to say,
"This one is not in a lawsuit -- yet."
However, Zimmerman said, since filing the claim, he and his brother feel as if they are being manipulated by
Zimmerman said psychiatric evaluations at St. Clare"s Hospital in Schenectady -- owned and operated by
the Albany Diocese -- "clearly showed damage," but excluded all references to Casper.
Zimmerman said the twins have been contacted by the diocese"s investigator, a former FBI agent. "He was
hired to investigate the priests, but he wants to investigate us," he said. "We refuse to meet with him, or to
go to anymore therapies. I am tired of discussing the gory, nasty details. And they want to be as specific
and explicit as possible."
Zimmerman said the diocese has no intention of resolving their claim. "You can"t win with them. They just
want us in the corner, being quiet," he said.
An "independent" priest
Zimmerman said the Albany Diocese maintains since Casper was not incardinated -- or ordained -- in its
diocese, it is not responsible for him.
"They say he is in Auburn, he"s not our problem," he said. "But because the abuse started here, it is their
Zimmerman said the Rochester Diocese may also share liability because Casper said mass for years at St.
Mary"s, where he is still listed on the church"s Web site as "weekend assistance" staff.
Last week, Rochester Diocese spokesman Michael Tedesco said Casper was incardinated with the Diocese
of Pueblo, Colo., and officially remains a member of the that diocese.
"He is no longer celebrating mass at St. Mary"s," Tedesco said. "We found out something relative to his
status with the Diocese of Pueblo and we would rather not discuss that. You can discuss that with him or
with the Diocese of Pueblo. We learned of it in the last year and we prohibited him from saying mass at St.
Phone and email messages to Monsignor Mark Piewka, chancellor of the Diocese of Pueblo, regarding
Casper"s status went unanswered Tuesday.
Casper said he has "occasionally" said mass at St. Mary"s "off and on for years" but was forced to stop
traveling to Auburn for health reasons.
Casper said he has "been self-employed for 40 years" since making an agreement with the bishop of the
Diocese of Pueblo. "I haven"t been associated with any diocese since 1963," he said. "I"ve since been on
my own, supporting myself."
This independence is what allowed him to devote time to activities such as Unity House while helping local
parishes. "I"ve had a good reputation in the community," Casper said.
St. Mary"s pastor Rev. Robert Schrader said while Casper was never officially assigned to his church, he
has been a big part of the parish. "Bernie is a much-loved priest here at St. Mary"s," he said. "He has long
been that and he will long be that."
Schrader said Casper visited relatives in the area frequently and "would most graciously offer to say mass.
It was more out of hospitality," he said. "He said a beautiful mass."
Schrader said as far as he knew, Casper discontinued saying mass at St. Mary"s because of his health. "He
has not been well in the last several months. I haven"t seen him since last fall," he said. "But he is much
missed. Everybody keeps asking when Bernie is coming back."
Schrader said this was the first he has heard of any allegations against Casper. "Nothing like this has ever
even been hinted at," he said. "It"s one of these things; it"s an accusation, not a conviction."
Casper reiterated he would respond to the Zimmermans" allegations fully when health permitted, noting
without an attorney to advise him, he was unsure how to proceed.
"It is a very difficult thing to have to answer these questions," he said. "I"m retired and in poor health; I
don"t need this at this stage of my life."
However, if the Zimmermans hope to profit by filing a lawsuit against a diocese, Casper said they"ll soon
learn he is, indeed, an independent priest. "I"m poor," he said. "I don"t have any money."
Wednesday, February 19, 2003 10:21 AM EST
AUBURN - A Catholic priest who founded Unity House and said Mass for
nearly three decades at St. Mary's Church is being investigated for sexually abusing
twin brothers in Albany and Auburn in the early 1970s.