Boca Raton priest named in scathing Pennsylvania report on church abuse

Monsignor Thomas Benestad denies charges first alleged in 2011

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

BOCA RATON, Fla. - A sweeping grand jury report on six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania released this week found that a retired Boca Raton priest was accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy in the early 1980s.

Monsignor Thomas Benestad, 73, is mentioned as one of 19 offenders from Allentown Diocese identified by the grand jury. Benestad has served in a limited capacity at Ascension Church in Boca Raton since 2007. 

Released Tuesday, the report found that about 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s. Senior Church officials are accused systematically covering up the complaints.

The grand jury report said the victim in the Benestad case came forward in 2011 and told Northampton County detectives that the abuse began after he was sent to Benestad's office at St. Bernard's Roman Catholic Church, in Easton, Pennsylvania, because he wore shorts at religion class, violating the dress code. 

When the boy arrived, "the victim was told to get on his knees and start praying," the report said. Benestad then pressured the victim to perform oral sex on him, the report said.

Authorities did not the pursue the case because the satute of limitations had expired.

In the report, Benestad denies the allegations. When the charges were first leveled, Allentown Bishop John Barres told Benestad to refrain from the public ministry pending an investigation. In Benestad's response to the report, he said officials in Rome cleared him of wrongdoing in 2014 and allowed him to resume public ministry. 

"Monsignor Benestad has never done anything that would be deemed inappropriate with any individual," Benestad's attorney said in a letter to the grand jury.

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