Episcopal priest admits to abuse in Skaneateles

The Post Standard, Connecticut/August 14, 2007

A former Skaneateles Episcopal priest who ran for state Assembly last year has admitted sexually abusing four adolescent boys while serving as rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Skaneateles from January 1986 to May 1993.

J. Edward Putnam, 66, was suspended from acting as a priest for 20 years after a diocesan investigation, said the Rev. Karen C. Lewis, assistant to Bishop Gladstone "Skip" Adams.

Putnam signed a document last month that outlines the accusations and the church discipline, Lewis said. In a written statement to the bishop, Putnam said he engaged in "inappropriate conduct with minors" while at St. James, she said.

The diocese received a complaint about Putnam from one man on May 13 and immediately began an investigation, Lewis said. Two days later, Adams prohibited Putnam from acting as a priest while the diocese investigated the allegations.

The investigation revealed three other victims. All were males and minors at the time. She would not describe the incidents but said some of them occurred in the church at 96 E. Genesee St., Skaneateles.

"We just don't tolerate this," Lewis said.

Putnam cannot celebrate Mass, preach, teach, or perform any other functions of a priest, Lewis said. He cannot wear a clerical collar and cannot use the title "Rev." or "Father."

The 20-year suspension, which was effective July 23, can be extended at the discretion of the bishop or his successor, Lewis said.

Putnam could not be reached for comment Monday. The telephone at his 42 Jordan St., Skaneateles, home has been disconnected, and he did not respond to an e-mail message.

His tenure at the Skaneateles church immediately preceded that of Adams, who was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New in 2001. Putnam also served as interim dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Syracuse and in parishes in Albany, Rhode Island and Michigan. He retired from active ministry in 2004.

Lewis said diocesan officials informed New York State Police and the other dioceses where Putnam ministered of the accusations. First Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio said he doesn't know about the case, and it's unclear whether the criminal statute of limitations has run out.

Adams and others involved with the investigation met Monday night with members of St. James Church. Lewis said informing the congregation is part of diocesan policy.

"For it to remain a secret would cause damage," she said.

Diocesan clergy and lay leaders were informed in a letter from the bishop mailed Monday.

"The Episcopal Church and this Diocese maintain a zero-tolerance policy for any type of clergy misconduct, particularly in the area of sexual misconduct," Adams wrote. "We know this behavior to be an abuse of power, a betrayal of trust, and a sinful act against God's beloved creation."

The diocese has investigated three cases of clergy sexual misconduct since 1992, Lewis said. The Rev. Wallace Frey, pastor of St. David's Episcopal Church in DeWitt for 28 years, resigned from the ministry in 1992 after admitting sexual contact with several young men, including at least one teenager.

In 2006, the Rev. Ralph E. Johnson resigned from the ministry after a five-month investigation of allegations he sexually abused a boy in the 1970s while serving as rector of St. Paul's Church in Owego.

Neither was charged with a crime.

The third case involved a deceased priest. Lewis would not name the priest, but said the diocese is paying for counseling for the victim.

Putnam served as chaplain to the New York State Assembly from 1994 to 1996. In November 2006, Putnamhe ran unsuccessfully against William Barclay, R-Pulaski, who won a third term representing the 124th Assembly District.

In 2004, Putnam self-published a novel, "Sandy Hill." The biography included with the book describes him as retired, but does not say he is a priest. The back cover describes the book as "quite autobiographical."

The novel is about a recently retired school administrator returning to his hometown in upstateUpstate New York for a 45th high school reunion. In one scene, the main character, Dan, recalls an incident in which an older Boy Scout, Mitch, touched his genitals.

"Dan saw a pedestal shatter and a hero fall before his eyes," Putnam wrote. "The trust Dan had committed to Mitch had been destroyed, and it would never be the same again."

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