Ex-Priest Nailed in Net Sting Pleads
Thomas Bender Admits to Sex Chats with Officer Posing As Teenage Boy

The Morning Call [Pennsylvania]
July 19, 2006

A 72-year-old former Allentown Catholic Diocese priest previously convicted of molesting a boy in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty Monday to charges he tried to have sex with someone he thought was a 14-year-old boy after meeting him in an Internet chat room, prosecutors said.

Thomas J. Bender of Lower Macungie Township was involved in sexy Internet discussions in March with a Nassau County detective who was posing as the 14-year-old boy and then tried to meet him, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

"The threat against our children is no longer confined to the playgrounds and the parks," Rice said in a news release. "It now includes the message boards and the chat rooms that exist within our homes."

Bender was arrested March 21 when he tried to meet the boy with the intention of taking him to a motel for sex, prosecutors said. He was carrying condoms, beer, pornography, a digital camera, candy, gum, toothpaste, personal lubricant and a laptop, police said.

Police said Bender spent months "grooming" his pen pal and building a relationship with the "boy" before talks turned sexual. Bender had set up and canceled three meetings in New York because he feared the boy was a police officer.

He pleaded guilty to felony charges of attempting to disseminate indecent material to a minor and misdemeanor charges of attempted criminal sex act and attempted child endangerment. He will be sentenced on Aug. 14.

Bender, who lived alone in a Big O mobile home park in Lower Macungie, served as pastor at Most Blessed Sacrament in Bally, Berks County, and was the first priest in the Allentown diocese to be charged with sexually abusing a child.

In 1988, he pleaded guilty to indecent assault and corruption of minors for molesting a Pottsville boy for about seven years in the 1980s and was sentenced to seven years' probation.

The victim's family later filed a lawsuit claiming the diocese discovered the abuse in 1984, but didn't inform the boy's parents and didn't demote Bender from his position as pastor. The suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

During his probation, Bender worked in the office at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Easton. In 2004, he was laicized, meaning he was dismissed from clerical life.

He was represented in the Nassau County case by Legal Aid, which had declined to comment on it.

The Associated Press and Morning Call reporter Manuel Gamiz Jr. contributed to this story.


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