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Churchgoers press on after airing of tapes
Anchorage Daily News


May 31, 2005

Anchorage, Alaska - A month after a sensational, hidden-camera television report showing an Anchorage priest seeking sex, the bizarre case of the Rev. Robert Bester remains unresolved.

An investigation by the Anchorage Archdiocese is on hold, and a lawsuit is pending. But Bester's parish is moving on - even if some churchgoers have been left wondering about the oddly behaving priest who served them for less than a year.

The abrupt departure of Bester, a retired Catholic priest from northern Minnesota, stems from an accusation by an unemployed Anchorage man that Bester wanted sex and offered him money and a construction job. The man, Fred May, secretly recorded two of the conversations with the help of a local television station.

The grainy, black-and-white video showing the priest talking dirty aired on KTVA Channel 11 in early May during the key ratings period.

May, who said he was scared by Bester's claim to also be "Dracula," agreed recently to be interviewed about his encounters with the priest.

On the tapes, Bester sounded relaxed, even happy, in his office at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Turnagain as he talked about his health, religion and, in graphic terms, his desire for sex. He said he combats angels. He told the man not to tell others about his desires. He also spoke of his own great authority and dropped names of prominent Alaskans he claimed to be close to.

In the interview, May said the situation arose after Bester offered him a job last summer as a laborer in the construction of the new parish church. But, May said, he rebuffed the priest's sexual advances and didn't get the job.

"It was a doggone nightmare. It hurt my feelings really bad," May said.

The startling recordings already have led to upheaval. Bester resigned as parish priest and left Alaska. May has sued the Archdiocese of Anchorage over emotional distress he said resulted from his encounters with Bester. An archdiocese sexual review board started to investigate but then put its work on hold because of the lawsuit.

Allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse by Catholic priests have become familiar ground, but the new complaint is the only one in the Anchorage Archdiocese involving a recent event.

As news of the graphic tapes spread through Our Lady parish, the consensus was " 'We got a problem here. Let's not dwell on it. Let's get rid of it and move on,' " said Bill Gee, who has been with the church since its founding in 1970.

Members of the parish - a mix of Hispanics, Filipinos and Anglos, about 600 families in all - are focusing on big church projects, said Daniel Esparza, a member since his son's christening in 1986. They are raising money for the new church next to the old building.

Esparza said he was angry at first about the priest's comments. But he said Bester wasn't the church. "We, the people, are the church," he said.

The Anchorage Archdiocese had no previous complaints about sexual misconduct or sexual abuse involving Bester, according to Archbishop Roger Schwietz.

"I was shocked and embarrassed," Schwietz said. "I didn't know people could talk that way, to tell you the truth. I may be awfully naive. Especially a pastor or priest talking that way," Schwietz said.

Bester left Alaska on May 7. He is undergoing medical treatment - on the recordings, he talks about going to a cancer center - and relayed a message through the archbishop that he declined to be interviewed.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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