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Albany Cathedral Choirmaster Denies Sex-Abuse Allegations

The music director at the cathedral of the Diocese of Albany has denied allegations in a civil lawsuit that he groomed and sexually abused a young chorister two decades ago, when both were singers at the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys in New York City.

Woodrow Bynum, who has been director of music and choirmaster at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany since 2007, previously served as a paid singer at the Saint Thomas Choir School. Ian Chase, a student and resident at Saint Thomas’s boarding school from 1998 to 2002, alleges that Bynum gradually developed a mentoring relationship with him over a period of years, before sexually abusing him on multiple occasions.

Woodrow Bynum

“Mr. Bynum has given spotless service to the cathedral and we affirm the principle of presumption of innocence,” said the Very Rev. Leander Harding, dean of the cathedral, which is not a party to the lawsuit. He added that during Bynum’s tenure there has not been “any reason for us to doubt his integrity.” Bynum, who among other duties oversees the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys in Albany, could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2021, but has not attracted coverage in the news media. Harding told TLC that he sent a letter to the cathedral congregation on April 22 because it was beginning to be mentioned in blog posts.

In the letter, which is attached at the bottom of this article, Harding said “we continue to exercise strict safeguarding protocols at the Cathedral including the rule that a choir parent is on duty at all times when choristers and choral scholars are at the Cathedral,” and that staff members “are never alone with a child.”

Chase, who is now 36, charges in the lawsuit that Bynum sexually abused him on multiple occasions from 2004 to 2005. Chase was 16 and 17 years old during those years, and continued to be a parishioner at Saint Thomas Church. The church and music school also are named as defendants in the suit, as is the Diocese of New York. All defendants deny wrongdoing, and seek dismissal of the case.

The suit alleges that diocesan leadership was aware of a pattern of grooming and sexual abuse. “At all relevant times, the Bishop knew that this was a widespread, ubiquitous, and systemic problem in the Diocese involving many priests and numerous victims,” the suit states. The bishop in question is not identified, but Richard Grein was Bishop of New York from 1989 to 2001, and Mark Sisk from 2001 to 2013. Neither is a defendant in the suit, and neither could be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the diocese declined to comment on pending litigation. Saint Thomas Church said in a written statement: “Over the past several years, our Church and Choir School have conducted an extensive review of our safeguarding policies and invited a separate independent firm to conduct a thorough review of historic church and school personnel files to confirm there were no additional indications of safety or abuse issues. None were found.”

The current status and next steps of the case could not be determined, and attorneys for the parties did not respond to requests for comment. The document list for the case on the New York State court website does not reflect any activity since October 2023.

A bill of particulars describing the alleged abuse states that “Woodrow Bynum served as a mentor to Plaintiff, was complimentary of Plaintiff, befriended Plaintiff, engaged in brief non-sexual physical contact with Plaintiff publicly as a display of affection, privately took Plaintiff aside between rehearsal and church services, requested Plaintiff’s personal contact information prior to Plaintiff’s graduation, engaged and encouraged Plaintiff to continue to work on projects for St. Thomas Choir School and Church, offered Plaintiff work in the field of web-design, provided Plaintiff with pornography and pornography subscription information, and provided Plaintiff with money and a place to stay.”

The document continues with a graphic description of a series of alleged sexual interactions between Bynum and Chase.

The bill of particulars says Chase “has suffered from PTSD, anxiety, alcohol use disorder and addiction, marijuana use disorder and addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, psychosis, loss of self-esteem, loss of enjoyment of life, intimacy issues, trust issues, nightmares, and insomnia following his sexual abuse.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

Saint Thomas Choir School is a residential boarding school for boys in grades 3 to 8, founded in 1919 as a ministry of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. In March, the church announced that the school had become financially unsustainable, and the church is exploring different models for continuing its music education ministry.

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and the Diocese of New York provide financial support to The Living Church‘s ministry.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://livingchurch.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/4.22.24-Congregation-Letter.pdf” title=”4.22.24 Congregation Letter”]


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