Published: June 27, 2013
A former Colorado Springs priest being tried on charges of sexually assaulting a teenage altar boy was considered "part of our family," the boy's mother told a jury Thursday while choking back tears.
Testifying on the third day of the prosecution's case against the Rev. Charles Robert "Bob" Manning, the woman said the then-pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church was a frequent guest at the family home.
"Holidays. Dinners. Everything," the woman said. "I included him as part of our family."
According to earlier testimony, the accuser was 14 when he sent an email to St. Gabriel's, 8755 Scarborough Drive, saying that he wanted to explore Catholicism.
Manning, 78, has pleaded not guilty to all counts, with his attorneys portraying him the victim of false allegations by the boy, who became an altar server during the course of one-on-one tutelage by Manning in his church office.
The mother of the teen, now 18, testified that Manning provided occasional financial help, though she said it wasn't requested. Manning took the boy shopping for school supplies, bought his sister a ball gown, and provided various other gifts, she said.
All that attention led to strains in the family, however, when Manning purchased the boy a used Mitsubishi Eclipse over the mother's objections, sparking an angry confrontation with the elderly priest.
At the time, the boy didn't have a driver's license and the woman said she was unable to afford insurance on the $3,000 car.
She appeared visibly angry on the stand when asked about the time Manning took the boy to get his nipples pierced, which she had forbidden. Manning had signed a parental consent form, she later learned.
"I started screaming. I was upset," she said. "Livid."
In response to a juror's question, the woman said she didn't know the boy had been written into Manning's will, which named him the beneficiary of Manning's bank account. Asked about defense claims that she allowed her children to drink alcohol, she said she only allowed them to drink a glass of wine during special occasions - not drink vodka, as Manning is said to have furnished the boy, along with marijuana.
Defense attorneys say prosecutors are trying to twist Manning's goodwill into something "sinister" to prove their case.
During cross-examination, Manning's attorneys sought to chip away at witnesses' credibility, and they prompted two of Manning's former colleagues to give warm descriptions of him as consistently caring and generous.
A church office manager who praised Manning's character also recounted what she called a "bad joke" by Manning.
Before Mass one day, while the boy was getting ready to change from street clothes into something more formal, Valerie Carriedo said she heard Manning quip, "You can change in my office. I promise I won't look."
The boy's face went red and he changed clothes in the bathroom, she said.
Under follow-up questioning by attorney Richard Bednarski, Carriedo said that was the only off-color joke she heard Manning make and said his relations with the boy were otherwise similar to that of a grandfather and grandson.
In other testimony, the accuser's sister recounted a day when she witnessed Manning, her brother and one of her brother's friends trading hits from a marijuana pipe, claiming Manning, in his intoxication, suggested the two boys make out. The defense disputes her report, pointing out that the other boy present doesn't remember hearing it, even though the sister said he forcefully declined Manning's suggestion.
Another friend of the accuser said Manning would frequently call the boy, shouting at him so loudly an observer could hear. He described an occasion at his house when his father also overheard a phone conversation between them and intervened, grabbing the phone and confronting Manning.
After that day, the boy, whom he considered his "best friend," did not return to his house, he said.
While prosecutors seem to portray Manning as behaving like a jealous lover, Manning's attorneys have suggested he was angry over the boy's behavioral problems, which included violating Manning's rules for the car.
The boy was supposed to ask permission before driving the car but admitted during earlier testimony that he sometimes ignored the rule.
Manning, who began serving at St. Gabriel's in 2007, was suspended in January 2012 after the boy's allegations came to light. He has since retired.
Testimony is expected to continue at 8:30 a.m. Friday.