Ombudsman for state-supported living centers fights abuse allegation

Author: Jason Embry and Corrie MacLaggan
Date Published: 04/30/2010

Woman accuses then-dentist of fondling her in 1982

The former dentist who Gov. Rick Perry recently tapped to advocate for residents of state institutions is pushing to quash what he says are false abuse allegations made against him by a long-ago patient.

Two weeks after George Bithos was appointed in February as ombudsman of the state-supported living centers for Texans with mental disabilities, he was suspended from all activities in the Greek Orthodox Church, where he had served as a deacon, so the church could investigate an allegation that he fondled a woman in 1982.

In April, Bithos petitioned a Dallas County court to require the woman to answer questions under oath, a move aimed at gathering information for a potential lawsuit.

The allegations are ”totally false, and we are fighting very, very hard to clear my good name,” Bithos said Friday. ”I’m flabbergasted and appalled. I could only surmise that the church is the target instead of me, and I’m being used.”

The woman, whose name has been withheld because the Statesman has a policy against naming victims or alleged victims of sexual abuse, declined to comment Friday. This week , she filed a response in state district court to Bithos’ petition, saying it should be denied and that it is ”merely a thinly disguised threat to silence and intimidate his victim.” She asked the court for a protective order so she is not subject to ”further victimization.”

The woman says in her response to the court that Bithos fondled her breasts when she was under nitrous oxide almost three decades ago. At the time, both she and Bithos attended Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Dallas. Bithos was later ordained as a deacon .

The woman’s response to Bithos’ petition says she did not initially tell anyone about the incident because she was ”shocked and embarrassed.”

But in 2007, when she learned Bithos was going to try to become a priest, she reported the incident to the Rev. Christopher Constantinides, the pastor at Holy Trinity, she says in her response. Soon after, she met with Bithos and Constantinides, her response says.

”Bithos responded that he did not ‘remember’ the incident but said that if he had done anything in the past to offend her, he asked for her ‘forgiveness,’u2009” her response says. ”Bithos further told her that he would ‘confess’ to the incident prior to his ordination.”

Bruce Howell , a lawyer for Bithos, said Bithos told the woman he would confess because church higher-ups had told him to do so.

Constantinides asked the woman to sign a letter saying she would not pursue legal action, the woman said. She did not sign it , her response says.

According to a letter included with the woman’s court filing, Constantinides passed along the complaint in a phone call to Metropolitan Isaiah Chronopoulos, the head clergyman in a vast area of Greek Orthodox Churches known as the Metropolis of Denver, which includes Texas.

Perry named Bithos, who now lives in Austin, the ombudsman for the 13 state-supported living centers. Lawmakers created the position last year after repeated allegations of abuse at the facilities.

Perry was not aware of the abuse allegation against Bithos, gubernatorial spokeswoman Allison Castle said. Neither was Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs , commission spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said.

Suehs, who met Bithos several years ago at church when Bithos moved to Austin, verbally vouched for him to Perry’s office, Goodman said.

Bithos said Friday that he didn’t tell Perry’s office about the allegation because it was false. ”I regret not mentioning it,” Bithos said.

A week after Bithos’ state appointment