4 Area Priests Removed for Past Sexual Abuse
Churchgoers in five parishes where the priests had served learned the news at Mass yesterday. At St. Bernardine of Siena Roman Catholic Church in Suitland, and at the Shrine of St. Jude in Rockville, worshipers sat in stunned silence as a letter from Cardinal James A. Hickey was read from the pulpit. Some dabbed at tears and drew their children close as Hickey's letter revealed why their pastors had disappeared without explanation 10 days earlier.
Never before has the archdiocese simultaneously dismissed so many priests for pedophilia, said Monsignor William Lori, chancellor of the archdiocese. It also is the first time that Hickey has written directly to parishioners to inform them about what he called "a very painful situation."
In addition, the archdiocese took the unprecedented step of informing The Washington Post that the letters would be read in the parishes and arranged for an interview with one of the victims. "I think it's important that the church deal with this painful, horrible topic openly," Lori said.
The approach follows recommendations made by a committee of U.S. bishops in a report in October on clergy sexual abuse. To counteract allegations that the church has tried to cover up previous cases of abuse, the report suggests a "pro-active stance: to be ready with the story rather than to have it break elsewhere."
The priests were identified as the Rev. Thomas Schaeffer, 69, who was removed last month as chaplain at Carroll Manor nursing home in Hyattsville; the Rev. Alphonsus Smith, 70, pastor at St. Bernardine since 1989; the Rev. Edward Pritchard, 50, who last served as associate pastor at St. Mary's Church in Northwest Washington, and the Rev. Edward Hartell, 58, pastor at St. Jude's for the last several years.
Allegations of clergy sexual abuse, which have proliferated in recent years in all religions and denominations, often take years to resolve. In this case, it took days from allegation to punitive action, as interviews with one of the victims and archdio-cesan officials revealed.
The former altar boy, now a 34-year-old professional living in the Baltimore area, requested anonymity. He said he was 11 or 12 when Schaeffer, then pastor at St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church in Lanham, gave him a job in the rectory answering phones after school.
The victim said Schaeffer would take him to his bedroom in the rectory or to a classroom in the parish's school where they would engage in mutual masturbation and oral sex. In the classroom, the victim said, Schaeffer sometimes would show pornographic films on an 8mm projector and take nude photographs of the boy. The priest also took him away on weekends for trips to Williamsburg or Waldorf, he said.
The priest frequently gave the boy extra money, which he hid from his parents. "If I was working on a Sunday night answering the phones, he would be there counting the collection plate and would throw me $ 20 or $ 30," the victim said.
In 1974, according to Lori, Schaeffer was transferred to another parish and replaced by Smith, who also abused the boy until he was about 17. During Smith's tenure, according to Lori and the victim, the boy also was sexually abused on one or two occasions by Pritchard, then the church's associate pastor.
One evening in the rectory, the victim said, he was molested in Smith's bedroom by Hartell, a visiting pastor. The victim said he remembers hearing Smith calling upstairs to Hartell to "hurry up because they were about to serve dinner."
"It was very confusing," the victim said, "because part of it doesn't feel bad, but then you realize way back in your head there's something wrong here, so you kind of disassociate yourself while it's happening."
A few years ago, the former altar boy began having marital problems. He entered therapy and sought emotional support from a Chicago-based group called Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse Linkup. Last fall, the Linkup ran a classified advertisement in The Washington Post asking people who "remember" Schaeffer and Smith to get in touch.
Lori said he saw the ad last fall and called the group. The Linkup refused to provide him information about Washington area callers, but took Lori's name and number.
The former altar boy contacted Lori last month. They met Jan. 19 for nearly two hours, and Lori said he found the man "very credible." The next day, Lori called all four priests into his office, one at a time, and confronted them with the allegations. All four admitted that they had abused the boy. Lori said he asked each if there were other victims, and Smith admitted to having a five-year sexual relationship with a youth from Our Lady of Sorrows in Takoma Park beginning in 1988, which Lori said he has since verified.
At the cardinal's request, Lori immediately asked the priests to resign and stripped them of permission to practice as priests. Two days later, they were on their way to four separate treatment facilities at undisclosed locations. In a column to be published in the Catholic Standard this week, Hickey said, "I can never again place them in ministry."
Lori said that although the punishment may seem harsh for the two priests who had one or two encounters with the boy, "the priest was the adult, and the priest is the one responsible." The archdiocese has had programs since the mid-1980s to educate priests and staff members about sexual abuse and to screen out potential abusers before they are employed, Lori said.
The victim said that he is "pleasantly surprised with the steps that have been taken so far." Hickey has asked to meet with him. The archdiocese also reported the allegations to the Prince George's County Child Protective Services.
The Rev. Robert Buchmeier, dispatched from his parish in Clinton to serve as interim pastor at St. Bernardine, read Hickey's letter at the 9 a.m. Mass after giving Communion. One woman burst into sobs and hurried to the rear of the sanctuary.
After the service, worshipers huddled together and wondered aloud whether there were other victims. "It's a sad thought, but I look around here and I think, 'Which one of these children?' " said Robert White, 31, the church cantor.
Organist Kimberly Carroll, 20, said she shook and cried when she heard. "You see it on the news, but when it's a priest you've been with a long time -- I've, like, grown up with him -- it smacks you in the face."
At St. Jude's, one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese with 2,000 families, the Rev. LeRoy Fangmeyer, who served with Hartell as associate pastor, said in his homily that it is painful for him when another priest violates the people's trust.
About five years ago in this same parish, the associate pastor was removed for pedophilia. "You didn't hear anything about it until you read it in the newspapers," said Michael Toussaint, 40, sitting in the pews with his six children. "This is much more appropriate."
Retiree John Wathen, 63, said after the Mass, "I feel sorry for Father Hartell. I'm sorry that it happened. I'm going to pray for him."
@CAPTION: The Rev. LeRoy Fangmeyer, associate pastor at the Shrine of St. Jude, reads a letter from Cardinal James A. Hickey at the beginning of services.
@CAPTION: John Wathen prays at the Shrine of St. Jude, where the Rev. Edward Hartell was removed as pastor after church officials said he admitted molesting an altar boy in the '70s. "I feel sorry for Father Hartell," Wathen says. "I'm going to pray for him."
GRAPHIC: Photo: JAMES A. PARCELL
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