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  Tyson: Priest Sex Abuse Case 'Active'

By Kristen Campbell and Jeff Amy
Mobile Register
March 18, 2003



Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. confirmed Monday evening that "we do have an active criminal investigation going on right now" concerning child sex abuse allegations against the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock. Tyson said the district attorney's office was in contact Monday with several people who said they are victims of Sherlock, who spent most of his priesthood in the Mobile area. Tyson also said he met for more than an hour Monday evening with Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb. On Sunday, the archbishop addressed members of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Montgomery, where Sherlock, 62, served as pastor from July 1997 to February 2003. Lipscomb said Sherlock had acknowledged three "long-past incidents of sexual abuse of minors," and that Lipscomb then received a credible allegation of abuse from a fourth person last week. Sherlock resigned from the priesthood, effective Feb. 28. Tyson said he didn't know if the people who spoke with prosecutors Monday were among the four victims mentioned by Lipscomb on Sunday, or whether they were people making new allegations. "If you are a victim or know someone who is a victim of Father Sherlock, I urge you to contact the district attorney's office," Tyson said. Tyson said he expected "further exchanges" with archdiocesan officials today. Tyson would not say Monday night whether he was seeking documents from the Archdiocese of Mobile, but said he may clarify that point today. Lipscomb was not available for comment Monday. For its part, the archdiocese released few new details Monday about the nature and extent of child sex abuse by Sherlock, leaving open questions about what Lipscomb knew when he transferred Sherlock to Montgomery. Concern about the issue prompted one Catholic politician to say that Lipscomb should step down if it turns out he tried to cover up the actions of Sherlock. "If it's a fact that the archbishop covered this up, I would ask for his resignation," Rep. Jim Barton, R-Mobile, said. "I love the archbishop, but maybe it's time to move on." As of Monday, the archdiocese had not scheduled any public meetings to discuss the matter with local Catholics. The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Mobile, said he and Lipscomb briefly discussed the possibility of holding a forum in Mobile, but that the archbishop had not yet made a decision. Farmer said he did not know the nature or extent of the abuse involved in each of the cases known about by the diocese, but that the fourth case did not involve sodomy. Farmer said he did not know when Sherlock committed any of the alleged abuse, but that the first three victims came forward 10 years or more after the abuse had occurred. Farmer said he believed each person was under the age of 18 at the time of the incidents, but that he was not certain of each individual's age. Lipscomb said Sunday that one of the victims accepted his offer of help, though he did not specify the nature of the assistance. The other two victims declined the offer, Lipscomb said. Farmer said he did not know how much money the Archdiocese of Mobile has paid for care of Sherlock's alleged victims over the years. Sunday, Lipscomb said that psychiatric tests had previously indicated that Sherlock was not a pedophile or a "risk." Farmer said that he believed those tests had been conducted in the late'90s. He said he did not know who had performed them. When Sherlock was transferred to St. Peter's Catholic Church in Montgomery in 1997, the parish was not informed of Sherlock's history of abuse. But Farmer indicated that one reason Sherlock was placed in the downtown Montgomery parish was that "there would not be any reason for him to be involved in a lot of daily contact with children." News that their former priest was an admitted pedophile and that Lipscomb knowingly sent them a pastor with a history of abuse prompted some parishioners to fury Sunday. Farmer conceded that the Montgomery parishioners "did not know that (Sherlock) was coming up there based on these three previous cases." Tyson said he knew of no allegations against Sherlock outside Mobile County. He said prosecutors have had no contact with Sherlock and did not know where Sherlock is. Tyson said his office is not investigating any other priests regarding allegations of sexual abuse. Monday, Ellen Brooks, the Montgomery County district attorney, said no investigation was pending there. "At this time I have no information that any criminal offense was committed in Montgomery County. If I should receive such information, I would take appropriate action," Brooks said. The statute of limitations that may affect any possible victims varies, depending upon when the abuse occurred, Tyson said Sunday. Because of changes in state law, no statute of limitations exists for any sex crime involving victims under the age of 16 that occurred after Jan. 7, 1985. Crimes that occurred before then likely can't be prosecuted, Tyson said. Patrick Guyton, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center in Mobile, said parents of children who had contact with Sherlock should talk to them about it. According to the FBI, he said, for every case of child sexual abuse reported, 10 cases are not reported. "We're not just talking about inappropriate sexual behavior," Guyton said. "We're talking about criminal acts. Those people in places of higher moral authority have a moral obligation to report felony criminal actions to protect people. ... They have a moral obligation to report it to legal authorities." Victims - particularly males - feel ashamed if they have been traumatized by sexual abuse, Guyton said. "They often blame themselves," he said. "They don't want to come forward." Guyton said he was concerned by Lipscomb's attitudes about child sexual abuse, namely his statement that "recidivism is not necessarily a given." Psychiatric counseling does not cure abusers, Guyton said. "Intensive types of treatment" can be effective in some cases, he said, but even those must be followed up by constant monitoring. Barton - a member of St. Pius X Catholic Church, a Midtown area parish where Sherlock served as pastor from 1989 to 1997 - said the Catholic Church is "screaming for leadership." "It just floors me," he said. "You never think that kind of thing is going to happen to you, and wow." Though Barton said he's very pleased with the Rev. Matthew J. O'Connor, the pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church, he said that as the parent of a kindergartner at St. Pius, the news "scares me to death." Susan Archibald of Louisville, Ky., president of The Linkup, a support group for clergy abuse victims said the news "sends a very alarming signal to the archdiocese." "I cannot understand why he was left in ministry," Archibald said of Sherlock. Lipscomb has "basically kept a known abuser in ministry." Archibald has alleged that a former Mobile priest, the Rev. Patrick L. Nicholson, seduced her into an exploitative sexual relationship years ago. She is pressing forward with a lawsuit against the Air Force to compel the release of documents concerning Nicholson, then a Catholic chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Archibald noted that Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who heads a new national review board charged with investigating past wrongdoing and monitoring future compliance with the policy, said his board would ask Pope John Paul II to remove bishops who shielded molesters. Archibald said that her organization would forward Lipscomb's name to Keating. Archibald said Lipscomb's actions indicate that the archbishop is "not serious about protecting children, but he's more concerned about protecting priests and preventing scandal." Guyton said he, too, was concerned that the archdiocese had known about previous cases and didn't inform the public about them. "I don't understand that," said Guyton, who recalled taking classes from Sherlock at Spring Hill College. "That should have been done." At McGill-Toolen High School, where Sherlock spent several years teaching religion, some students discussed the allegations against Sherlock with their guidance counselors, said the Rev. W. Bry Shields, president of the school for the past 13 years. Today, faculty members at the school are required to sign the 1995 sexual misconduct policy of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Shields said. Any allegations of abuse that are reported to school officials are reported to the Department of Human Resources, he said. "I think it's a horrible act," Shields said. "It just takes away a young person's period of innocence while growing up, and the other terrible thing about it is that it can't help but have an effect on their relationship to God and to the church. I think it's one of the worst things a clergyman could do." Sherlock's resignation from the priesthood became effective the day before the norms for policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors became law for all U.S. dioceses. Starting March 1, the revised guidelines would have required Lipscomb to remove Sherlock from active priestly ministry, Farmer said. To his knowledge, Farmer said, Lipscomb never asked Sherlock to resign. Now, Farmer said, "there's no way that he (Sherlock) can ever serve as a priest in the archdiocese again." Farmer said he did think that Sherlock, while no longer responsible to the archbishop, is entitled to receive his pension and insurance from the archdiocese. CUTLINES: AP, Montgomery Advertiser The Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock delivers Eucharist on Christmas Day 2002 at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Montgomery. Sherlock has left the priesthood. INSIDE Bills now being considered in the Alabama Legislature would require clergy to report cases of the sexual abuse of children. Page 4A MOVEMENTS IN CAREER OF ALEXANDER SHERLOCK The Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock is ordained in 1966 after completing his studies at St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore. Associate pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church from 1966 to 1968, Sherlock resided at the rectory there. From 1967 to 1969, Sherlock taught religion at what was then Bishop Toolen High School. From 1968 to 1969, Sherlock lived at the rectory of Little Flower Catholic Church. Sherlock worked as a theology instructor at St. Patrick's College in Mountainview, Calif., from 1969 to 1970. Sherlock worked as a theology instructor at Marquette University in Milwaukee from 1970 to 1971. In 1970, Sherlock was assigned to begin doctoral studies at Marquette; he was at the school until 1974. From 1974 to 1980, Sherlock taught religion at McGill-Toolen High School and served as associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception; he lived at the cathedral rectory. From 1980 to 1983, Sherlock served as associate pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church and lived at the rectory. From 1983 to 1986, Sherlock served as pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Chickasaw and resided at the rectory there. From 1986 to 1989, he served as pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Mobile and lived at the rectory. From May of 1989 to 1997, he served as pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church and lived at the rectory there. From July of 1997 to February of 2003, Sherlock served as pastor of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Montgomery. On Feb. 28, 2003, Sherlock resigned from St. Peter's Catholic Church and the priesthood. In early March 2003, Sherlock's successor told parishioners at St. Peter's Catholic Church that Sherlock left for health reasons. On March 16, 2003, Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb told parishioners that Sherlock resigned because he had a history of sexually abusing children. Source: Archdiocese of Mobile CUTLINES: J. Alexander Sherlock is pictured in the 1977 McGill-Toolen High School student yearbook. He taught religion at the school from 1974 to 1980 and lived at the rectory of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where he was associate pastor. Sherlock poses with a friend on Sept. 23, 1987, on the grounds of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Mobile, in a Mobile Register file photo. He was pastor at the church from 1986 to 1989 and lived at the rectory.

 
 

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