Police Investigate Sex Claims against Priest

By Jennifer Surface
Howard County Times [Maryland]
March 29, 2007

Baltimore County police are investigating allegations that an Ellicott City priest sexually abused two girls 40 years ago.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore has removed from ministry Monsignor Richard Smith, 67, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish, in Ellicott City, following reports of alleged abuse from two women and Smith's admission to some of the allegations, according to archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine.

Church officials informed Smith's Ellicott City parishioners of the allegations at a community meeting after Masses on March 25, Caine said, adding that many people had trouble coping with the news.

"The archdiocese is providing as much support and pastoral care as possible to the community," Caine said.

Instances of abuse are alleged to have occurred in the 1960s at a parish in Baltimore County, although both women only recently reported the incidents to authorities, Caine said.

One woman told church officials that she had a series of sexual encounters with Smith over the course of several months in 1967, when she was 15 or 16 years old, according to a statement from the archdiocese.

A second woman said she and Smith had one sexual interaction in 1966 or 1967, when she was about 15 years old, according to the statement.

The alleged abuse occurred when Smith was a priest at the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish, in Woodlawn, which has been known as St. Gabriel parish since 1997, the archdiocese said.

When archdiocese officials informed Smith of the allegations, Smith admitted to some of the allegations and said he could not recall other details of his interactions with the two women, according to the statement from the archdiocese.

One woman reported the alleged abuse to the archdiocese March 16, after she saw a photograph of Smith in a recent issue of The Catholic Review, a weekly newspaper focused on the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Caine said.

"She previously thought he was no longer in ministry," Caine said. "When she came to us, she was asked if she knew of anyone else who might have been abused and she referred us to the second woman."

Police investigation launched

Last week, the archdiocese reported the allegations to Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, who then referred them to Baltimore County police, according to Assistant State's Attorney Jason League.

"We received notice from the archdiocese, just as we do whenever they have reason to suspect a member of the cloth has acted in a manner that is inappropriate or illegal," said League, chief of the State's Attorney's child abuse and sex offenders division.

Baltimore County police are in the preliminary stages of investigating the allegations, said Lt. David Diseroad, of the department's family crimes division.

As of March 27, police had issued no charges against Smith, Diseroad said, adding that police and prosecutors must consider the differences between the child sex abuse and sexual assault laws that existed in the 1960s and those on the books today.

"Many child abuse laws in existence today didn't exist back then," he said.

Priest's work history

Smith was ordained in 1966, according to church officials.

He served at the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Woodlawn, from 1966 to 1967; St. Bernard parish, in Baltimore, in 1967; St. Mary parish, in Cumberland, from 1968 to 1973; St. Mark parish, in Fallston, from 1973 to 1978; St. Jane Frances de Chantal, in Riviera Beach, from 1978 to 1983; St. Clare parish, in Essex, from 1983 to 1987; Our Lady of Sorrows parish, in Owensville, from 1987 to 1996; and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, in Crofton, in 1996.

He has served at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Ellicott City, since 1996. In 2003, bishops bestowed upon Smith the honorary title "monsignor," Caine said.

Caine said the archdiocese is committed to protecting children and helping to heal victims of abuse, and urges those with information about incidents of child sexual abuse to report them to civil authorities and, if clergy or church personnel are suspected of committing the abuse, to also contact the Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, at 1-866-417-7469.

E-mail Jennifer Surface at Jennifer


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