|Navy Chaplain Sentenced to 2 Years in Prison
By Josh Mitchell
December 6, 2007
QUANTICO, Va. - A Catholic Navy chaplain was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday after admitting that he forced himself on a Naval Academy midshipman, coerced a Marine he was counseling to take nude photos of him and had sex with an Air Force officer without disclosing he was HIV-positive.
Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Matthew Lee, 42, pleaded guilty to 11 charges, including aggravated assault, fraternization, forcible sodomy, conduct unbecoming an officer and wrongful use of his government computer, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Marine Corps Col. Steven Day also ordered him to reveal the names of all of his sex partners going back to 2005, when Lee learned he has the virus that causes AIDS, and suspended 10 years of a 12-year sentence on the condition that Lee complies with the terms of the deal.
Victims' groups decried Lee's prison term as too light.
During the military hearing at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Lee quietly apologized to his victims, the Catholic Church and the military.
"I have brought such dishonor. ... I would like to apologize for all the harm I have done," he said.
The Marine Corps prosecutor, Maj. Derek Brostek, called Lee a "predator" who "committed a sickening abuse of power."
"He's willing to destroy the lives of others to make himself happy," Brostek said.
He said Lee had improper sexual relations with at least four male service members from 2003 to 2007, during his time as a chaplain at the Naval Academy and Quantico. All of his victims had lower ranks than Lee, a Catholic priest who lives in Burke, Va.
Victims in the case, the latest in a string of high-profile sexual misconduct incidents at the academy, included a midshipman who was seeing Lee for counseling.
A Navy ensign who graduated from the academy in 2006 testified that one evening in 2004, Lee invited him to his Annapolis apartment and that the chaplain served the then-20-year-old student beer and a glass of scotch.
While sitting on the balcony, the ensign said, Lee exposed himself, then began to perform a sex act on the ensign, who resisted. He told Lee he felt uncomfortable, and Lee stopped, the ensign said.
"I froze. I was just terrified," the ensign said. "This was a priest. This was a guy who knows all of my secrets."
Another accuser, who sought guidance from Lee when he was a Marine Corps corporal, said he received a "flirtatious" e-mail from the priest about a job he had for him. During a subsequent counseling session at the priest's office, he said, Lee persuaded him to take nude pictures of the priest.
The Marine pointed out that Lee presides over Mass and pointed to a picture of the pope. He said Lee responded, "That's just for people who come in here."
Lee undressed in front of the Marine and put his hand on Lee's genitals.
"It was inappropriate, disgust ing," the accuser said. But he hesitated at first to go to authorities because he questioned whether people would believe him.
In another incident, Lee had sex in December 2006 in the Fairfax, Va., home of an Air Force lieutenant colonel he had met online. Asked whether he was HIV-positive, Lee lied.
"I said everything was OK," Lee told the judge.
Marine spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe said after the hearing that nobody is known to have contracted HIV from Lee.
Lee admitted taking pictures of himself naked in his offices at Quantico and the Naval Academy and e-mailing them to friends. He also downloaded 374 pornographic images to his office computer.
Lee pleaded guilty to consensual sodomy for having a long-term sexual relationship with a Navy ensign who lived with him for the past year in his Burke home.
Lee said he knew the ensign for about five years, before he was a sailor, and persuaded him to enlist in the Navy.
As part of his plea agreement, Lee has 30 days to inform medical authorities of all his sexual contacts of the past two years. The government will then contact those people and urge them to get tested for HIV. Lee said during the hearing that he would provide information "on every contact that I can remember."
Lee was commissioned in the Navy in 1988 and served at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; and Italy. He was ordained as a priest in 1993 by the Archdiocese of Washington and served in a joint program with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, which oversees priests in the military.
The Marine corporal's complaint spurred a naval investigation of Lee. His military and religious work was suspended in June.
Susan Gibbs, a Washington Archdiocese spokeswoman, said officials are only now learning details of the case.
"At this point, it's clear he did something grievously wrong and is going to prison," she said. "In terms of the archdiocese, he will remain out of the ministry, and beyond that we have not even had an opportunity to consider."
A spokeswoman for the military archdiocese did not return a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
Victims' groups expressed outrage at Lee's crimes and sentence.
Two years "seems pitifully small for such a reckless, callous abuse of power," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "One key purpose of sentencing wrongdoers is to deter future wrongdoing, and it's doubtful such a light sentence will do that."
Military lawyers and advocates who specialize in sex cases said the sentence was not unusual. Anita Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Miles Foundation, a victim advocacy group that focuses on sexual violence in the military, said sexual assaults in the armed forces are often punished administratively, with no jail time.
She said Lee's actions were particularly egregious given the trust that midshipmen often put in chaplains, particularly about sexual assault issues, for which chaplains in some military plans are considered first responders.
"At a bare minimum, this seriously muddies the response within the military," Sanchez said. "If you're victimized by a crime, you're looking for someone you can trust.
"If there are victim survivors who went to this chaplain during this time, they might be questioning why they went to him. They shouldn't have to do that."
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