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  Priest Admits Sex with Parishioner

By Frances Jaques
The Capital (Annapolis, MD.)
June 22, 1994

Parishioners at a Roman Catholic church near Cape St. Claire have been jolted by the sudden resignation of their pastor for breaking his vow of celibacy.

At all five masses on June 11 and 12, the Rev. James R. Schaefer, pastor of St. Andrew by the Bay Church, said he had violated his celibacy vow with a member of the church and was taking a leave of absence to decide whether to remain a priest.

"Over the last two years, I have been growing in relationship with a woman in our parish. For the most part it has been a celibate relationship. On a few occasions it has not. Some of you suspected this. It became a matter of public record these last two weeks," he said in a prepared statement.

The parishioner, who was not identified, is an eucharist minister of the parish and recently was divorced. She had sought counseling from the Rev. Schaefer during the breakup of her marriage.

After the announcement, the Rev. Schaefer and Bishop William C. Newman, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, met with church members.

"There definitely is hurt involved," said Bill Blaul, spokesman for the archdiocese, the governing body of the congregation. "Making a public statement was the appropriate thing to do. It doesn't make the involvement right or better but recognizes an error and asks forgiveness."

A temporary administrator, the Rev. Martin H. Hammond, will serve from July 1 until October, when a permanent pastor is to be named. The Rev. HamPRIEmond is the former pastor of Holy Trinity Church of Glen Burnie.

The 63-year-old Rev. Schaefer, a diocesian priest, has been at St. Andrew by the Bay for 8 years.

He came to a congregation that was still in shock over allegations that its previous pastor, the Rev. William Simms, had sexually abused several children in the early 1980s.

The priest was never charged, but he was removed as pastor by the archdiocese. Although church officials acknowledged the allegations, they said at that time they were neither "disputing or commenting" on them.

In 1988, the family of one boy allegedly abused sued the church for $ 12 million in Baltimore City Circuit Court. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, according to a court spokesman.

And earlier in St. Andrew's history, a pastor now deceased left because of a relationship with a woman parishioner.

"The people of St. Andrew have certainly been tested," Mr. Blaul said.

The 1,500-member congregation moved to new facilities at 701 College Parkway in 1986. It was organized in the 1950s as a mission of St. Mary's Church in Annapolis in Cape St. Claire and was called Our Lady of the Cape Church. The name was changed when the congregation moved to the new building.

The Rev. Schaefer said this week he would enter a seminary for a four-week "period of discernment" from June 27 through July 21 to decide his future.

"I had hoped to remain your pastor for two more years and request retirement at age 65," he told church members. "This disclosure makes that impossible."

Mr. Blaul said that if the Rev. Schaefer remains in the priesthood, his future assignment would be determined by the archdiocese.

In addition to the interim pastor, priests at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church of Severna Park are on call for emergencies that might arise within the congregation.

The Rev. John V. DoBranski Jr., associate pastor at St. Andrew, had previously been assigned to St. John's Roman Catholic parish in Westminster. He will make that move as planned in July.

"We are keeping our heads up, rolling along, paying the bills and the mortgage," said Laura Griffin, church secretary."We are pulling together. A parish does not function around one person."

 
 

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