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  Priest Accused of Sex Abuse Pulled from Online Service
AOL Says Suspended Cleric Asked to Be Removed

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
November 20, 1998

America Online removed suspended priest Kenneth Roberts from its Catholic discussion group staff Thursday, six days after The Dallas Morning News reported that he was operating a cyberspace ministry in defiance of his bishop's orders.

AOL said that the newspaper's reporting had prompted it to review the status of the internationally acclaimed spiritual leader, who has been accused of sexual abuse in the Dallas, St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., dioceses. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Roberts has denied some of the allegations and said he's unsure of others because of alcohol-related blackouts.

"While we were in the midst of the review, Father Ken contacted us and requested that we remove his content from the service," AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said. "We agree with his decision."

She said that AOL will investigate why information about Mr. Roberts' suspension was purged from the service's Catholic message boards. The purges have stopped, AOL members said Thursday.

AOL verifies that its volunteer clerics are in fact priests, Ms. Primrose said, but she could provide no details on how much background checking is done.

Mr. Roberts began his online work in the mid-1990s, after Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann ordered him not to work with young people and to cease his public ministry. He developed an extensive Web page on the Catholic Online service; for America Online, he moderated a Catholic message board, operated question-and-answer sessions, visited chat rooms and founded a club for young people considering religious careers.

That club, called Vox Christi, remained in service late Thursday with long-standing material praising Mr. Roberts. The material also says that members run the club, with Mr. Roberts contributing to their online newsletter.

Dallas diocesan officials say they warned Mr. Roberts in July, August and October to end his cyber-ministry. Defiance of those orders led to suspension of all his priestly faculties last week, the diocese has said.

Ann Waters, Mr. Roberts' spokeswoman in suburban St. Louis, has said that he received only the October warning and then faced delays from his online hosts when he tried to comply quickly.

But Ms. Primrose said that Mr. Roberts first asked to be removed from his prominent volunteer post this week. "We did act immediately at his request," she said.

Mr. Roberts, a Dallas diocesan priest, has worked independently for the last quarter-century, writing books, hosting radio and TV shows, speaking to youth groups around the country and leading overseas pilgrimages.

He scaled back his public speaking after being ordered to end public ministry but continued all the other work.

 
 

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