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  Priest Arrested in Sexual Attacks

By Oliver Prichard and Gary Stern
Journal News [Westchester County, NY]
March 1, 2000

Valhalla - A 58-year-old Catholic priest who recently served at Holy Name of Jesus Church is due in a Connecticut court next month on charges that he molested two boys.

The Rev. Leo Pelkington, who spent 3 1/2 years at the Valhalla church before leaving in August 1998, was arrested Feb. 8 by police in Southington, Conn., on charges that he fondled two boys in their home.

The boys, who were both under the age of 16, were brothers, and Pelkington was a friend of the family, Southington police Lt. Greg Simone said.

" Whatever happened here, it was not his normal behavior, " said the Rev. Norman A. Haddad, regional head of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers, the Catholic order that ran Holy Name while Pelkington worked there. " He is a very hard-working priest, a good preacher, dedicated. "

Haddad said Pelkington was never accused of unethical behavior while he was at Holy Name, and the Dominican order had no record of any prior problems with him.

The accusations made in Connecticut stemmed from two incidents alleged to have occurred from December 1998 to April 1999 while Pelkington visited friends in the area, police said.

The order found out about the Connecticut allegations last summer and, after consulting with police, assigned Pelkington to become an inpatient at the St. Luke Institute, a psychiatric facility in Maryland.

" Our policy is to respond by evaluating the accusation, " Haddad said. " The police accommodated us, and we accommodated them. We want to protect the victim and the individual accused. "

Pelkington was living in a Dominican residence when the accusations surfaced.

He had served as interim pastor of Holy Name for six months until August 1998, when the Dominican order turned over the church's administration to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York after 102 years in Valhalla.

Police investigated the case for several months, and Pelkington left St. Luke and surrendered to authorities in Southington after charges were filed in early February.

Parishioners of the Valhalla church interviewed yesterday said they were surprised by the allegations surrounding Pelkington, a well-liked priest who crafted stained-glass windows for the church and flew a hot-air balloon to promote an ecumenical program for married couples.

" I really hadn't had any suspicions of anything like that, " parishioner John Ahern said. " I liked his sermons. He just seemed like a good Dominican priest, that's all. "

Pelkington is due April 10 in Southington Superior Court to answer charges of third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and two counts of risk of injury to a minor. His lawyer, Hubert Santos of Hartford, did not return a phone call.

" He was up to the house for dinner many times, " said parishioner George Hintz, who recalled having several good-natured liturgical arguments with Pelkington. " I knew him as a parish priest who tried to do his best. "

 
 

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