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  Las Vegas Diocese Insists It Acted Fast on Priest Abuse Claim

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 19, 2002

Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas officials say they quickly suspended a priest in suburban Henderson after learning he was accused of sexually abusing teen-age boys in his parish.

Church leaders waited one day before contacting police about allegations against Father Mark Roberts, said the Rev. Bob Stoeckig, the top-ranking church aide to Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe.

In the first diocese comment since a civil lawsuit was filed against Roberts and the church, Stoeckig said little Monday about the Roberts case. He declined to discuss any other sexual abuse allegations against southern Nevada priests.

But Stoeckig insisted that Pepe removed Roberts from his post at St. Peter the Apostle Church moments after learning Jan. 30 of the allegations.

"He suspended him within minutes (of the call)," Stoeckig, the vicar general of the diocese, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "We called the police as soon as we knew there was a reason to."

Henderson police Officer Terry Bowler said Monday that sex crimes investigators are still interviewing young parishioners who had contact with Roberts.

Bowler said police expect to submit evidence to Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell by the end of the month. Prosecutors will determine whether to file criminal charges.

State law requires any member of the clergy who has reason to believe a child is being neglected or sexually abused to report the matter to authorities within 24 hours, Bell said.

The lawsuit filed March 11 in Clark County District Court lists as plaintiffs six males - now between the ages of 17 and 20 - and their parents. None is identified by name.

Their lawyer, Al Massi, accused Roberts of abusing the boys during the last four years, when the boys sought spiritual guidance from Roberts. All were minors at the time, Massi said.

Stoeckig said Roberts voluntarily checked himself into an unspecified treatment center on Feb. 1.

The Las Vegas Diocese encompasses the Nevada counties of Clark, Nye, Pine and Lincoln, with a combined Catholic population of 391,500.

Nationwide, the Roman Catholic Church has been buffeted by a string of clergy sexual abuse cases since an Archdiocese of Boston priest was defrocked, convicted and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy.

Sexual misconduct allegations have prompted criminal investigations and resignations of priests in other states, including California, Pennsylvania and Florida.

 
 

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