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  Reports of Misconduct by Priest Disputed
Other Former Members of Church Youth Group Say Dillard Acted Appropriately

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post
April 5, 2002

Six people who were in the same parish youth group as a woman who has accused Monsignor Russell L. Dillard of sexually abusing her in the early 1980s say they are skeptical of her account.

Dillard, 54, was suspended from his duties as pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Northwest Washington on March 21. The action by the Archdiocese of Washington was a response to allegations by Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, 36, that Dillard kissed and inappropriately touched her when she was in the teen club at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Northeast Washington from 1979 to 1984. A second woman, who is a sister of Barrett-Gaines's, made similar allegations.

Barrett-Gaines said in an interview last month that she and Dillard often spent hours at a time alone together and that "he pretty much was my boyfriend for four years." She also said that many of those who observed the two of them together would have noticed signs of their close relationship.

Four women and two men who belonged to the teen club during the same years disputed that, saying they do not recall any evidence that Dillard and Barrett-Gaines were unusually close or that they were spending long periods of time apart from the rest of the tightly knit youth group. The woman who served as the club's lay moderator also took issue with Barrett-Gaines's recollection.

The names of the seven people were provided to a reporter by Dillard's supporters at St. Augustine, who contend that the archdiocese did not investigate Barrett-Gaines's allegations thoroughly enough before suspending him. About 60 to 70 people were in the youth club during the period in question.

"I was there a lot when Kathryn was there," said Anthony Briscoe, marketing and merchandising manager at Howard University's bookstore and former president of the club. "It was hard for Father Dillard to go anywhere without me being around. Some things she said I find very hard to believe because I would have had to be there."

The former members of the youth group said Dillard was openly affectionate and engaged in nonsexual physical contact, including hugging and kissing, with all the boys and girls he worked with during that time.

Barrett-Gaines said that she and Dillard were alone together "for long periods of time, every day," sometimes kissing, in his third-floor sitting room at the St. Anthony's rectory, that her picture was displayed in the room and that he often invited her to watch him work out in the rectory basement.

Others in the youth group said Dillard's sitting room was a place where teenagers regularly congregated, that it contained pictures of several club members and that many youths often watched Dillard lift weights in the basement.

Reached by phone yesterday, Barrett-Gaines said that "there was no reason people should know that we spent a lot of time alone."

She declined to address the specific points made by the others who were in the youth group, saying it is "no longer a question" that the relationship between her and Dillard occurred. "He admitted what happened. They took action, and it's over. There is no issue anymore. . . . This is not a lawsuit."

Barrett-Gaines said she can "completely understand why people find it difficult to come to terms with [the allegations]. I've had 20 years to deal with this, and people have had two weeks, and I totally understand their reaction."

Dillard has been undergoing a psychological evaluation at St. Luke's Institute in Suitland since his suspension. On the day he was suspended, archdiocese officials said Dillard acknowledged having had physical contact with the two sisters but denied that the contact was inappropriate.

Yesterday, archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said, "It was clear that the relationships that he acknowledged were inappropriate" and that the kissing "was enough that the archdiocesan child abuse policy kicked into place."

Dillard's attorney, however, said yesterday that Dillard has acknowledged only having "a father-daughter relationship" with Barrett-Gaines. The two spent time alone together, but it was not "an inordinate time alone with her," said the attorney, Fred Cooke Jr.

Cooke said that "there was no making out, period. That did not happen."

He said that Dillard did not have an opportunity to clarify his relationship with Barrett-Gaines when the archdiocese confronted him with the allegations. "He just didn't really fully believe or comprehend the position the church was staking out," Cooke said. "He has expressed himself more clearly or specifically as part of the process of evaluation."

Stacey Turner Caldwell, a lawyer in Richmond who was in the teen club at St. Anthony's from 1980 to 1984, said that "as far as I could tell" Barrett-Gaines's relationship with Dillard was the same as hers was with the priest.

"For me, he served as an adviser for things I couldn't talk to my parents about at the time," said Caldwell, describing Dillard as "somewhere between a friend and a parent."

"I never thought for a moment that there was anything sexual in the way he touched, hugged or kissed me," Caldwell said.

She said that Barrett-Gaines's description of being alone with Dillard "all the time" puzzled her. "I was thinking, 'Well, where were the rest of us?' " Caldwell said.

Another woman who was in the club and whose name was provided to a reporter by Barrett-Gaines supported the accuser's account. The woman, who spoke on condition that she not be identified, said yesterday that she saw Dillard and Barrett-Gaines alone together "in the [church] parking lot, behind the rectory, in front of her home, in his car."

The woman said she once walked in on Dillard and Barrett-Gaines kissing in a small corner off the kitchen of the rectory. "He was embracing her and kissing her, and when they realized I was there, they stopped. And it wasn't a peck on the cheek, because I know the difference," she said.

 
 

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