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  Henderson Priest Could Face 12 or More Child Sex Charges

Associated Press State & Local Wire
April 12, 2002

Police in suburban Henderson say they have evidence of felony sex abuse involving a Catholic priest molesting teen-age boys in his parish, authorities said Friday.

Clark County District Attorney Stewart Bell said he expects on Monday to receive the results of a 10-week Henderson police investigation of allegations against the Rev. Mark Roberts.

Bell said he could decide by Wednesday whether to prosecute, but added it could longer if additional investigation is needed.

"The more complex the case, the more time it takes to make a decision," he said. The case is the first in Nevada since a growing sex abuse scandal engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The Rev. Bob Stoeckig, the top Diocese of Las Vegas aide to Bishop Joseph A. Pepe, said Friday that the diocese was cooperating with police.

"They have indicated to us that they are near completion and that it would be going to the DA soon," he said.

Henderson police Lt. Hector Mancillas told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the criminal case is "a little more involved than we were prepared for."

He said police will ask prosecutors to charge Roberts with felony counts of child abuse, coercion, use of a child in the production of pornography and open and gross lewdness with a minor.

"Right now, we're looking at least 12 felonies and then myriad gross misdemeanors and misdemeanors," Mancillas said.

Mancillas and other Henderson police administrators did not respond Friday to several requests for comment from The Associated Press.

Rachel Wilkie, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said Roberts was removed from his duties at St. Peter the Apostle Church on Jan. 30 - the day the diocese learned of the allegations. Stoeckig said police were notified within 24 hours. Roberts had been at the church for seven years.

He voluntarily checked himself into an unnamed center for treatment of a medical condition on Feb. 1, Wilkie said. She declined to disclose the location of the center or the nature of the ailment.

The allegations did not become public until a civil lawsuit was filed March 11 in Las Vegas.

It added to a widening scandal involving Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse cases nationwide. In January, an Archdiocese of Boston priest was defrocked, convicted and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for fondling a 10-year-old boy.

The civil lawsuit in Clark County District Court alleges that Roberts molested six teen-age parishioners during the past four years, and that church leaders knew or should have known of the abuse.

Named as defendants are Roberts; Pepe; Pepe's predecessor, former Las Vegas Bishop Daniel Walsh; and the Las Vegas diocese. Walsh is now bishop of the Catholic diocese in Santa Rosa, Calif.

Pepe has not commented. He released a statement on March 28 to southern Nevada parishioners outlining the process of evaluating and screening priests, pledging cooperation with investigators and expressing "great pain and anguish" at the gravity of the national scandal. The message did not specifically address the Roberts case.

The plaintiffs' names are not included in the lawsuit. Al Massi, their lawyer, has said each was a minor - abused while seeking spiritual guidance from Roberts. All are now 17 to 20 years of age.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages of more than $10,000 from Roberts on grounds that include battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty, and unspecified damages of more than $10,000 from the diocese and bishops.

Stoeckig, who serves as vicar general for the diocese, said Friday that the diocese is conducting an internal investigation to identify and provide confidential counseling "for anybody who's been affected by this."

Church officials say the southern Nevada diocese is the fastest-growing in the nation. It has 26 parishes and encompasses booming Clark County, along with Nye, Pine and Lincoln counties - an area with a Catholic population the diocese puts at nearly 400,000.

Stoeckig said there are "no priests actively serving in the diocese that have had this sort of allegation brought against them" and said the diocese is not investigating any other priests for sexual misconduct.

 
 

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