Catholic Sex Scandal: Priest Faces Charges

By Carri Geer Thevenot
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
April 23, 2002

Criminal charges were filed Monday against a suspended Catholic priest accused of sexually and physically abusing teen-age boys at his Henderson parish.

Among the charges against the Rev. Mark Roberts are two counts of using a minor in the production of pornography, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Roberts, 51, also faces two counts of open or gross lewdness and five counts of child abuse and neglect. Each of those charges is a gross misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

'Father Mark used the guise of penance and religious prosperity, in addition to the trust that he developed with the victims, to lure them into situations that allowed him to exploit them for his own pleasure,' according to an affidavit prepared by Henderson police Detective Lynn Saxby.

Saxby wrote the 18-page document, which includes graphic details about the charges against Roberts, in support of her request for an arrest warrant in the case.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Ronald Bloxham said the warrant was issued Monday. He said Roberts is out of state but has agreed to surrender in time to make his first court appearance on April 30 in Henderson Justice Court.

Attorney George Foley Sr., who represents Roberts, declined to comment on the criminal case when contacted Monday.

Although Saxby's affidavit lists six victims, who now range in age from 17 to 21, only five victims are named in the formal charges filed against Roberts. Bloxham said the statute of limitations had expired for any potential charges involving the 21-year-old man.

A lawsuit filed last month in District Court accuses Roberts of abusing six teen-age boys. It lists six young men and their parents as plaintiffs but identifies none of them by name.

Attorney Albert Massi, who represents the plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment Monday.

According to Saxby's affidavit, Roberts used hot candle wax, a whip, a knife, a hanger, plastic eating utensils and his own hands to batter his victims.

'Father Mark inflicted physical and psychological pain on the victims for his own sadistic gratification,' the detective wrote.

The affidavit includes summaries of interviews with six victims. Saxby also interviewed two other young men who were over the age of 18 when they met with Roberts.

According to the affidavit, all eight individuals told similar stories about their encounters with Roberts.

'Father Mark developed trust with each victim by taking them to dinner, counseling them and befriending them,' Saxby wrote. 'He also provided them with religious reasons to comply with him, as well as religious ramifications for refusing to cooperate.'

During an interview Monday at the offices of Rogich Communications, a public relations firm, Bishop Joseph Pepe said he was 'deeply saddened' by the charges against Roberts.

'We will have an ongoing concern for anyone who has been affected by these allegations,' said Pepe, the top-ranking church official in the Diocese of Las Vegas. 'We certainly are open to an outreach and concerned and sensitive about their needs.'

During the interview, which was limited to about 30 minutes, Pepe said he first learned of the allegations when Roberts came to him Jan. 30.

'From what he told me of the allegations, it was serious enough for me to suspend him from the act of ministry,' the bishop said.

The suspension prevents Roberts from functioning as a Catholic priest anywhere in the world. Pepe said Roberts also resigned that day from his position as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Church on Boulder Highway.

Pepe said he asked Roberts during the meeting if he desired treatment, and 'he voluntarily wanted that.' According to Saxby's affidavit, Roberts was taken to Missouri 'for treatment and assessment.'

The Rev. Bob Stoeckig said he followed Pepe's instructions and reported the matter to police Jan. 31.

According to the pornography counts filed against Roberts, he photographed the genitals of two teen-age boys after directing them to disrobe. Both of those victims are now 19.

One of the incidents occurred between April 1999 and February 2001, according to the criminal complaint that contains the charges against Roberts, and the other occurred between April 1999 and October 2000.

According to Saxby's affidavit, both victims said they had begun receiving spiritual guidance from Roberts at the age of 16.

One of the victims told the detective he once had confessed to having sex with a girl. According to the affidavit, Roberts responded by taking the teen-ager to an apartment used by visiting priests and ordering him to take off all his clothes for penance.

The priest then made the boy pose in sexual positions and took pictures of his nude body, according to the document.

Roberts told the boy he had exploited the girl by having sex with her and 'asked him how it felt to be exploited,' according to the affidavit.

According to the document, the priest told the teen-ager he could come by the next day and burn the pictures, and the boy did so.

The other victim told Saxby about a similar incident that occurred after he told Roberts he was gay. According to the affidavit, the priest took the boy to the apartment and told him to pose nude.

Roberts took nine Polaroid pictures, according to the document, then gave the boy a cord and instructed him to beat himself with it.

The priest returned the pictures the following day with a note telling the boy he wanted him 'to know what it's like to be exploited,' according to the affidavit. Roberts also told the teen-ager to burn the pictures, according to the document, and the boy eventually did so.

Bloxham said no pictures remain to support the pornography charges against Roberts.

All eight young men interviewed by Saxby also described incidents in which Roberts told them to 'get on the cross,' which meant to stand in a doorway or lie on the floor with their arms extended as if on a crucifix.

Two of the young men told the detective that Roberts drew a knife across their bare chests while they stood in this position. The knife left red marks on the teen-agers' chests, according to the affidavit.

Five of the victims listed in Saxby's affidavit described incidents in which Roberts massaged them to teach them the difference between sexuality and sensuality. Three of them said Roberts paid them $20 an hour to massage him.


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