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  St. Michael's Pastor Was Investigated in 1996
Diocese Cleared Priest of Sexual Misconduct
By Mark Bowes
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
May 11, 2002

A local priest placed on leave after allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct more than two decades ago was also the subject of a 1996 diocesan investigation that involved a more serious allegation of sexual abuse.

The Rev. John E. Leonard, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church, was cleared by church officials of wrongdoing after two alleged witnesses "categorically denied that it ever happened," said the Rev. Pat Apuzzo, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

In addition, Apuzzo said, diocese officials had Leonard undergo a "very stringent battery of psychological tests" administered by mental health professionals not employed by the diocese. Leonard was given "a clean bill of health," Apuzzo said.

They determined that there "was nothing deviant in his sexual makeup or personality," said Apuzzo, quoting from diocesan records.

The 1996 investigation came about after a former St. John Vianney Seminary student approached the Richmond diocese with his lawyer and alleged that Leonard had engaged in sexual relations with him in the school year of 1973-74 at the now-defunct parochial high school.

At the time, Leonard was rector of the Goochland County seminary, which closed in 1978. Leonard became a faculty member there in 1968.

The former student who made the accusation was undergoing mental therapy when he came forward in May 1996, church officials said.

"He wasn't filing a claim, [nor] was he asking for anything," Apuzzo said. "But he just wanted us to know it happened, and he wanted us to take some action against the priest.

"And of course the first thing we did was to talk with the two witnesses that he gave us," Apuzzo continued. "He said that these two students were looking on" when the sexual activity occurred.

But the former students, now in their 40s, "said they didn't see any such thing," Apuzzo said.

After the diocese concluded its investigation, the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, sent a letter to the former student's attorney saying he considered the matter closed, unless additional information surfaced, Apuzzo said.

Neither the former student nor his lawyer pursued the allegations further with the church. Apuzzo said no criminal complaint was filed.

At Sullivan's direction, the diocese is looking into allegations that Leonard engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior about 24 years ago in an alleged incident involving another former St. John Vianney Seminary student.

That alleged encounter, according to Apuzzo, did not involve physical contact but could be perceived as being sexual in nature. The former student making the claim alleges that another student was present and participated, Apuzzo said.

Citing the investigation, Apuzzo has declined to provide specific details of that alleged encounter. Leonard, 63, has strongly proclaimed his innocence.

On Monday, Leonard was placed on administrative leave until the matter can be resolved, which means he has been relieved of his duties as pastor of St. Michael's in Glen Allen.

Monsignor Thomas Caroluzza, the top diocesan representative in eastern Virginia under Sullivan, and Theresa May, a local mental health professional, are looking into the current allegations. The 1996 allegation will be re-examined as they interview former St. John Vianney students and other potential witnesses.

 
 

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