Baltimore Priest Retires at Request of Keeler
Accused of Abuse in 1985, He Quits Tribunal Position
By John Rivera
May 17, 2002
Anticipating the adoption next month of a national zero tolerance policy toward priests who sexually abuse minors, Cardinal William H. Keeler asked a priest accused 20 years ago of molesting two teen-age altar boys to retire from his job as an administrator at the Archdiocesan Tribunal, a religious court.
The move signals the archbishop of Baltimore's support for a zero tolerance policy that would take retroactive action against priest abusers, a controversial and unresolved issue that came out of the high-level summit in Rome last month.
The Rev. William Q. Simms, 65, retired Friday. He lives in the rectory with three other priests at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Hampden, where a teacher in the parish school has been charged with molesting 11 students.
Attempts to reach Simms last night were unsuccessful.
"No minors are ever allowed to enter that building. He lives under the supervision of the priests living there," said Raymond P. Kempisty, chancellor of the Baltimore Archdiocese. "He's still there now, but he's been asked as part of his transition to retirement to find another place to live.
Simms was removed from his position as pastor of St. Andrew by the Bay parish in 1985 after allegations surfaced that he molested two boys, both 13.
Simms forced a youth in 1982 to perform "ritualistic sexual fantasies" in the church rectory while dressed in "a sexually provocative female costume and sheer nylon swimsuit," alleged a lawsuit filed in 1988. The youth was also sexually molested, the suit said. It was settled in 1989 for an undisclosed amount.
A second youth said he was abused in 1984 and 1985 and made similar allegations in a lawsuit, which was also settled.
Simms' priestly faculties were suspended when he was removed from his parish in 1985, and he was sent to the St. Luke Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Silver Spring that treats priests and other members of religious orders. He remained there for at least a year.
He was assigned in 1987 to an administrative job at the tribunal, which reviews cases such as petitions for marriage annulments. He remained there until last week.
Simms first lived at St. Mary Star of the Sea parish in South Baltimore until 1992, when Keeler asked the Rev. James Farmer, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, to supervise him. Farmer said he believes he was given that task by Keeler because he was a criminal attorney for several years before becoming a priest.
Farmer said the parishioners at St. Thomas were never informed about the allegations against Simms.
"No one here knows that Father Simms lived in this rectory," he said. "He never celebrated a public Mass. He never went into a classroom. He lived in the rectory. The school is on the other side of the campus. He never had any involvement with any parish activity in any way, shape or form. He lived on the third floor of the rectory and has been a model citizen since his arrival here."
In March, as the clergy sex scandal was erupting, Keeler declined to publicly address the crisis because he felt the problem of clergy sexual abuse had been properly dealt with in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
"There was a level of upheaval over this issue in the mid- to late '80s," Kempisty said in March. "Because of work done then and careful scrutiny since, we're very confident with making a blanket statement that says in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there are no priests in parish ministry who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse."
Yesterday, Kempisty said he chose his words carefully.
"If you remember, we've always said, 'No priests in parish ministry,'" he said. "The reason we said no priests in parish ministry was because of Father Simms. He was the exception."
The arrangement was made by then-Archbishop William D. Borders. When Keeler came to Baltimore in 1989, he decided to leave it in place, Kempisty said.
But with the U.S. bishops' meeting coming next month, in which they are expected to adopt a zero tolerance policy toward priests who sexually abuse minors, Keeler decided that the exception could no longer be made.
"As we anticipated our support for zero tolerance policies that include retroactive action, we felt it was necessary to remove that exception from our Archdiocese, and that's why we asked him to retire," Kempisty said.
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