Church Reports Abuse Claim
Case Involves Priest Who Admitted in 1992 to Sexually Abusing Six Boys
By Stephen Kiehl
June 3, 2002
CLARIFICATION: An article on June 3, 2002, on allegations of child sexual abuse against a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore stated that when the priest, Michael Spillane, admitted in 1992 to sexually abusing six boys while he was a priest at Baltimore-area parishes, the archdiocese informed the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the Washington Archdiocese by letter. While the FDLC and the Washington Archdiocese were informed of Spillane's admissions, it was not necessarily by letter. A spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese said he did not know how they were informed -- only that they were.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore said yesterday that it has referred to prosecutors a case involving a 59-year-old retired priest who admitted more than a decade ago to sexually abusing six children in Baltimore-area parishes.
The Rev. Michael J. Spillane served in archdiocesan churches from 1969 to 1986, when he resigned as pastor of a Crofton church to seek psychological treatment. Since then, he has worked for a Washington-based commission that advises the church on liturgical matters.
Spillane admitted in 1992 to sexually abusing six boys after one of them contacted the archdiocese, said Raymond P. Kempisty, an archdiocesan spokesman. Spillane was stripped of his priestly faculties - including the ability to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments.
The church reached an undisclosed settlement in 1992 with the victim who came forward in late 1991, but officials did not seek the identities of the other five victims and did not report the cases to authorities until 1993.
In April this year, a man contacted the archdiocese and accused Spillane of sexually abusing him in 1968 - the same year Spillane was ordained as a priest in Baltimore. Officials said they turned that information over to the Baltimore state's attorney's office April 12.
A spokeswoman for that office could not confirm yesterday that the information had been received or if an investigation had begun. Though the alleged abuse occurred more than three decades ago, prosecutors could file charges if it would have been classified as a felony.
In 1992, the church did not investigate to determine if there were other victims and did not notify Spillane's former parishes of his admissions, Kempisty said. Maryland law at that time did not require the church to report allegations of abuse if the victims were no longer minors, he said.
"The thinking at the time was that child sex-abuse victims who were no longer minors would have the maturity to make the decision on whether to come forward and report the abuse," Kempisty said yesterday.
The victim who contacted archdiocesan officials in 1991 said in an interview yesterday that he did not go to law enforcement authorities because he was not comfortable making the case public. "I didn't want to deal with it anymore," he said.
A 41- year-old Baltimore-area computer programmer, the victim spoke to The Sun on the condition that his name not be used.
He said the abuse began in the spring of 1975, when he was an altar boy at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, and continued until December of that year. He could recall four to six instances of abuse, which included oral sex.
On one occasion, he said, another boy was present and was also abused.
The abuse occurred in several locations, the victim said, including Spillane's apartment in Ellicott City and Spillane's home in Crofton, where he moved when he was named pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish.
In 1993, the state attorney general said all cases of child sex abuse must be reported, even if the victims are no longer minors, and the archdiocese that year reported the case to the state attorney general's office. Kempisty said he did not know what became of that case, and a representative of the attorney general could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kempisty did not know if the new allegation was being made by one of the six victims Spillane acknowledged in 1992 or by someone else. The victim who spoke to The Sun yesterday said he did not make April's allegation.
Spillane, who lives in Washington, did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages yesterday.
He worked for a number of area parishes after his ordination in 1968: St. Thomas More in Baltimore, St. Paul in Ellicott City, Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City, and Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville. In 1975, he was named pastor of the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Crofton. He oversaw construction of the church and led the fast-growing congregation until 1986, when he voluntarily stepped down.
About that time, Spillane began receiving treatment at the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, a church-run psychiatric center that has claimed success in reforming priests. Spillane was treated there for several years, said his lawyer, Gregg Bernstein of Baltimore.
"Beginning around 1985, recognizing that he had some issues with both alcohol and pertaining to his sexuality, he voluntarily and without any prodding or initiation from the church sought psychiatric treatment," Bernstein said yesterday.
Kempisty said the Baltimore Archdiocese did not pay for Spillane's treatment and was not aware of it until 1992.
Spillane took the job of executive director of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in 1986 - partly because it was an administrative job that did not put him near children, Bernstein said. The FDLC advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and American dioceses on worship and liturgical issues.
The Washington Post published details of Spillane's past in yesterday's editions, reporting that he had admitted to molesting six youths while working earlier in parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
In early 1992, church officials sent letters to the FDLC and the Washington Archdiocese informing them of Spillane's admissions, Kempisty said.
Two FDLC board members said yesterday that they were unaware of the abuse until recently, but that it should not have disqualified Spillane from his job.
"I can't even imagine what his victims must have gone through, but I've also seen what Father Spillane has done, and he's done a remarkable job," said the Rev. John H. Burton, chairman of the FDLC board. In 1992, he said, officials at FDLC "agreed Father Spillane would continue because he was not doing ministry as such. His post was purely administrative, and there was no contact with children."
Spillane announced in January that he would step down from his post at the FDLC by the end of the year. Last week, he asked the board to make his resignation effective immediately, which it plans to do soon, Burton said.
The leader of a support network for people abused by priests said the FDLC should not have kept Spillane on its staff after it learned of his admissions.
"It shows a terrible naivete, at best, to suggest that any sort of reassignment out of parish ministry keeps children safe," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. He also said the Baltimore Archdiocese should have reported Spillane's abuse to authorities.
"They also should have gone to every parish he served in and said, 'This man has admitted to molesting children,' and asked parents to talk to their children about it," Clohessy said.
The archdiocese defended its actions yesterday as appropriate under the laws at the time. And a letter dated Jan. 20, 1992, from an archdiocesan lawyer to the attorney for the victim who came forward in 1991 indicates that the church acted quickly in the matter.
The letter states that the archdiocesan lawyer first spoke with the victim's lawyer Dec. 27, 1991. Top church officials then met with Spillane on Jan. 3, 1992. The church revoked his priestly faculties that same day, according to the letter.
The letter also said, "While the Archdiocese does not believe that it has a reporting duty under the Maryland child abuse reporting statute when the victim is now over age 18, we in no way discourage your client from reporting independently, if he so chooses."
Sun staff writer John Rivera and staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
An unpublished clarification was added to this story for the archive database.
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