Wendell Priest on Medical Leave

By Yonat Shimron
News and Observer (Raleigh, NC)
June 5, 2002

A Wendell priest who was asked to step down temporarily from active ministry in April following allegations of adult sexual misconduct has been granted an indefinite medical leave of absence.

The leave means the Rev. Thomas Watkins will not likely return to the parish, St. Eugene Catholic Church. Roman Catholic Bishop F. Joseph Gossman, who granted the leave, said he would appoint a permanent replacement for Watkins within the next few weeks.

Watkins, 61, could not be reached for comment.

Gossman said that the request came from the priest May 24 and that he decided to grant it May 29. A formal announcement will be made Thursday in the "NC Catholic," the diocesan newspaper.

On April 24, Watkins was placed on temporary administrative leave following allegations he had proposed sex to a seminary student 26 years ago. The latest allegation is the fourth in Watkins' case. The diocese knew of three other incidents of alleged misconduct involving Watkins and adults.

Watkins has denied the allegations raised recently by Richard Winterich, 45, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Winterich said Watkins betrayed his trust and shattered his self-esteem, leading to years of therapy for depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.

As a first-year student at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio, Winterich said Watkins, then a Marianist order priest, came to his dorm room with a bottle of wine. The second time, Watkins told him he loved him and asked whether he could kiss him, Winterich said. Expecting a kiss on the cheek, Winterich said Watkins kissed him on the lips.

Winterich said the priest then proposed sex. At that point, Winterich said, he got up, threw a book at Watkins and ordered him to "get out."

Winterich has hired a lawyer who has been communicating with the diocese. But Gossman said Tuesday that the investigation of Watkins will likely be put on hold, because the lawyer, Jeffrey R. Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., asked the diocese not to contact Winterich independently.

"We're out of the loop on the investigation," Gossman said.

Watkins was ordained in 1963. In 1990, he applied to become a priest in the Raleigh diocese. Since then, he has served at Our Lady of Lourdes in Raleigh, St. Michael's in Cary and St. Francis de Sales in Lumberton. In 1996, Watkins left the Marianist order and became a diocesan priest.


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