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  Priest's Past Brings Resignation
Neighbors Decry Loss of Leader

By Stephanie Reitz and Sudhin S. Thanawala
Hartford Courant (Connecticut)
July 8, 2002

NEW HAVEN — Parishioners and neighbors of a local Roman Catholic church expressed shock Sunday upon learning of its pastor's decision to resign after the Archdiocese of Hartford discovered that he had admitted sexually abusing children in Baltimore in the late 1980s.

The Rev. Robert V. Newman, pastor of Sacred Heart Church since 1990, was a community leader whom worshipers and residents credit with helping to revive the church and the surrounding Trowbridge Square neighborhood.

Newman, 54, resigned from Sacred Heart after archdiocesan officials confronted him with the cases. Church officials in Hartford learned about the instances of abuse last month from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where Newman had been a priest in the 1980s.

Newman had been expelled from a church in northeast Baltimore in 1987 after admitting sexually abusing boys, according to Baltimore church officials. Prosecutors in Maryland also conducted a criminal investigation of the allegations.

After he had been fired, the Sons of Charity, Newman's religious order, sent Newman to The Institute of Living, a psychiatric institution in Hartford known for treating pedophiles. Hartford church officials said they were unaware of the allegations against Newman in the late 1980s.

Newman was among the leaders of a community group called Trowbridge Renaissance and was credited with helping rid the neighborhood of drugs and cleaning up the local park.

In an effort to keep drug dealers away, parishioner Judith Andrews said, Newman would watch from the back porch of the rectory for anyone skulking in the park. He would then walk to the edge of the park and stare at them until they left.

"People deserve a second chance," said Israel Bonilla Jr., sitting on the porch of his home on Portsea Street, across from the church. "I think he should stay. He's been great."

Bonilla said his teenage son and daughter would meet with Newman and never complained about him making sexual advances or trying to touch them.

"He's going to be missed not only as a priest, but as a spark plug in this area," said parishioner Rita Katona, who attended Latin Mass at the church even before Newman was appointed pastor in December 1990.

The Rev. James Richardson, the church's parochial vicar, told parishioners what Newman told him before leaving: he wanted them to continue the work he had helped start in the area.

"He doesn't want to be forgotten nor does he want to forget what he left," said Richardson, who came to the church with Newman.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore learned about Newman's history during a review of old abuse cases following growing examples of sexual misconduct involving Catholic priests.

Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Maryland state's attorney's office, said she could not comment on the investigation until she had seen the file, which she would review today.

Church officials also did not have access to their files last night and were unsure how many boys Newman had admitted abusing, said Stephen Kearney, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"Father Newman himself realized he had a problem and he made his concerns known to church officials years ago in Baltimore," said the Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Gatzak said there is "no indication or allegations of incidents that took place" during Newman's tenure in New Haven. He said he did not have more information about the cases of abuse.

The Connecticut State Police and the state Department of Children and Families have been informed of the allegations against Newman, Gatzak said.

Newman graduated from a seminary in Baltimore and was pastor at Most Precious Blood church in northeast Baltimore in the late 1980s. In 1987, while serving as the church's pastor, Newman acknowledged abusing several boys and was fired by the archdiocese, according to a statement released over the weekend by church officials.

Richardson said he knew that Newman had spent time at the Institute of Living and had been cleared to return to work. Kearney has said the Baltimore church did not know he had again found work as a priest.

Hartford Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin confronted Newman about the allegations after a June 14 meeting of American bishops in Dallas, where the church adopted a policy barring priests charged with abuse from the ministry.

Reports from the Baltimore Sun and The Associated Press are included in this story.

 
 

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