Priest Pleads Innocent to Abusing Boys at Las Vegas-Area Parish

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 16, 2002

A Catholic priest is denying he sexually and physically abused teen-age boys in his suburban Henderson parish.

Through his lawyer, the Rev. Mark Roberts issued his first public response to allegations in a civil lawsuit filed March 11 and criminal charges filed on Monday.

He called the civil charges "atrociously scurrilous and blasphemous."

Lawyer George Foley Sr. issued a blanket denial of allegations of sex abuse, and complained in a six-page document filed Monday in Clark County District Court that the 51-year-old priest cannot respond to the civil allegations because his eight teen-age accusers are not identified.

Foley could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Roberts has been unavailable since he was suspended with pay from pastoral duties Jan. 30 and he checked in Feb. 1 to an unspecified center outside the state for treatment of an unspecified medical condition.

He also faces two felony and seven gross misdemeanor criminal charges alleging he fondled, hit and photographed teen-agers he was counseling at St. Peter the Apostle Church.

Foley has promised that Roberts will appear for arraignment Tuesday in Henderson Justice Court on two felony charges of using boys to produce pornographic photos, and seven gross misdemeanor charges including open and gross lewdness and child abuse.

Prosecutors have said the incidents involved rituals of penance Roberts imposed on five victims in the last three years. The alleged victims are now 17 to 19 years old.

The priest is accused of taking Polaroid photos of the genitals of two boys when they were about 17.

He also is accused in the criminal complaint of hitting three boys, striking one with a metal coat hanger, ordering four boys to whip themselves with cords, embracing one boy and verbally abusing some of them.

The civil complaint involves allegations going back four years. It seeks unspecified damages of more than $10,000 from Roberts, the Las Vegas Catholic Diocese, Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe and Pepe's predecessor, former Las Vegas Bishop Daniel Walsh. Walsh is now bishop of the Catholic diocese in Santa Rosa, Calif.

It alleges battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty, and accuses diocese officials of knowing about but failing to act to stem Roberts' alleged abuse.

The lawyer representing the diocese and Pepe said Thursday she filed a request with the court on Monday for more information about the times, dates and places of the alleged abuse and the ages of the alleged victims.

"We recognize their need for anonymity," attorney Judith Simon-Kohl said. "We're not pressing for names. We're asking for details that would help us prepare a response."

Diocese officials have said they have a strict sexual abuse policy and that Roberts was removed from his pastoral position within 24 hours of the diocese learning of the allegations.

Roberts' case was the first in Nevada since allegations about sex abuse in the Roman Catholic church arose nationwide in January.

The Las Vegas Diocese has 26 southern Nevada parishes.


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