2nd Priest Forced to Retire
Other Cases of Alleged Abuse Being Investigated
By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
August 10, 2002
A 65-year-old prison chaplain from Richmond is the latest priest in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond forced to retire because of alleged child sexual abuse.
The Rev. John P. Blankenship stepped down from his post as a chaplain at the Petersburg Federal Correctional Center on Thursday and from active priestly ministry, officials said yesterday.
Blankenship, who served six Virginia churches in his 39 years of ministry, became the second priest in four days to be forced into retirement by the diocese because of complaints of sexual improprieties involving children.
And a diocese spokesman said the matter isn't finished; several other cases of alleged sexual misconduct are being investigated.
In 1982, while pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the Prince George County community of New Bohemia, Blankenship sexually abused a 14-year-old male parishioner, said the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, a diocese spokesman, at a news conference yesterday. Blankenship took responsibility for his actions, apologized to the victim and later paid for his college education, Apuzzo said.
When the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the diocese, learned of the alleged abuse in 1988, he placed Blankenship on leave, Apuzzo said. The priest spent seven months in treatment at St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., followed by six years of outpatient therapy, Apuzzo said.
Blankenship served as chaplain at the federal prison from May 1983 until he retired effective Thursday, prison spokeswoman Deborah Gonzales said.
Apuzzo said Blankenship was already working at the prison when the sexual abuse allegation came to the bishop's attention. Sullivan allowed him to continue in that position because Blankenship had no contact with minors.
"Father Blankenship was under strict supervision of another chaplain at the prison," Apuzzo said. "When Bishop Sullivan heard about the allegation, he notified the prison."
Of the six churches Blankenship served, two - Sacred Heart in Winchester and St. Agnes in Arlington - are now in the Diocese of Arlington, which was created in 1974. The other parishes he served are St. Mary Star of the Sea at Fort Monroe, St. Mary in western Henrico County, St. John in Highland Springs and Sacred Heart in New Bohemia.
Apuzzo said the alleged victim, with whom Sullivan spoke recently, does not want to be identified. Apuzzo also said he does not know whether the alleged abuse occurred one time or was ongoing. "It was sexual encounters of one kind or another," he said. "I'm not sure what."
The diocese knows of only one alleged victim, he said.
In addition to his job as a prison chaplain, Blankenship had a number of other interests. For much of the past two decades, he served on a contract basis as unofficial Catholic chaplain at the Air National Guard base in Sandston.
Until last year, the Air Guard did not have a regular Catholic chaplain, so Blankenship was paid to say Mass at the base during the unit's monthly drill.
He held an annual Christmas get-together for Catholics in the Air Guard at his Grove Avenue home, where he offered for sale gold and silver jewelry he had designed. He would have the jewelry made during his vacations to Mexico.
The 1988 allegation against Blankenship was handled under the old guidelines of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Mental health officials now say that sexual abusers cannot be cured. In June, the Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas adopted a policy calling for priests to be removed at the first incident of sexual abuse.
In asking Blankenship to retire, Sullivan was acting under the new policy, Apuzzo said.
When Sullivan met with Blankenship on Tuesday, the priest "was sincerely remorseful and had apologized years ago to the victim. He has paid for the victim's college education and the costs of counseling," Apuzzo said.
Sullivan did not attend yesterday's news conference; he is on vacation.
The retirement of the Rev. Julian Goodman, pastor of Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Charlottesville, was forced Tuesday and announced Wednesday.
Goodman admitted sexually abusing James Kronzer from 1976 to 1978 at the former St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County. Goodman was on the school's faculty and Kronzer was a student.
The abuse continued for a year after the seminary closed in 1978 and Goodman was assigned to St. Ann Church in Colonial Heights.
The bishop is looking at several other cases of alleged sexual abuse, including an allegation from a Williamsburg-area resident, Apuzzo said. However, Apuzzo said he doesn't think that the Williamsburg area complaint will be founded.
Four people on the Diocesan Sexual Abuse Panel have resigned to protest the handling of allegations against the Rev. John E. Leonard since Sullivan reinstated Leonard in June. Sullivan removed the priest from St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen during a six-week investigation.
Sullivan concluded that allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred about 30 years ago did not warrant permanently removing Leonard from the priesthood.
Some members of the panel said they never saw the investigative team's report and that the panel should have had input into the bishop's decision.
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