Former Priest Faces New Sex Abuse Charges

Associated Press
August 12, 2002

A former suburban Washington priest - briefly jailed once in a child sex abuse case - was charged Monday in two newly reported cases.

Prince George's County, Md. police said that within the last few months, two men came forward accusing Robert J. Petrella of fondling them when they were 11 and 14 years old. The alleged attacks happened in 1967 and 1968, when Petrella was a priest at Columba Catholic Church in Oxon Hill, Md.

Petrella, 64, was charged with two counts of perverted practice, and released on his own recognizance. He lives in Easton, Pa., according to police.

Archdiocese of Washington spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said Petrella was dismissed from the ministry in 1989.

"We had had someone make an allegation regarding an incident in the 1960s. An adult had come forward," Gibbs said. That man accused Petrella of abusing him two decades earlier.

The accuser spoke to church leaders, but was reluctant to talk to police until several years later. Petrella was indicted in 1997 on four counts of sex abuse and was offered a plea deal on a misdemeanor battery count. He entered an Alford plea, in which he did not admit guilt, but conceded prosecutors had sufficient evidence to convict.

Petrella received a six-month jail sentence, which was later cut to seven days.

Gibbs also said this past spring, the archdiocese got two reports that Petrella was seen wearing a priest's collar near Catholic University in Washington.

"We faxed an alert that was sent to all of our parishes, asking that they print in the bulletin that Robert Petrella does not have faculties to act as a priest, because of our concern that he apparently was dressing as a priest and could be presenting himself as a priest," Gibbs said.


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