Bishop Will Ask County to Look into Abuse Case
Diocese Had Cleared Richmond-Area Priest; Accusers Went Public
By Steven G. Vegh
August 12, 2002
Bishop Walter F. Sullivan announced Sunday that he will ask a county prosecutor to investigate whether a Richmond-area priest sexually abused students at a Catholic boys high school in the 1970s.
In a news release, Sullivan said he was responding to a Virginian-Pilot article Sunday in which Bruce Jeter, a Norfolk man, accused the Rev. John E. Leonard of drugging and abusing him when he was a teenage student at St. John Vianney Seminary, a Catholic high school in Goochland County, in 1974.
Jeter is at least the third ex-Vianney student to come forward publicly with allegations of sexual abuse by Leonard, who was a faculty member at Vianney from 1968 to 1978. The school closed in 1978.
Sullivan stated that Jeter's account "is of such serious proportion that I, as Bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, must now take drastic action."
Sullivan said he would "immediately" ask the commonwealth's attorney in Goochland County "to conduct a criminal investigation of the whole matter of allegations against Father Leonard."
James C. Roberts, Leonard's attorney, said Sunday that he had not seen Sullivan's statement or the published account of Jeter's allegations. Leonard could not be reached at the rectory at St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen, where he is the parish priest.
Jeter brought his allegation of abuse by Leonard to the diocese in 1996. Sullivan initiated an investigation and exonerated the priest, saying that witnesses named by Jeter did not corroborate the allegations.
The diocese opened a new investigation this spring after receiving abuse allegations against Leonard by Thor Gormley, a Virginia Beach man who attended Vianney in the 1970s.
A two-person investigatory team interviewed Gormley and Bill Bryant, an Arizona man who said he also was abused at Vianney by Leonard. The team also spoke with Leonard and other individuals but did not contact Jeter.
Sullivan cleared Leonard of those allegations on June 18, saying the priest's behavior during incidents at Vianney had only been "imprudent" and had "blurred boundaries." The bishop said psychological testing of Leonard yielded no justification for labeling or removing the priest as a sex abuser.
At that time, Sullivan said he would not reopen the investigation of Leonard.
On Sunday, Sullivan's spokesman, the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, said the bishop was asking for an investigation by the commonwealth's attorney because, while the diocese had cleared Leonard, individuals claiming to have been abused by him are going public with their accusations.
"We're just at a point where we're saying that if they're going to keep coming forward with these allegations in the media and not going to law enforcement, we're going to go to law enforcement," Apuzzo told The Associated Press.
On Wednesday, Sullivan expelled the Rev. Julian B. Goodman, a Charlottesville priest, from ministry for sexually abusing a student at Vianney from 1976 to 1978. Goodman, who admitted the abuse, was pastor at Blessed Sacrament parish in Norfolk throughout the 1990s.
On Friday, Sullivan removed the Rev. John P. Blankenship from ministry for the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old boy in 1982 in the parish the priest was serving.
Jeter, 44, could not be reached for comment Sunday. His therapist, Norfolk psychologist Susan A. Garvey, said she was pleased that Sullivan was "taking this matter very seriously." She said she believes that Jeter was sexually abused.
In an interview Saturday at Garvey's office, Jeter described an incident in which he said Leonard brought him into the priest's room and gave him beer and a blue pill.
Jeter said he woke up about 12 hours later on Leonard's bed with semen in his rectum. "I was drugged by Father (Leonard) and abused," Jeter said.
Bryant said Sunday that when he was a Vianney student, Leonard gave him sleeping pills.
"That's what Father Leonard said it was. He would claim I was too tense and needed to relax. On some occasions, I recall I was given a sleeping pill in conjunction with alcohol. I don't have a recollection as to what may or may not have occurred," Bryant said.
Bryant said he was given gin and orange juice by Leonard more than once, while in the priest's room. The encounters were "typically pretty late at night," after lights-out in the student dormitory, he added.
Gormley said Sunday that as a 17-year-old senior at Vianney, "I was provided with sleeping pills on at least one occasion by Father Leonard for recreational use. I wanted to see what sleeping pills felt like." Gormley said he took the pills when he returned to his own room.
Both Gormley and Bryant said they believed that Sullivan and other officials had covered up sexual abuse by priests in the diocese.
Gormley, who is enrolled in a Diocese of Richmond program to become an ordained deacon, said he yearned for the church to "clean house and move forward, reinvigorated."
Nonetheless, he added, "I look forward to the date I can sit on a witness stand and provide discovery in court to the true extent of my knowledge" of misconduct by Leonard.
Bryant said that while he was pleased Sullivan was referring the Jeter case to a public prosecutor, he believes that such a step would have been more timely six years ago.
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