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  Retired Longtime Priest Indicted
Accused in Abuse of Teen in 1982

By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
August 21, 2002

A retired Richmond Catholic priest has been indicted by a Prince George County grand jury on four counts of sodomy involving a juvenile.

The grand jury handed up the indictments against the Rev. John Paul Blankenship of the 1800 block of Grove Avenue yesterday.

Blankenship, 65, a priest in the Diocese of Richmond for 39 years, was forced to retire Aug. 9.

The victim, now 34, was not identified. He contacted the Prince George commonwealth's attorney July 12 with allegations that he was molested when he was 14, Prince George Police Chief Edward Frankenstein said at a news conference.

The alleged incidents occurred in 1982 over a six-month period in the parish house of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the New Bohemia community of Prince George.

Prince George police Lt. William King, who headed the investigation, said documentation supporting the victim's allegations was found during the investigation. He declined to say what that documentation is.

The victim and his family often helped clean and did yard work around the church and parish house, King said. Members of the church volunteered to help with cleaning, and the victim's family did so regularly.

King said no one else has contacted Prince George authorities with allegations against Blankenship.

Blankenship has been out of town at an undisclosed location and police have n'ot been able to interview him, King said.

If convicted, Blankenship could receive a maximum of five years in prison on each charge. Since the charges are felonies, there is no time limit on prosecution.

According to the diocese, the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the diocese, first learned of the abuse in 1988. When confronted by the diocese, Blankenship admitted the abuse.

Sullivan sent Blankenship to St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., for seven months of treatment.

After his treatment, Blankenship was allowed to remain at his post as chaplain of the Petersburg prison because he had no contact with minors there. He held that post for 19 years until his forced retirement this month.

Blankenship apologized to the victim and has paid for the victim's college education and the costs of counseling, according to a diocesan spokesman.

Another priest in the Richmond diocese, the Rev. John E. Leonard, is being investigated by Goochland County authorities. Leonard, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen, has been accused of sexual misconduct and abuse by five former students of St. John Vianney Seminary, which closed in 1978. Leonard was on the staff of the all-male high school from 1968 until it closed.

Leonard was removed from St. Michael's during a six-week investigation of the allegations. Since Sullivan reinstated Leonard on June 18, five of the 10-members on the diocesan Sexual Abuse Panel have resigned to protest Leonard's reinstatement without input from the panel.

 
 

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