Fourth Priest under Scrutiny
Roanoke Pastor Accused of Abuse

By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
August 27, 2002

A Catholic priest in Roanoke is the fourth in the Richmond Diocese to come under scrutiny after allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Steven R. Rule, pastor of St. Andrew Catholic Church in Roanoke since 1993, was placed on administrative leave Sunday and will be the first case referred to the diocese's new sexual-abuse review board, a diocese spokesman said yesterday.8/26>

Rule, 53, was slated to become pastor of St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Chesterfield County next month. He now is undergoing inpatient evaluation at an undisclosed facility, said the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, the diocese spokesman.

According to sources, Rule's case is the third to involve alleged incidents at St. John Vianney Seminary, a former all-male Catholic high school in Goochland County.

In Rule's case, the alleged victim is now an adult and made the allegation to the diocese for the first time recently, Apuzzo said. After a preliminary review, the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the diocese, put Rule on administrative leave.

Apuzzo declined to say when or where the alleged sexual misconduct took place or how old the alleged victim was at the time. Other sources said the incident involved a teenage student at St. John Vianney.

Rule was on the seminary's faculty from 1975 until it closed in 1978.

Apuzzo said the diocese will handle the allegation in accord with recently revised regulations that are in line with the Dallas Charter, adopted in June by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Rule will remain on leave while the sexual-abuse review board examines and responds to the claim.

The board will have input into what information about Rule's case will be made public, Apuzzo said. Since Sullivan is the final judge in the diocesan review process, the bishop will not comment on any allegations.

Sullivan, who was out of town yesterday,8/26> will hand over the allegation to the review board when it holds its first meeting in early September, Apuzzo said.

Parishioners at St. Andrew in Roanoke were taken aback by the accusation against Rule.

"I had heard no flickers of this at all," said Harold Haley, a retired doctor and member of the church for seven years. "But it's a crazy world and anything can happen."

Rule built a reputation for his ability to form youth groups and for his work with church youth in the Roanoke parish and in parishes elsewhere in Virginia, Haley said.

Wilson McCoy, 72, who has attended St. Andrew since moving to Roanoke from Italy in 1947, said she was dumbfounded when she cq> learned of the allegation.

"I never dreamed it would happen in Roanoke, not to the Rev. Rule," she said. "Not him.

"I can't say anything bad about him. The only thing I can say is that I was mad when he moved the choir from the loft to the front of the church, but that's the only thing. This has really shocked me. I'm so nervous, I can't even concentrate."

In addition to his stint at St. John Vianney, Rule held other positions in the Richmond area. He was campus minister at the University of Richmond and director of the diocesan high school vocations program in 1978-79. He was deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes for five months in 1975.

Three other cases in the Richmond Diocese have surfaced in recent months.

*The Rev. John E. Leonard has been accused of sexual misconduct by five former St. John Vianney students. Leonard was rector of the seminary during the time Rule taught there. Sullivan temporarily suspended Leonard from his post as pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen, then reinstated him after looking into the allegations. Leonard is being investigated by Goochland authorities.

*The Rev. Julian Goodman was forced to retire by Sullivan for sexually abusing a former student at St. John Vianney when Goodman was on the faculty in the 1970s. The abuse continued after the priest became pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in Colonial Heights.

*The Rev. John Paul Blankenship was forced to retire by Sullivan for sexual abuse of a 14-year-old boy in 1982 when Blankenship was pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Prince George County. On Aug. 20, a county grand jury indicted Blankenship on four counts of sodomy involving a juvenile.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.