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  2 D.C. Priests Accused of Abuse Dismissed
Cardinal McCarrick Acts under Catholic Bishops' New Zero-Tolerance Policy

By Martin Weil and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post
August 27, 2002

Two prominent Roman Catholic priests from Washington who were accused of sexual abuse have been dismissed from the ministry by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick under a policy approved in June by the nation's bishops, a spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese said last night.

McCarrick revoked the clerical powers of the Rev. Paul E. Lavin, who was pastor of a well-known Capitol Hill parish, and Monsignor Russell L. Dillard, pastor of the historic St. Augustine Church in Northwest. Both had been on suspension since allegations were made against them earlier this year.

The cardinal acted after receiving the report of a panel set up in Washington as part of the policy the nation's bishops adopted in Dallas calling for zero tolerance of sexual abuse of minors. The no-tolerance policy came as an abuse scandal involving priests, which first surfaced in Boston, spread across the country.

Since the Dallas meeting, at least two dozen priests across the county have been removed from the ministry: eight in Chicago, five in Albany, N.Y., and five in Amarillo, Tex. The removals are subject to appeal, and five of the eight Chicago priests have challenged the actions. The total number of dismissals was not known last night.

According to a spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese, allegations against the two priests were considered by a review board appointed by the cardinal. The bishops' policy calls for the creation of review boards to help assess abuse allegations.

Susan Gibbs, the spokeswoman, said the role of the 10-member board includes determining whether allegations are credible, and whether they fall under the provisions of the bishops' policies.

The bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People stipulates that when sexual abuse is established after an "appropriate investigation," offenders will be permanently removed from the ministry, even if only a single incident is involved.

Details of the deliberations of the Washington Archdiocese's panel, which apparently began this month, could not be learned. However, Gibbs said the panel, which includes eight lay people, is empowered to receive all information available to the archdiocese.

Gibbs emphasized last night that church leaders regarded McCarrick's action, taken within the past two weeks, as an "interim step" under church procedures. She said both priests have the right to appeal their dismissals to the Vatican.

As a result, she asserted, "this isn't the final word."

Under the cardinal's action, the two priests are prohibited from celebrating Mass publicly, from dressing as priests or "in any way presenting themselves as priests," Gibbs said. However, she said, while they were removed from the ministry, essentially shorn of their clerical powers, they remain priests. Neither priest could be reached last night.

Two men have told officials of the archdiocese that they were molested by Lavin more than 25 years ago. One was 8 years old and the other 16 at the time of the alleged abuse. The priest was placed on leave July 11 after 11 years as pastor of St. Joseph's, on Second Street NE near the Supreme Court.

Lavin, who is in his late fifties, has said that he "absolutely, categorically" denies the allegations.

Dillard was 54 when he was suspended in March from his duties at St. Augustine after accusations made by Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, 36. She alleged that he kissed and touched her inappropriately when she was in the teen club at St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Northeast Washington from 1979 to 1984. A sister of hers made similar allegations.

Attorney Frederick D. Cooke Jr. said this year that Dillard acknowledged having "a father-daughter relationship" with one of the women. They spent time together, but the priest did not spend "an inordinate time alone with her," Cooke said.

Reached last night, Cooke said that Dillard never was given an opportunity to confront his accusers and offer a point-by-point rebuttal. Cooke called the procedures leading to the dismissal "very curious." Other critics of the new church policy have questioned whether it adequately observes priests' rights to due process.

Cooke said Dillard, who was notified by McCarrick last week of his decision, planned to meet with the cardinal today to discuss his future in the church and whether he should appeal.

Both priests are popular with their congregations. Lavin's parish serves many Roman Catholic members of Congress, and he has spent much of his career in youth ministry.

He was ordained in 1969, founded a Catholic youth retreat program in Maryland in 1970 and became a chaplain at American University in 1979. He served as pastor of Mother Seton parish in Germantown starting in 1987, before going to St. Joseph's.

One of Lavin's accusers, George Kresslein, 45, was told last night by a reporter about the priest's dismissal.

"I guess it's kind of a relief and a vindication to hear this," said Kresslein, who lives in Annandale.

However, he said, "I wish the archdiocese would call me and tell me this, though. I haven't heard from them at all."

Dillard had been pastor of the 140-year-old St. Augustine, at 15th and V streets NW, for 12 years when he was suspended. A native of Washington, he was born into a Baptist family and converted to Catholicism when he was 12. After he was ordained in 1978, he became associate pastor at St. Anthony's in Northeast. In 1987, he was appointed pastor of St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic Church in Northwest, and for a while he served as a chaplain at Howard University.

The congregation at St. Augustine's has been floundering since Dillard left, said Edra Derricks, 82, a member of the parish council.

"The parish stands behind Monsignor Dillard, and we still consider him our leader," Derricks said. "He was well-loved in our parish. We have not condemned him, and his leaving will be a terrific loss."

"What he did, twenty-some years ago, should not displace a man and hurt this parish today," she said. "He was a father figure to that girl, and she misunderstood him."

 
 

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