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  Diocese Defends Its Actions
Says It Sought Victims Abused by Priest

By Paige Akin
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
August 30, 2002

A Catholic church official said the Diocese of Richmond did everything in its power to track down people who were sexually abused by the Rev. John Hesch.

A former lay member last week accused the diocese of ignoring a tip about alleged abuse of two boys by Hesch in the 1990s. Hesch committed suicide in April 1994 before an investigation began.

Diocesan officials did not respond by the deadline for an article published Sunday, in which former Richmond resident Neal Evans accused the church of brushing aside abuse allegations.

The Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, diocese spokesman, said he did not provide a comment from the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan last week because the diocese has been swamped with media inquiries.

Also, he was finalizing the diocese's new sexual-abuse review board and preparing for a news conference Friday to announce its members.

On Monday, Sullivan gave the Times-Dispatch a letter he wrote to Evans, dated July 1994, indicating that the church wanted "to know of any young man who is suffering possible sexual abuse from John Hesch."

Apuzzo said Wednesday the diocese alerted all of its priests and held meetings at the parishes where Hesch had served.

His suicide followed another; a 21-year-old male parishioner at St. Augustine Catholic Church killed himself after he told his parents he had been abused by Hesch.

St. Augustine is the last church Hesch served.

No other victims came forward as a result of the meetings at St. Augustine and Hesch's four other assignments, Apuzzo said. One mother said she suspected Hesch had an inappropriate relationship with her son, but her son was not forthcoming, according to Apuzzo.

Evans, who was active in the diocese until the mid-1990s, never handed over those victims' names, Apuzzo said.

"I spoke to Bishop Sullivan and he told me, 'It's been eight years and he's never given me those two names,' " Apuzzo said.

Evans, who lives in Asheville, N.C., was quoted as saying he gave Sullivan the names. He said yesterday that he offered them but did not follow through because it appeared the church was not interested in pursuing the matter. He said he is still willing to give Sullivan the names.

"I have no problems sharing the names, and didn't then, except for the real concern I have that the diocese would focus on defending the priest, the bishop and the church to the detriment of the boys and their mother," Evans said yesterday.

He said the pastor and several nuns at Sacred Heart church in Big Stone Gap, where Hesch once served, knew the identities of the boys but nothing came of it. Evans also told them about gifts Hesch sent to the boys which arrived after his death.

Sullivan alerted clergy to the allegations about Hesch in a letter dated July 6, 1994. He told them that Hesch denied the allegations but asked the priests to help identify other possible victims so the diocese could provide counseling.

"There is now a strong possibility that these allegations will become public," Sullivan wrote, asking them to keep the letter confidential.

"That doesn't mean he wanted them to keep their mouth shut," Apuzzo said. "Pastors don't operate in a vacuum."

Evans, who received a copy of Sullivan's letter from a clergy member, wrote to Sullivan urging a more-open, proactive approach.

Sullivan responded three weeks later, telling Evans, "The diocese is reaching out to all those parishes where John Hesch was assigned. . . . Any information you can provide will certainly be appreciated."

 
 

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