George Hosting Accused Priest
Charged in Abuse, Delaware Cleric Is Consultant Here
By Cathleen Falsani
February 28, 2003
Last spring, in the midst of the worst clergy sex abuse scandal ever faced by the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, Chicago's Cardinal Francis George began receiving an unusual house guest.
The Rev. Kenneth J. Martin, 57, a priest from the Wilmington (Del.) Diocese who in 2001 was charged criminally with sexually abusing a high school boy in Maryland in the 1970s, has stayed at the cardinal's mansion on North State Parkway about one week a month since last May. That was when he began consulting for a publishing house owned by the Chicago Archdiocese.
Reached by phone at the cardinal's residence Thursday evening, Martin said the charges filed against him by prosecutors in Baltimore County, Md., in June 2001--which included child abuse, sex offense and perverted practice charges--were adjudicated in December 2001 and that he has been on "pre-judgment probation" ever since.
"I don't know all the details myself," George said late Thursday. "[Martin] mentioned it to me when I first asked him if he would be able to act as a consultant [for Liturgy Training Publications]. He said, you know, 'This is the situation.' And I called his bishop, and his bishop said, 'He's a priest in good standing,' and I said, 'OK.'
"If he's a priest in good standing, I don't think his bishop thinks he's a threat, and his bishop is a responsible man, in my experience with him. [Martin] is doing a certain limited job here, and he's doing it well," George said, adding that Martin does not have contact with children at the publishing house, even though it is next door to St. Mary of the Angels elementary school.
Martin was ordained a priest for the Wilmington Diocese in 1989 and was a lay teacher at the time the alleged abuse took place at Loyola Blakefield Catholic High School in suburban Baltimore. One of Martin's former students, a man who is now 40, has accused Martin of abusing him from his sophomore year in 1977 until he was a senior.
Officials at the Wilmington Diocese could not be reached for comment Thursday. But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who is familiar with the Martin case, said a new clergy sex abuse policy approved by the Vatican late last year does not pertain to offenses or allegations that took place before the men were priests.
"At the same time, canon law makes it very clear that a bishop can remove someone from ministry if he feels the person is unsuitable for ministry," Walsh said.
The new church law says a priest who has abused may not represent himself as a priest, wear clerical garb or call himself "Father," and may be removed permanently from ministry or even the priesthood itself after a church trial.
Martin, who served as associate director of the secretariat for the liturgy for the U.S. bishops in 2000, said he voluntarily asked for a leave from active ministry when he was charged with the abuse in 2001, to avoid "bringing scandal to the church." He says the Wilmington bishop has not limited his ministry.
"The allegations occurred completely prior to my priesthood," Martin said, declining on the advice of his attorney to comment further on the allegations against him.
"The court has determined there is no guilt," he said, referring to a letter he said his attorney has sent to him explaining how the charges against him were handled. Attempts to reach officials at the Baltimore County state's attorney's office were unsuccessful. Martin declined to divulge his attorney's name.
"I have no probation agent to whom I report, I was given no fine, no restitution or no other sanction. The only condition of probation was that I remain law-abiding," Martin said. He said he could not recall whether he ever entered a plea to the charges in court. He is not a registered sex offender.
Martin holds doctoral degrees in Spanish and theology and is considered an expert in the field of Spanish-language liturgy.
"This man has an expertise that is very, very useful, the best in the country," George said, adding that he had been searching for an expert to beef up Hispanic liturgy at the archdiocese-owned publishing house. "He's not working with people, he's working with texts," and "is not in public ministry nor will he be in the Archdiocese of Chicago."
Advocates for victims of clergy abuse see Martin's presence in the archdiocese, and at George's home, in a much different light.
"To me, that is such a powerful statement and such a depressing statement," said David Clohessy, national president of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "You can molest a child and still be considered a priest in good standing and enjoy the favor of one of the church's most high princes."
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