Beach Priest Forced to Quit over Sexual Misconduct
Five Claim Sexual Incidents Occurred
By Steven G. Vegh and Christina Nuckols
August 2, 2003
A Virginia Beach Catholic priest who was accused by five people of sexual misconduct has been forced by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan to resign from the priesthood, a diocesan spokesman announced Friday at a Richmond news conference.
The Rev. Dwight E. Shrader, who led St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Sandbridge, is undergoing therapy at an unidentified institution outside Virginia, said the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, who is Sullivan's spokesman.
Shrader, 47, is the fourth priest in 12 months to be expelled by Sullivan for sexual misconduct.
Four of Shrader's five accusers were under 18 at the time the alleged incidents of misconduct occurred, Apuzzo said. Four of the five also are male. The incidents are alleged to have occurred between two and six years ago. The accusers now range in age from 19 to the mid-20s.
Although some of the incidents involved physical contact, a majority consisted of "sexually charged conversations inappropriate for any adult to be having with a child," Apuzzo said.
He declined to describe the physical contact, but said neither intercourse nor oral sex was involved.
All of the accusers lived in Virginia Beach at the time of the misconduct, and some were parishioners at St. John.
None of the alleged incidents or accusers had any connection with the parochial school located on the church grounds on Sandbridge Road.
The diocese began investigating Shrader in May after receiving a complaint about misconduct alleged to have occurred two years earlier. At the urging of the diocesan Review Board set up last year to examine such complaints, Sullivan put Shrader on leave June 5, pending completion of the investigation.
Apuzzo said media reports of Shrader's involuntary leave prompted four more individuals to call the diocese with allegations against Shrader. Members of the board interviewed each accuser.
Shrader also was interviewed. "He basically told us the characterizations that were being made in terms of the pattern of behavior were correct," Apuzzo said.
The Review Board limited its investigation to ascertaining that the alleged incidents had actually occurred. It did not try to determine whether Shrader broke any laws, and the diocese has not contacted law enforcement officials about the priest.
Apuzzo said none of the accusers has indicated any intention to file a civil lawsuit or criminal complaint against Shrader.
A letter from the bishop announcing Shrader's resignation will be read to St. John parishioners this weekend. The parish will be assigned a new priest by Labor Day weekend, Apuzzo said.
Shrader was a hard-working priest: He oversaw the founding of St. John, including construction of the church, rectory and a parochial school. The parish now has 2,000 households.
The allegations against Shrader in June shot pain and disbelief throughout the parish.
"It's been a blow," said Deacon Vernon Krajeski, who has been the interim parish administrator.
To help parishioners recover, St. John held a day of prayer and fasting, with special Masses.
"That day did a great deal toward bringing about healing in the parish," Krajeski said.
Tom Fraim, a co-founder of St. John who chairs the parish finance council, noted that attendance and financial contributions had remained steady.
"Then you reach today, and you hear what the conclusion is, and it's another emotional roller coaster," Fraim said.
Fraim said his first concern was for the accusers.
He added: "I hurt not just for Dwight Shrader, but for all of the parishioners - all the people I go to church with, people who are affected by this, people who had no control over it, who now find themselves in a position of having to make excuses," he said.
Sullivan confirmed last August that abusive clergy were a problem in the Richmond diocese when he expelled two priests from ministry. Each admitted he had sexually abused a boy years earlier.
In September, Sullivan forced the priest at St. Luke Catholic Church in Virginia Beach into retirement, citing accounts of sexual misconduct involving minors.
Wayne Koch, a Portsmouth Catholic who is the regional representative of Voice of the Faithful, praised the diocese's handling of the complaints against Shrader.
Voice of the Faithful is a national Catholic reform group formed in Massachusetts last year in response to revelations that Catholic leaders shielded known child abusers.
"We took immediate and appropriate action. There doesn't appear to be any cover-up. That is wonderful," Koch said.
But he also wondered if the Shrader case demonstrates that the full extent of abuse by clergy in the diocese still may not be known.
"Hopefully, this is the sum total, but you never know - it might be the tip of the iceberg."
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