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  Priest Is Acquitted of Fondling at YMCA
The Rev. David T. Lawlor Had Been Accused of Indecently Assaulting Two Men in a Whirlpool Last November

By Kathleen Brady Shea
Philadelphia Inquirer
October 11, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest accused of groping two men at the Upper Main Line YMCA was acquitted of indecent-assault charges yesterday by a Chester County jury.

The Rev. David T. Lawlor, 60, a member of the Norbertine community of priests and brothers who is assigned to Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, declined to comment on the verdict.

His attorney, Samuel C. Stretton, said he was pleased.

"I firmly believed in Father Lawlor's innocence, and the jury reflected that," he said.

The spokesman for Daylesford Abbey, the Rev. John Zagarella, expressed relief at the verdict.

"This has been a very difficult time not only for Father Lawlor but for all involved in this case," he said. "It is in prayer and humility that we accept this verdict, and it is our hope that we can move forward and that Father Lawlor can continue on with his life."

Stretton argued that the allegations were "totally contrary" to Lawlor's life as a parish priest and a teacher at Bishop (now St. John) Neumann High School in Philadelphia, which he also attended.

"For 33 years he has lived a life helping people without incident," Stretton said.

Police said the investigation began after the first victim, described as mentally challenged, reported that Lawlor had touched him indecently in the Y's whirlpool. A notice posted at the Y seeking information about the incident prompted another man to come forward.

The second victim said Lawlor grabbed him inappropriately in the whirlpool the same day - contact he rebuffed.

Easttown Township Police Sgt. David Obzud testified that Lawlor acknowledged being at the Y on Nov. 24 in an initial, voluntary statement, but denied being in the whirlpool. Later, Lawlor said he might have been in the pool but wasn't there with his accuser. Finally, he said that the man was in pain and that he offered to help him by massaging his knee.

"My behavior was compulsive and inappropriate," Obzud said Lawlor told him in a written statement. He testified that Lawlor also told him that he had been a member of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous for 24 years. Lawlor testified at the trial that he meant to say he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Lawlor also testified that he had referred parishioners to an organization called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.

Asked about the discrepancies between his testimony and his written statements to police, Lawlor said he was "incredibly anxious, terrified, and frightened" when interviewed.

"I wanted the 2 1/2-hour interview over," Lawlor testified. "I was not able to think clearly, to respond appropriately."

Miller called Lawlor's explanations "tortured" and said the victims, who subjected themselves to embarrassment, hassles, tension and expense by coming forward, had no reason to lie.

Church officials relieved Lawlor of his "minimal" pastoral duties at the time of his arrest. His current status with the church could be determined last night.

 
 

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