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  Glen Allen Priest Pleads Guilty/ Deal Calls for Him to Get Suspended Jail Sentences and Undergo Evaluation

By Alberta Lindsey
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
January 14, 2004

The Rev. John E. Leonard pleaded guilty yesterday to a pair of misdemeanor assault charges involving two minors who had accused him of sexual misconduct.

The pleas came almost a year and a half after Goochland County authorities began investigating complaints of sexual impropriety against Leonard, pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen.

He was charged yesterday in Goochland Circuit Court with three felony sex offenses, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Edward K. Carpenter. Under a plea agreement, two counts of forcible sodomy were reduced to misdemeanor assault and battery charges, and a third charge of abduction was withdrawn.

Leonard is to be sentenced to consecutive 12-month jail terms, suspended for life, and placed on supervised probation. Sentencing is set for March 30.

Leonard did not admit committing the offenses but acknowledged that a judge or jury could find him guilty based on the evidence the prosecution could present.

The incidents occurred in 1971 and 1974 at St. John Vianney Seminary, then a Catholic Diocese of Richmond high school in Goochland for boys contemplating entering the priesthood. Leonard was a faculty member at the now-closed school.

Leonard, now 65 and a priest for 39 years, joined the St. John's faculty in 1968 and served as rector from 1974 until it closed in 1978. He founded St. Michael in 1992 and has since been the Henrico County church's pastor.

The plea agreement requires Leonard to undergo a psychological evaluation to determine whether he is of further risk as a sexual abuser. Leonard must pay for the evaluation. If treatment is recommended, it will be at Leonard's expense, the agreement states.

Leonard is the sixth priest in the Diocese of Richmond since May 2002 to face accusations of sexual misconduct with a child. He did not return a phone call last night seeking comment.

His attorney, James C. Roberts, said a factor in the plea agreement "was Father John's concerns about the impact [of a trial] on the church."

The Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, who retired in September as bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, declined to comment.

Cardinal William Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore who is governing the Richmond diocese until a new bishop is named, could not be reached for comment on Leonard's status at St. Michael.

The plea agreement, which refers to the victims as W.J. and T.L., says the names of the victims cannot be disclosed without their consent.

In May 2002, three of Leonard's former students told a Diocese of Richmond investigative team he had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior in the 1970s. Sullivan placed the priest on leave from his position as pastor of St. Michael while the allegations were investigated.

In June 2002, against the recommendation of the diocesan sexual-review panel, the bishop reinstated Leonard. At that time, Sullivan said removing Leonard from the ministry was unwarranted.

In an interview with The Times-Dispatch published on July 19, 2002, Sullivan acknowledged that some of Leonard's actions might have been improper but said they were not serious enough to remove him.

Some members of the review panel resigned in protest, and the panel was replaced by a new board.

In August 2002, after a fourth former student made an allegation, Sullivan asked Goochland authorities to investigate Leonard. Carpenter said an investigation could not be made unless complaints were filed by alleged victims. Two former students filed complaints on Aug. 12, 2002.

Last October, a former student, William Bruce Jeter, filed a $5.35 million suit in Virginia Beach Circuit Court against Leonard. The suit alleged that Jeter was sexually abused and assaulted by the priest during the 1973-74 school year.

A diocesan spokesman said after the suit was filed that Jeter had notified the diocese about the alleged abuse in 1996 but had provided different details.

The diocese investigated the allegation but closed its investigation after a psychological evaluation determined there was nothing deviant in Leonard's sexual makeup or personality.

Two witnesses, named by the complainant, also denied seeing anything.

 
 

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