Former Md. Priest Accused of Abusing 2 Teens in '70s

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post
July 3, 2004

A 67-year-old Illinois man who left ministry as a Roman Catholic priest about two decades ago has been arrested on charges of sexually molesting a teenage boy and girl when he was still a priest and serving as pastor of a Forestville parish in the 1970s, Prince George's County and Washington Archdiocese officials said.

Francis A. Benham was charged with second- and third-degree sex offenses June 25 by Prince George's police, court records show.

He was arrested June 29 by Lincoln, Ill., city police, the Lincoln Courier newspaper reported. He is scheduled to appear in Logan County Circuit Court on Tuesday for an extradition hearing, according to Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.

According to papers filed by police in Prince George's County District Court, Benham allegedly kissed, undressed and sexually aroused a 15-year-old boy at Church of the Holy Spirit in Forestville on about six occasions between July 1977 and April 1978.

Benham also is charged with sodomizing and having oral sex with a 13-year-old girl at the same church two or three times a week from April 1977 to April 1979.

Thomas Funk, an attorney for Benham, said he did not want to discuss the case until he had gotten permission to do so from his client, who is being held at an Illinois jail.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Washington Archdiocese, said Benham, who was ordained in 1963, became pastor of Holy Spirit in 1975. After an allegation was made against him in 1979 -- involving the sexual abuse of the minor girl -- the archdiocese removed him from ministry and sent him for counseling. At the time, the archdiocese did not report the allegation to county police.

Benham was transferred to the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, which was informed that an allegation of child abuse had been made against him, Gibbs said. Sometime after that, Benham abandoned the ministry and stopped working as a priest, she added.

The Washington Archdiocese received another allegation against Benham in 1995, relating to an accusation that abuse occurred in 1970-71. Gibbs said that allegation and the one made in 1979 were reported to county police in 1995 after the archdiocese did a review of its personnel files in order to forward to police information about all past allegations of child abuse made against its priests.

When a third allegation against Benham was made to the archdiocese in the spring, involving the 15-year-old boy, it was reported to Prince George's police, Gibbs said.

Benham, who now works as a caterer, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the second-degree sex offense charge.


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