Filing Reveals Earlier Incident
By Glenn Puit
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
December 29, 2004
Six years before his 2002 arrest for the sexual abuse of five boys, former Henderson priest Mark Roberts was in trouble with church leaders over an incident involving a young man, according to a civil deposition Roberts gave earlier this year.
Around 1996, Roberts said, he was the subject of a church investigation into accusations he inappropriately touched a young man in a shower. The young man was homeless and had requested help washing his clothes, and Roberts took the young man to some apartments where Roberts was staying.
'I asked him to take off his clothes, I would go wash them for him in the washing machine, and that he could take a shower. ... I bought him a scrub brush for his back and different shampoo and different things that he wanted,' Roberts said.
'The door of the bathroom was ajar, and so I went inside and I started washing him,' Roberts said.
Roberts said the young man reported the incident to then-Vicar General Patrick Leary, who placed Roberts on administrative leave as pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Henderson.
Roberts denied the accusations, and he threatened to appeal any discipline to the church's highest officials in Rome.
Roberts was sent for treatment and counseling.
'If they were going to accept the word of a homeless young man over mine as a priest of the diocese who had never had anything said about him before ... then I was going to take the case to a canonical court or to Rome,' Roberts said.
'They didn't have the goods on me to remove me as pastor, that if this case went to Rome, I would win,' Roberts said.
In 2002, Roberts was arrested on charges he abused five boys while working at the Henderson church. He pleaded guilty in January 2003 to lewdness and child abuse, and in a plea agreement with the district attorney's office, he received three years of probation.
Roberts' victims in the criminal case and four other young men have sued Roberts and church leaders.
An attorney for the victims, Al Massi, said Tuesday that Roberts' deposition showed the church knew it had a problem with Roberts long before his arrest.
'I believe they handled this the way they handled these type of cases nationally, which is hope that no one would discover this growing cancer,' Massi said. 'They only came forward when they were forced to come forward.'
But Don Campbell, an attorney for Leary, who is now monsignor, said that is incorrect.
'Monsignor Leary took this as far he could possibly take it,' Campbell said of attempts to have Roberts disciplined.
In the deposition, Roberts said 'if I revealed what I had done ... I would have been forced to leave the priesthood and would have been penniless, out on the street.'
Roberts said he understood that the church had no tolerance for inappropriate behavior and that, after the 1996 incident, he was not allowed to return to work until he received clearance from a mental health professional.
'Mark Roberts stated he lied repeatedly to him (Leary) and that he personally disliked Monsignor Leary for pursuing this as diligently and aggressively as he did,' Campbell said. 'I think it speaks volumes. Monsignor Leary placed his own reputation and ecclesiastical position in jeopardy by pursuing him so vigorously, and his thanks for that has been a lawsuit.'
The deposition was taken from Roberts on March 24 and was obtained by the Review-Journal on Tuesday.
In the 141-page document, Roberts described how he carried out bizarre, sexually-themed rituals against the teens.
He told some of his victims to get down on their knees with their arms out as if they were on the cross. That, Roberts said, would serve as penance for their sins.
'I had them take off their shirt and whip themselves with a shoelace,' Roberts said. 'I had a plastic knife, and I would have them close their eyes and I would threaten them with a plastic knife.
'I would like run it down their chest, so they would think I'm threatening them with a knife,' Roberts said.
Roberts said that he slapped at least one boy and that another boy was subjected to a penance after he told Roberts he had observed homosexual images on the Internet.
'I told him this was very dangerous and how would he like to be exploited as those boys were exploited on those Internet sites,' Roberts said. 'And so, at that time, I took photos of him asking him to mimic what he had seen on those sites.'
Roberts said the penances were intended to cure the boys of their sinful behavior.
'The boys were looking at pornography or visiting nude bars,' Roberts said. 'And to get them out of the action that they were doing, I wanted to produce shame, so that they would feel how their victims felt.'
Roberts acknowledged 'there was some sexual gratification' in his dealings with the boys.
'I said to them if at any time you feel uncomfortable, you stop,' Roberts said of the rituals.
Roberts said he paid some of the boys $20 to give him massages. 'I would always leave on my gym shorts and it was everywhere around my body except for my gym shorts,' Roberts said. 'It would be like when I would go to a regular masseuse.'
Roberts described in the deposition how he worked for nearly 22 years as a pastor in New Guinea, which was racked by civil war.
'In being a pastor in New Guinea, you would have persons who were mentally deranged,' he said. 'Spheres were thrown at me, arrows shot at me ... because I was doing human rights work with Amnesty International. ... I was beaten unconscious for this same reason by the rebels.'
Roberts said he and others with the Roman Catholic Church had to escape from New Guinea because of the violence.
'I had been hiding out in an abandoned nuns convent because I knew both the Army and the rebels were after me,' Roberts said. 'The Army pulled off the island and put the island under blockade, naval blockade, neither allowing anyone on or off. And so it was New Year's Day of 1991 that a young man took me on a speed boat to the Solomon Islands. So we ran the blockade of the ships.'
Roberts closed out his deposition by apologizing for his actions in Las Vegas.
'I apologize to the victims, to their parents, to the Diocese ... all of you trusted me and I betrayed that trust,' Roberts said. 'I have done great wrong and great harm to this Diocese.'
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