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  Priest Convicted on Child Porn Charge Gets No Jail Time

By Matthew Barakat
WVEC.com
December 12, 2005

A Catholic priest convicted earlier this year on a child pornography charge received no jail time Monday after the prosecutor — who was a parishoner at the priest's former church — failed to seek a jail term.

Robert Brooks, 73, who had been a priest of St. John the Apostle in Leesburg, pleaded no contest in October to a count of attempting to possess child pornography.

Authorities said they searched his computer and found more than 100 images of child pornography; prosecutors said they allowed Brooks to plead guilty to a lesser charge because they could not prove the pornographic images actually depicted minors.

Circuit Judge Herman Whisenant sentenced Brooks to two years of probation and a three-year suspended prison sentence at Monday's hearing, at which Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Plowman made no recommendation to the judge on sentencing.

Plowman, an elected official, said after the hearing that he was satisfied with the judge's sentence and he saw no reason to make a recommendation on sentencing.

"Judges do what they want to do anyway," Plowman said.

Plowman acknowledged that he is a parishioner at St. John but said he joined the church in the summer of 2004, meaning Brooks was his pastor for only a few months. Plowman said he did not see a conflict in taking the case.

"Just because I'm Catholic doesn't mean I need to recuse myself in every case involving a Catholic," he said.

Plowman said parishioners at the church have been very supportive of his handling of the case, including his decision to bring charges last year.

Brooks had numerous supporters in attendance at Monday's hearing, including several who testified on his behalf.

Another prosecutor in the office had been handling the case, but Plowman took over the case last week when that prosecutor moved to California, Plowman said.

Mark Serrano, a Loudoun County resident and board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was disappointed in the judge's sentence and in prosecutors' handling of the case.

"The only way children will be safe from Father Brooks is if he is behind bars," Serrano said.

Brooks' sentencing came just after a Flagstaff, Ariz., man came forward with allegations of misconduct against Brooks that he said occurred 30 years ago. The man, Frank Bohan, said Brooks exposed himself once to Bohan when he was 13 and that Brooks tried to get Bohan to frolic naked with him on a youth group beach trip when he was 14.

"I don't think for a second that I'm the first, last or only victim of Father Brooks," Bohan said.

Bohan, who attended Monday's sentencing, was also disappointed with the outcome and said he offered to testify for prosecutors at the sentencing hearing.

"It's clear to me that the commonwealth's attorney doesn't have the stomach to get to the truth," Bohan said.

Plowman said it would have been inappropriate for Bohan to testify and that he had no way to corroborate the allegation. But Plowman said he made sure the judge was aware of Bohan's claims.

Brooks did not speak at the hearing and declined to comment afterward.

Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde, who wrote a letter to the judge on Brooks' behalf, issued a statement Monday saying that he had recently been made aware of the new allegations against Brooks and passed them on to authorities.

"The diocese will also conduct its own investigation of the allegations," Loverde said. "As this investigation is in its preliminary stages, the diocese has not made any final determination as to the merit of the allegations."

Loverde suspended Brooks from his priestly duties last year.

Bohan said he told prosecutors and the diocese of his allegations in late November; prior to that, the diocese said it had not received any other allegations of misconduct.

Serrano said Loverde has been negligent on the Brooks case and in similar cases for failing to aggressively seek out potential victims of sex abuse by priests.

 
 

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