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  Ex-Priest Is Given Probation in Porn Case
Victims Group Calls Prosecutor Weak

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post
December 15, 2005

A former Roman Catholic priest at a Leesburg church was sentenced Monday to two years' probation, and not prison time, for attempting to gain access to online child pornography, after Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman (R) made no sentencing recommendation to the judge.

A victims advocacy group had called for Robert C. Brooks, 73, who faced as much as five years in prison, to receive time behind bars for the felony charge. A spokesman for the group said after the hearing at the Loudoun Circuit Court that Plowman should have recused himself from the case because he belongs to St. John the Apostle Roman Catholic Church. Brooks was a minister at the church for 14 years.

Plowman "was a weak and feckless advocate up there," said Paul Steidler, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I don't think the taxpayers of Loudoun County got their money's worth."

Plowman said that he joined the church in summer 2004, shortly before Brooks was charged, and that his membership did not affect his handling of the case.

"I'm not sure what the conflict is. I prosecuted him for the felony. He pleaded guilty to what we could prove, and we left the sentence up to a judge," he said.

Plowman said that Judge Herman A. Whisenant Jr. had access to all relevant information and that there was no reason for Plowman to reiterate the evidence in court or make a recommendation.

"Judges do what they want to do, anyway," he said. "This is an experienced judge. I perfectly respect what his sentence was."

Whisenant, a retired Prince William Circuit Court judge, ruled in the case as a substitute judge.

Authorities said Brooks used a credit card to register for a child pornography Web site in 2003, attracting the attention of federal investigators conducting an international crackdown. He stepped down from his position at the church in October 2004 after Loudoun officials alerted the Diocese of Arlington that he was to be charged, and he pleaded no contest in October of this year to attempted possession of child pornography.

On Monday, Whisenant sentenced Brooks to three years in prison but suspended the sentence in favor of two years of probation. He also ordered Brooks to enroll in a sex-offender treatment program.

"I hope in the future, you can continue to hold yourself out as an example to these people, as you have for so many years in the past," Whisenant told Brooks, noting his many supporters in the courtroom.

Brooks, who was dressed in a dark blazer and a white turtleneck, sat hunched at his table staring at the floor during most of the proceedings. He did not speak, but three current and former parishioners testified to his years of service.

"We celebrated joys and sorrows in our turn. Father always had an ear for us," said Mildred Veltrie, who told the judge she had known Brooks for more than 30 years. "We respected him then, and we respect him now."

Brooks joined the diocese in 1974 and served at churches in Falls Church, Annandale, Vienna and Alexandria before going to Leesburg.

Members of the advocacy group urged Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde to take more aggressive action in looking for children in the diocese who might have been victimized by the priest.

Loverde had said previously that there had been no such allegations against Brooks.

In a letter to Plowman dated Nov. 29, which was entered into the court record before the sentencing, Loverde wrote that an individual had come forward and alleged that Brooks twice exposed himself to a minor, once in 1975 and once in 1976. The man who made those allegations attended Monday's hearing and the advocacy group's news conference.

Loverde wrote that the diocese has informed Fairfax County police of the allegations. No charges have been filed.

 
 

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