Masses and sacramental ministry to end at St. Benedict Parish

Catholic Review - Archdiocese of Baltimore [Baltimore MD]

November 4, 2023

By Christopher Gunty

Masses and sacramental ministry at St. Benedict Parish in Baltimore will end Nov. 15, according to a joint announcement Nov. 4 to the parish by the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa., and the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

No new pastor will be named for the parish, the announcement said, limiting the ministries that could continue in the future. “The difficult decision was made based on the limited number of clergy available for this ministry,” the announcement said.

St. Benedict Church is owned and operated by the St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pa.

The decision affects Masses, dispensation of the sacraments, sacramental preparation and worship services. 

The action was precipitated by the removal from ministry Oct. 15 of Benedictine Father Paschal Morlino, who had served the Southwest Baltimore parish for nearly 40 years, from July 1984 to October 2023. At the time of his removal from ministry, Father Morlino returned to his religious community in Pennsylvania. 

The Baltimore Banner reported in mid-October that Father Morlino acknowledged he had entered into a financial settlement with a man who accused him of sexual assault, although the priest denied the allegation. Neither the archdiocese nor the Benedictines had been informed of the settlement before receiving an inquiry from the Banner. 

The archdiocese also had received in 2018 a third-party allegation of sexual harassment of a different adult male, which could not be corroborated because the man was deceased.

The decision to end sacramental ministry to St. Benedict was first announced at the Saturday vigil Mass at the parish Nov. 4. The announcement was to be made at the two Sunday Masses as well.

About 35 people attended the vigil Mass. According to records shared by the parish with the archdiocese, St. Benedict has 681 registered families totaling 1,104 people. Average weekend Mass attendance reported by the parish is 104.

Before the Saturday Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Bruce A. Lewandowski, C.Ss.R., urban vicar, and other members of the archdiocesan staff met with parish leaders to discuss other options for parishioners to worship.

They have been served recently by Father Agapitus Businge, a Ugandan priest who assisted at the parish several years ago while studying in Washington, D.C. Father Businge will not be available after Nov. 15.

In a homily at the vigil Mass Nov. 4, Deacon Jacob Martini alluded to the parish’s struggles, noting that in the midst of confusion, “whatever we might feel, we cannot let it shake our discipleship in Jesus Christ.”

He added, “The Word of God is founded ultimately on Jesus Christ, the deepest desire of our hearts.” Deacon Martini is studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg.

The announcement from the archdiocese and the Benedictines, read at the end of Mass by Deacon Cliff Britton, a permanent deacon at St. Benedict, said, “We understand that this news comes at a difficult time for the parishioners. An outreach team will be available to assist parishioners and if they wish, help them receive Catholic pastoral services at nearby parishes” including Transfiguration Catholic Community; St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish, Irvington; St. William of York, Ten Hills; Our Lady of Victory, Arbutus; and St. Edward.

The announcement also said that the Benedictines of St. Vincent Archabbey “have engaged the parish’s dedicated volunteers and have formulated a plan to continue various community outreach programs at the Benedictine-owned campus,” among them Benedict’s Pantry, WVTO Radio, St. Philomena Homeschool, Lumina Theatre Evangelization, Head Start, and the basketball camp as well as providing meeting space for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Southwestern District Police, the Mill Hill Neighborhood Association and Violetville Senior Bingo.

At the same Masses, Deacon Britton read another announcement, which said that the Archdiocese of Baltimore is investigating a separate allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by Father Morlino, which had surfaced after he was removed from ministry on the financial matter. That removal was unrelated to any allegation of child abuse.

“Upon receiving the allegation late last week, the archdiocese immediately reported it to law enforcement. Archdiocesan policy requires the archdiocese to cooperate with any investigation by law enforcement and also to conduct an investigation. Pursuant to archdiocesan policy, Father Paschal remains ineligible to serve in Catholic ministry in the archdiocese,” the announcement said.

“After receiving permission to proceed from law enforcement authorities, the archdiocese has now commenced an investigation.”

The second announcement noted that in accordance with archdiocesan policy, counseling assistance is available to those affected by child sexual abuse. It noted that the incident allegedly occurred in or about 1993, when Father Morlino was pastor of St. Benedict.

“This matter is in an early stage of investigation, and thus no determination of credibility has been made by the archdiocese at this time,” the announcement said, “however, the archdiocese is making this communication in order to solicit any relevant information as part of its investigation and in order to fulfill its commitment to open communication with affected communities.”

The Archdiocese of Baltimore is committed to protecting children and helping to heal victims of abuse and urges anyone who has any knowledge of any child sexual abuse to contact law enforcement “and, if clergy or other church personnel is suspected of committing the abuse, we ask that you also call the Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection at 1-866-417-7469. If you have any other information relevant to this matter, please contact the Archdiocese Office of Child and Youth Protection at 410-547-5348.”

After the Mass, many parishioners declined to speak on the record to the Catholic Review, although many expressed heartbreak, anger and sadness.

Leon Pettaway, a Woodlawn resident who graduated from the school at St. Benedict Parish in 1979 before graduating from nearby Mount St. Joseph in 1983, said, “It’s sad. I just wish a miracle wold happen. But sometimes nature just takes its course.”

He said he was in a state of shock, and will probably find another Catholic church in which to worship.

“My church family (at St. Benedict) will all be split apart. I’ll just keep the prayers going,” he said.

Read the joint statement here and read the statement concerning Father Morlino here.

Email Christopher Gunty at