Catholic Priest Accused of Sexually Assaulting an Altar Boy

United Press International
August 1, 1986

A Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting an altar boy committed suicide Friday because he wanted to be "a dead memory rather than a living symbol and disgrace."

Officials at the St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman said they found the body of Father Jonathan Franklin, 61, at 7:30 a.m. Friday lying on a path he walked daily during meditations. Coroner Rocky Terry said Franklin died from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Franklin was arrested March 25 in Pensacola, Fla. on charges that he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old boy, authorities said. Escambia County Sheriff's Department Lt. Don Parker said the youth was an altar boy.

Franklin was set to go on trial next week on second degree charges of lewd acts involving the boy, whom he met through St. Anne's Church in Pensacola where he was temporarily assigned, said assistant state prosecutor Randy Hensel.

Hensel said the original charge of sexual abuse was changed because there was "no actual intercourse."

Officials at St. Bernard said monks at the abbey found a handwritten note with the body. They said because Catholicism treats suicide as a sin, Franklin apparently left the note to apologize.

"My friends, the presumed guilty are an embarrassment, the dead are soon forgotten," the note said. "So I take the liberty of being a dead memory rather than a living symbol and disgrace to the church, to my brothers."

"His love and compassion tells me that perhaps this is the opportune time. I suffer from no lack of faith," the note said. "For indeed, I have faith that He will have mercy on me for being presumptious that now is the time he is calling me home.

"I never thought of myself as saintly or the perfect candidate for heaven.

But I have always been satisfied with being completely honest in all that I had done and in trying my best to live as Jesus said we ought," the note read.

The suicide shocked the residents of the monastery who had lived with Franklin since 1975, but few knew of the charges facing the priest.

"He had been in a deep depression of late," said Prior Kevin McGreth, Franklin's supervisor, who was unaware of the charges. "I find it inconceivable that Father Jonathan would ever do something to hurt someone. I always knew Father Jonathan to be a man of prayer and compassion who went out of his way to help others."

McGreth said the abbey was "shocked and saddened greatly by such a tragedy."

Franklin was born in Savannah, Ga. He attend Maris Brothers High School in Savannah before entering the seminary at Saint Bernard, and was a merchant Marine in World War II.

Abbey spokesman Bro. Lawrence Bouchea said Franklin was a priest in Savannah, Atlanta and Alexandria, La. before he joined St. Bernard. He served as physical plant manager for the now-defunct Southern Benedictine College in Cullman and was director of the abbey's retreat center.

"I call you all my dear friends as I feel you are a truly important part of my life ... even now, wherever I might be," the note said. "It was people like you who made my life really worth living. There was so much kindness, compassion and understanding from all of you that I am now sorry for any disappointment or embarrassment that this act might cause.

"I hope I have answered all your questions in this note," the note read.

"I hope none of you will ever be accused in such a way or have to face such a situation in your life."


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