Priest Pleads Innocent to Abusing Boys at Las Vegas-Area Parish

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 16, 2002

A Catholic priest pleaded innocent Tuesday to criminal charges that he hit, fondled and photographed teenage boys he was counseling at his parish.

"Not guilty," the Rev. Mark Roberts told Clark County District Judge Donald Mosley during a brief arraignment and trial-setting hearing in Las Vegas.

Roberts, 51, and his lawyer, George Foley Sr., waived public reading of the accusations against the priest, who was removed from his pastoral duties at a Henderson parish in January.

He is charged with two counts of using boys to produce pornographic photos, felonies that carry a possible sentence of five years each, plus misdemeanor charges of child abuse and open and gross lewdness.

Prosecutors allege that Roberts had the boys take part in apparent rituals of penance during which they were made to stand as if they were on a cross. Roberts is accused of verbal abuse, striking some boys or having them whip themselves with cords, and of massaging boys or having them massage him.

Mosley conferred with Foley and Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich and set trial for May 19, 2003.

Luzaich said later that the judge has a full schedule of other murder and sexual assault trials in coming months.

Roberts and Foley refused comment as they left the courthouse.

Roberts has been free on $13,000 bail, but spent months at facilities outside Nevada for treatment of an undisclosed medical condition. Foley declined to say where Roberts has been living recently.

He was removed from St. Peter the Apostle Church on Jan. 31 and suspended with pay by the Diocese of Las Vegas after six boys reported he molested them. The allegations made Roberts the first Nevada priest accused after a nationwide church sex abuse scandal grew in January.

A Reno priest, Monsignor Robert Bowling, has since taken a leave of absence in response to lawsuits filed by women in Kentucky and in Reno alleging he molested them. Bowling had been pastor at St. Therese the Little Flower Church in Reno since 1974.

Roberts, the Las Vegas diocese and its past and present bishops are also named in a civil lawsuit filed March 22 in Clark County District Court by six young former parishioners. They claim Roberts abused them when they were ages 14 to 17, and the diocese knew or should have known of the abuse.

Nine young males and their families are now plaintiffs in that case, which seeks unspecified monetary damages.

The criminal complaint, filed April 22, is based on allegations by five teens, now ages 17 to 19.


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