Ex-Priest Who Abused Teens Going to Jail

By James Washburn
The Courier [Upper Marlboro MD]
March 7, 2005

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — Lincoln resident Francis Benham, a 68-year-old former Catholic priest who pleaded guilty in December to second- and third-degree sex charges dating back to the 1970s, was sentenced to 18 months in jail Friday.

Circuit Judge Michele Hotten officially sentenced Benham to two, 10-year concurrent prison terms stemming from the convictions. But, as part of a plea agreement reached between Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey and Benham’s defense attorney, all but 18 months of the simultaneous prison terms were suspended, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for Ivey.

In addition to the jail term, Benham also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after his discharge from jail and is to refrain from contacting the victims in the case or with any one under the age of 18, Korionoff said.

Hotten also ordered Benhem be clinically evaluated by a member of the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers, he added.

During the hearing, Benham listened to victim impact statements from a 40-year-old Pennsylvania woman and a 42-year-old Maryland man who were the victims of Benham’s sex crimes that occurred between 1977 and ’79 when Benham served as a priest at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Forestville, Md.

The female victim, Donna Benden of Fairfield, Penn., said Friday that Benham forced her to have oral sex and sodomized her during the two-year period that began when she was only 13. According to court documents, Benham forced her to have conventional sex and sodomized her inside the church two to three times a week.

"He was like a mentor to me before anything happened," Benden said in a telephone interview with The Courier. "I also looked to him as God.

"During that whole two years, he had me to believe that it was OK. And, that it was OK with God."

Since the time of the incidents, Benden said she has sought counseling, hoping to resolve her skepticism of trust – especially trusting leaders in organized religion.

"Every area of my life has been affected," she said, adding that she still thinks about the violations everyday as an adult.

"I truly believe in my heart that there are other victims," she said. "And, if there are others – I wish they would come forward."

The Maryland man told police in May that when he was 15, Benham molested him on six occasions inside the church between July 1977 and April 1978, according to court records.

The victims also heard Benham apologize and publicly admit to all the allegations.

Lincoln police arrested Benham in June on a Prince George’s County, Md. arrest warrant. He worked at several Catholic churches on the East Coast from 1963, when he became ordained as a priest, until he moved to central Illinois in 1987.


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