Ex-Priest Nearing Release from Prison

By Dennis M . Mahoney
The Columbus Dispatch [Maryland]
January 13, 2006

A former priest who served in the Columbus Catholic Diocese for six years will be released from prison in Maryland on Jan. 22 after serving time for sexual abuse.

Francis Benham, 69, was sentenced to 18 months in the Prince George's County Correctional Center last March. He had pleaded guilty to molesting a 13-year-old girl and a 15-yearold boy from 1975 to 1979 while he was pastor of a Roman Catholic church in Forestville, Md.

Benham will be on supervised probation for three years, and his name will be added to the registry of sex offenders in Maryland.

Paula Pettiford, spokeswoman for the correctional center, said Benham is being released now because he was given credit for the time he served before sentencing.

Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney, said that if Benham wants to leave Maryland during his probation, he must get permission from authorities there and in the state to which he is moving. He also could be placed on a sex-offender registry in the new state, he said.

Benham was ordained in 1963 as a priest of the Washington, D.C., Archdiocese. He was removed from ministry in the late 1970s because of a sex-abuse allegation and sent to treatment.

Then-Bishop Edward Herrmann allowed Benham to join the Columbus Diocese in 1979, and he served at St. Nicholas Church in Zanesville and the Community of Holy Rosary/St. John on the South Side.

In 1985, he took a leave of absence but never returned to ministry in the diocese.

Benham's personnel file mentions only that he had "legal problems" and does not include details, the diocese has said. There are no known sex-abuse incidents from his time in the diocese.

He left Columbus and worked as a drug and alcohol counselor in Illinois. He was extradited to Maryland in 2004 on the sexabuse charges.


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