Priest Enters Plea in Sex Abuse Cases; 30-Year Term Suspended to Probation

By Schuyler Kropf
The Post and Courier [Charleston SC]
April 25, 2006§ion=localnews

A priest about to go on trial for sexually abusing two Charleston boys nearly 30 years ago will escape prison time under a plea deal reached Monday.

Both victims approved terms of the plea for the Rev. James Nyhan.

But both said they had second thoughts when Nyhan's apology came off sounding short of full remorse.

In brief remarks, Nyhan, 60, said he was sorry for his actions during 1979 and 1980, when he was stationed at the Church of the Nativity on Folly Road.

"I feel badly this colored my otherwise fruitful stay in Charleston," Nyhan added.

"It was pathetic," said one of the victims after sentencing was imposed by Circuit Judge Markley Dennis.

"I still feel that maybe he thinks he didn't do that much harm," the second victim said.

Under terms of the plea, Nyhan admitted guilt to three counts of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. The three counts included acts against a third victim from Nativity whose case was not scheduled to be argued this week.

Nyhan had been charged with committing lewd acts on children under the age of 14.

Nyhan was given a 10-year sentence on each count, but they were suspended in favor of five years of probation.

He'll also have to undergo sex abuse counseling and cannot have any professional or social contact with children, other than members of his family.

Nyhan will not have to register on any sex offender list, either in South Carolina or in his new home state of California.

Nyhan's guilty plea is the seventh involving a priest, coach or teacher in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston who admitted guilt to charges of child sexual abuse before going to trial.

A jury could have been seated as early as today.

Prosecutors said the abuse in Nyhan's case was blatant. Two of the boys were in the eighth grade and one was in the seventh grade.

Some of the incidents occurred in the church rectory, where Nyhan started wrestling with the boys. He then initiated the sexual contact, prosecutors said.

Other abuses occurred during trips to Folly Beach.

Assistant 9th Circuit Solicitor Debbie Herring-Lash said the plea overcame what could have been a difficult prosecution, given there is no physical or scientific evidence from the attacks.

Nyhan was arrested by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office in November 2003 after his name surfaced in the investigation into widespread sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

He had come to Charleston in 1979 when he was granted a year's leave of absence from his duties in Massachusetts.

At the time of the abuse, Nyhan was a visiting associate pastor in charge of altar boys at the church.

Nyhan no longer is serving as a priest. The Boston clergy removed him from active ministry in June 2002 after a man accused him of repeatedly molesting him in the 1970s, according to Boston media reports.

He could not be prosecuted for any distant events in Boston because of Massachusetts' statute of limitations.

One of Nyhan's Charleston victims addressed the court briefly.

"The burden on the victims in these kinds of cases is staggering," he said.

Dennis agreed. "I hope the progress continues in your life," he said.

Two of the victims have filed civil suits against the Diocese of Charleston over the abuse.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or


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