Allegations Are Not First Made against Priests with St. John's Connection

By Ron Cassie
August 25, 2009

Recent allegations of sexual abuse against former Frederick priest Thomas Bevan are not the first involving a priest with a connection to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

According to an Archdiocese of Baltimore list of clergy accused of child sexual abuse, pastor Frederick Duke, now deceased, admitted to sexually abusing minors between 1949 and 1961. He was a St. John the Evangelist pastor.

Duke served at the Shrine of the Little Flower in Northeast Baltimore during those years before moving to St. Mary's in Lonaconing.

Duke served at St. John the Evangelist from 1967 to 1971.

He also later served at three other parishes, including St. Mark's Catholic Church in Catonsville, before retiring in 1987.

Bevan, a monsignor at St. Patrick's in Cumberland, has been removed from duties pending the investigation. Ordained in 1963, Bevan served at St. John the Evangelist from 1974 to 1979. He served at four parishes before moving to St. Patrick's.

Previously, in 2005, the Archdiocese of Baltimore investigated an allegation by another Frederick individual alleging child sexual abuse by Bevan dating back to 1974.

"(With the earlier allegation) we didn't feel like we had enough evidence," said Sean Caine, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. "At the time, the information was looked at by our review board and turned over to police, who also didn't feel there was enough evidence. Obviously, in light of the new allegations that is being revisited."

Both allegations were made by former male students at St. John's Catholic School at the time Bevan served in Frederick and their stories share similarities, Caine said.

Caine said allegations against Bevan will be shared with St. John's adult members at services this weekend.

"Our focus is to get the information out to the parishes (where Bevan served), make an announcement, provide a statement of allegations, and find out if there are any people with information about victims or these allegations," Caine said.

Bevan has denied abuse in both circumstances.

Separate from the Bevan accusations and Duke admissions, in 2005, Laura Halford, a former student at St. John's Prospect Hall, came forward with allegations she'd been molested in 1980 by an Irish priest while on retreat with her confirmation class in Western Maryland. Caine said Halford's allegations were investigated and forwarded to the state's attorney, but that the identity of the priest allegedly involved in the abuse was never learned.

The Rev. Richard Murphy, pastor at St. John the Evangelist, said he was aware of the allegations and previous admission of sexual abuse by Duke, who had married Murphy's parents at The Shrine of the Little Flower.

"I think honesty and transparency is the best thing we can do, while at same time taking into account people's reputations are involved," Murphy said, regarding the church's handling of such accusations. "I think the Archdiocese is trying to get the truth out and protect people the best they can."

Frank Dingle with the Baltimore chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was a member of St. Mark's in Catonsville while Duke served there. Dingle described him as a very spiritual person "like a Mother Theresa" -- and found the allegations difficult to believe until he read thank-you letters from more than one-half dozen adults after Duke's name was removed from a local drum and bugle corps hall-of-fame.

Dingle said SNAP has the names of 185 priests accused of sexual abuse in Maryland from the Baltimore and Washington Archdiocese and the Archdiocese of Wilmington, Del., which oversees Catholic parishes on the Eastern Shore.

A study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, requested by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found more than 4,300 priests accused of abuse from 1950 to 2002 when a Boston Globe series brought the abuse scandal to light.

Charlie Diffinbaugh, a member of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Ijamsville and a member of the Child Victim's Voice of Maryland, said although there are no limitations on criminal statutes involving child sexual abuse, it's important to note that recourse through civil claims ends once a victim reaches age 25.

Diffinbaugh said allegations such as those made against Bevan can be difficult for prosecutors to move forward on two or three decades after the fact. He supports legislation introduced in the General Assembly in the past lifting the statute of limitations on civil claims.

"Sexual abuse and the damage it causes to young people doesn't manifest itself for decades," Diffinbaugh said. "It's like asbestos disease in that way. As a juvenile, you don't fully understand what the abuse is doing to your psyche. It's not until you are an adult, that you begin to realize what has taken place, and then are able to come forward."


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