St. John's Members Say Embattled Priest Was Well-Liked

By Ron Cassie
August 30, 2009

Recent allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Thomas Bevan are difficult to reconcile for local Catholics who knew him as a priest at St. John the Evangelist in Frederick in the mid-1970s.

Several St. John the Evangelist members recalled the former associate pastor as an intellectual, remembering the book he wrote about the history of the Catholic community in Frederick . One former altar boy who worked with Bevan said he was shocked by the allegations, recalling him as "the cool priest" who was also involved in the local Boy Scouts program.

Bevan, now 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.

Thomas Geraghty, who served as an altar boy for Bevan for half a dozen years, said he would never believe the allegations "in a million years."

Geraghty said as an altar boy "there was no one else you wanted to work with." He describing Bevan, who worked closely with his Scouting group, as "a very patient person."

At the time, in contrast to the Rev. Gerald LaPorta, whom Geraghty described as stern, Bevan was well-liked by most of the students at St. John's parish school.

"He never once ever acted weird," Geraghty said, adding it would take a lot to convince him the allegations were true.

However, the man alleging the abuse said it occurred on a number of separate occasions in the mid-1970s while he was a student at the parish school.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the recent allegations are similar to accusations made by another former male student in 2005.

In an e-mail, longtime St. John's parishioner Leslie Nuse described Bevan as "a great priest." She remembered the book he completed in 1977, "220 years ... The History of the Catholic Community of the Frederick Valley," which is in the library at the Historical Society of Frederick County, and she thinks it took up quite a bit of his time.

Nuse said Bevan also helped teach adult religious education classes for non-Catholics who wished to convert. She said Bevan and the Rev. E. Joseph Cote, another priest who formerly served as St. John's, taught her husband at the time. She went to the classes and to get to know the priest "a little better than just saying hi after church."

"It actually was a shock to me to read about Fr. Bevan in the newspaper," Nuse wrote. Everyone has their faults; they just aren't made public, she said.

"I just thought he was a great priest," she wrote.

Robert and Joanne Tansey, also longtime St. John's members, said although they did not know Bevan well, they do remember him and believed him to have been a fine priest.

"The thing about the allegations that bother me is that they are nearly 40 years old -- that's a little disturbing," Robert Tansey said. "How do you prove something like that?"

Tansey said that he knew Frederick Duke, a former St. John's priest who later admitted in retirement to sexually abusing a number of minors at a previous parish, better than Bevan. Duke's admissions from several years ago first came to light for many in the St. John's community while reading about the Bevan allegations.

He recalled Duke as "a hard-charging" leader who initiated much-needed renovations at St. John's church in the early '70s.

Overall, Tansey said, he believes the Catholic Church is starting to recover and will survive the sex abuse scandals that first came to light in a series of Boston Globe stories in 2002.

"Other than that, I believe in finding them (clergy who are guilty of abuse) and taking action," Tansey said.

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