Decades-old Sex Abuse Charges Lead to Arrest of Former Priest

By Brian Shane
The Daily Times
October 8, 2009

OCEAN CITY -- A former Catholic priest has been accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy more than 30 years ago in Ocean City.

Michael Lowell Barnes, 64, was arrested last week in the western North Carolina town of Maggie Valley. Det. Archie Shuler of the Maggie Valley Police said Barnes was located at his residence and taken into custody on a fugitive warrant.

Ocean City Police say they received allegations of abuse earlier this year, and that the incidents took place between 1977 and 1982, when the victim was a minor.

Barnes has been charged with child abuse, sexual abuse, sexual abuse course of conduct, and second- and third-degree sex offenses. He's being held on $400,000 bond and is awaiting extradition to Maryland, police said.

His arrest was the result of a police investigation that began when the victim, a Baltimore County man now in his 40s, filed a lawsuit against him in July in New Castle County Superior Court.

The man's attorney, Mike Reck, said his client took advantage of Delaware's Child Victims Act, which opened a two-year window in 2007-2009 for victims of sexual abuse to come forward and sue an alleged perpetrator.

The man "was abused pretty horrifically as a kid, for a long time," Reck said. "Obviously, as a kid, this is something you can't even tell your parents; as a Catholic, the guilt and shame associated with this is overwhelming. It has traumatically affected him into his adult life. This has been a burden to him, and his wife and his family. This is really the type of abuse that stays with you forever."

The Worcester County Times does not identify victims of alleged sexual abuse or assault.

Reck said his client is suing Barnes, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Bishop of the Archdiocese, as well as the parish and the school where Barnes was stationed, St. Clare Roman Catholic School and Parish in Essex, Md. He's suing for negligent supervision, negligent hiring, and physical acts of sexual battery.

"In a nutshell, what we allege is that Father Barnes was a bad apple, and they knew he was a bad apple. They failed to supervise him, they failed to protect children, and they failed to warn parishoners about his acts of sexual abuse," Reck said.

The civil suit seeks an undisclosed amount of money, and a release of all court documents that relate to Barnes's sexual abuse and the church's knowledge of that abuse.

The lawsuit also says abuse occurred in Ocean City, Fenwick Island, and Rehoboth Beach.

In Ocean City, Reck said abuse happened over multiple visits to the resort over several years, when the plaintiff was between the ages of 12-17. Abuses allegedly occurred in a condominium, and at three hotels, Reck said. Some trips involved groups, and others were one-on-one between Barnes and the plaintiff.

Ocean City Police spokesman Pfc. Mike Levy said police have no further comment due to the ongoing investigation and the sensitive nature of the allegations. The charging documents pertaining to Barnes in District Court were sealed because he had not been served with them.

The Delaware lawsuit was filed in July. Reck said he expects a trial date to be scheduled for sometime in 2010.



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