Resort Police Tracked Abuse Claim to Former Priest in NC

By Shawn J. Soper
The Dispatch
October 9, 2009

OCEAN CITY – More details emerged this week in the decades-old alleged child sexual abuse case involving a former Catholic priest and an unidentified victim in Ocean City, dating back as early as 1977, although the accused has not yet been extradited from North Carolina to Worcester County and, subsequently, has not been indicted on the charges.

Earlier this spring, the Ocean City Police Department received a complaint about the sexual abuse of minor. The alleged incidents were to have taken place in Ocean City between 1977 and 1982 and involved a former priest, later identified as Michael Lowell Barnes, 64, of Haywood County, N.C. At the time of the alleged abuse, the victim was a minor child.

Ocean City police began investigating the alleged pattern of sexual abuse on the minor and later obtained an arrest warrant for Barnes. Last week, local detectives, in cooperation with the Maggie Valley, N.C. Police Department, located and arrested Barnes in North Carolina. According to police reports, late last week Barnes was being held in a North Carolina county jail on a $400,000 bond and was awaiting extradition to Worcester County.

As of late yesterday, Barnes had not been extradited to Worcester County and had not been indicted on any of the charges, including one count of child abuse, one count of sexual abuse, one count of sexual abuse course of conduct, four counts of second-degree sexual offense and four counts of third-degree sexual offense. However, a case number for Barnes has been established in District Court in Worcester County, although the file, and the application for the statement of charges, has not been made available to the public.

Ocean City police last week announced they had sent detectives to North Carolina to locate and arrest Barnes with the help of law enforcement agencies there. An individual who has rented an apartment to Barnes in Maggie Valley, N.C. since April confirmed Ocean City police cars were among the vehicles on hand when Barnes was taken into custody last Wednesday. The source said last week Barnes started renting the apartment in April, but was rarely seen.

“He never went out, except to the store,” the source said this week. “He was a recluse. There was always a bad feeling about him, but, hell, he paid the rent on time.”

The source also gave some insight into the apparent declining health of the accused, saying Barnes had quadruple bypass surgery a year ago and has had two heart attacks since renting the apartment in Maggie Valley, N.C. last April.

Other information obtained this week revealed Barnes left the priesthood in 1988, but was employed by the Archdiocese of Washington as lay director of adult faith formation at a church in Rockville, Md. as recently as last January. It is uncertain when he moved to North Carolina, although it is known he rented an apartment in Maggie Valley, N.C. starting in April of this year.

While the investigation into the alleged incidents in Ocean City decades ago is still ongoing, it appears the alleged incidents in the resort might be just the tip of the iceberg. In June, one of Barnes’ alleged victims filed a civil suit in the Superior Court of Delaware against the former priest and the Archdiocese of Baltimore alleging a long pattern of sexual abuse that began in 1977 when the victim was 12 years old and continued for several years.

“It is while the plaintiff was a parishioner and student in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that the plaintiff came to be under the direction and control of Father Barnes, who used his position of authority and trust over the plaintiff to sexually harass, molest and abuse him,” the complaint reads. “Such conduct was done for Father Barnes’ sexual gratification and was performed on the plaintiff without his free consent, as the plaintiff was a mere minor and, thus, unable to give valid, legal consent to such sexual acts.”

The incidents spelled out in the civil suit allegedly occurred while the victim was a parishioner and student at the St. Clare parish in Essex in Baltimore County and included several incidents in Fenwick Island and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. It is uncertain if the victim who filed suit against Barnes and the Archdiocese in June is the same victim who initiated the complaint being investigated by the OCPD, although the time frame is nearly identical.

While the details involving the alleged incidents in Ocean City from 1977 to 1982 have not been made public, the civil suit filed in Delaware in June spells out a sordid and prolonged pattern of abuse carried out in Baltimore and in the Delaware resort towns. The civil suit also names the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a defendant because similar complaints against Barnes in the past had not been made public.

“The defendants had a duty to disclose to the plaintiff and parishioners, minors, parents, caretakers and others under Father Barnes’ supervision, control and apparent authority and guidance that Father Barnes in the past engaged in and/or was continuing to engage in sexually-related conduct with minors,” the complaint reads.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.