Ex-Priest Pleads Guilty to Abuse Incidents Took Place in 1966-67 School Year

By Elizabeth Wilkerson
Richmond Times - Dispatch
October 29, 1993

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- A former Roman Catholic priest pleaded guilty yesterday to fondling a 13- year-old altar boy here 26 years ago. He was sentenced to four months in jail.

In a voice often choked with emotion, Paul Rodriguez, 60, testified in Charlottesville Circuit Court that his recollection of that time was unclear. "It was so long ago," he said. "I was in a mental state then that I have trouble remembering even the people in the parish."

Rodriguez's 39-year-old accuser said he went to police because he was taught adults should be responsible for their actions.

"The whole point of me coming forward, one of the main reasons, was for him to be accountable, and I think he was," the man said after the trial.

He testified that fondling incidents began during the 1966-67 school year after he confessed to masturbation. Rodriguez was an assistant at Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Charlottesville and at Holy Comforter School in Albemarle County.

The man testified that Rodriguez said masturbation was "a serious sin."

In meetings over several months, he said, Rodriguez asked him to demonstrate and then fondled the boy's naked genitals. He said his mother informed church authorities after he told her about an incident in the church rectory in Charlottesville. The priest then was removed from the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He was sent first to a Kentucky mental hospital and then to a New Mexico treatment center for priests.

He testified that he petitioned the bishop of Richmond to be reinstated in the 1980s, although he didn't think he could serve in a parish. He said he was turned down.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty but, in response to a judge's question, said he was not in fact guilty of the felony charge. He testified that he recalls his accuser but has no clear recollection of the incidents described.

Rodriguez said he wanted to help the boy "because I thought that he was going to have an ongoing addiction to this problem." Rodriguez said he had no sexual intent and described his actions as a "conditioning strategy" to help the boy gain mastery over the habit of masturbation.

"This is very emotional for me," Rodriguez said, pausing to collect himself, "because today it doesn't make any sense."

Later he said, "I can't put into words the remorse I have about what happened."

As part of a limited plea agreement, another fondling charge Rodriguez faced in Albemarle County is being dropped, and city and county prosecutors agreed not to prosecute him for other sexual abuse allegations now known to them.

More than a half dozen men have come forward with similar accusations, according to police and prosecutors.

Under cross examination from Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Stephen B. Deaton, Rodriguez admitted to "quite possibly" having been involved in similar incidents with seven or eight other boys.

The plea agreement included no sentencing agreement. However, Rodriguez's attorney, Scott Goodman, argued for a suspended sentence because Rodriguez "has apparently righted himself," as evidenced by three colleagues who testified in his behalf, and has shown remorse.

On the other hand, Deaton argued that Rodriguez "has been a sexual predator."

Judge Jay T. Swett imposed the maximum five-year sentence, suspending all but four months, plus 10 years' probation. He said fully suspending jail time would be inappropriate in light of the court's role as the conscience of the community.

"It is clear to anyone that you violated the trust that was placed in you by these boys," the judge said.


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