Priest's Suicide Confirmed; He'd Been Confronted with Abuse Allegations

By Ed Briggs
San Diego Union-Tribune
July 15, 1994

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Catholic bishop of Richmond has confirmed that a priest who shot himself to death in June had been confronted just hours earlier with allegations of sexual abuse. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond issued a statement Tuesday saying he had confronted the Rev.

John Hesch about the allegations not long before Hesch killed himself on June 5. Hesch, who at one point taught sex education at a parochial school in South Richmond, had just received a doctorate in canon law from Catholic University in Washington. In his statement, Sullivan confirmed that "allegations have been made that early in his ministry Father Hesch had sexually abused some young boys." But Sullivan said Hesch denied the allegations in conversations with him and in suicide notes left to him and to Hesch's mother. Diocesan sources said the bishop's investigation began after the April 24 suicide of a 21-year-old member of St. Augustine Catholic Church, where Hesch previously served. According to those sources, the man's parents specifically asked that Hesch not participate in their son's funeral Mass, prompting the bishop to start an inquiry. The allegations also brought to light old complaints made against the priest in 1985 at Sacred Heart-St. Augustine School in South Richmond, where he taught sex education. Two former teachers at the school said they told the diocese in 1985 that parents and pupils were complaining about Hesch's physical handling of the children.

In one case, they said, he invited a young boy to sit on his lap while he had an erection. "Currently, I am inquiring at the parishes where Father Hesch was assigned to determine if there are any parishioners who need counseling in light of these developments," the bishop said in his July 12 statement. Hesch was assigned to St. Augustine's until his reassignment in 1985 to St. Nicholas Church in Virginia Beach as an associate pastor. Two years later, he was reassigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Big Stone Gap as pastor.

In 1991, he went to Catholic University and was assigned to weekend resident duties at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Lakeside. Teachers Sara Metz and Jacqueline M. Mishkel claim the church turned a deaf ear to their complaints when they raised them nine years ago. Metz has written a fictionalized account of what allegedly occurred and the church's response.

She is shopping for a publisher.

Metz, now an Episcopalian, said it was part of her self-prescribed therapy. Mishkel is still a Catholic.

But she said, "It's harder and harder for the priest to preach to me.

I'll stay away from church, feel guilty about it, then go back." According to the pair, when children complained to them about Hesch's behavior, they informed school officials, then the diocese. Eventually, she said, Hesch was put into counseling but returned at the end of the year.

He eventually was transferred to St. Nicholas. Mishkel said Hesch went to a counselor "only two or three times" She added, "That's not enough to change a person's behavior."


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