Washington Priest Suspended after Misconduct Is Reported

By Francis X. Clines
New York Times
March 22, 2002

With goodbye hugs and prayers from his supporters, Msgr. Russell Dillard left his pastoral duties at St. Augustine's parish today as the archdiocese announced that he had admitted to "inappropriate touching and kissing" with two teenage girls 18 years ago.

As word spread through the parish, Monsignor Dillard, a popular leader of the Roman Catholic parish, departed for a residential church center for evaluation.

"He admitted that there was a physical relationship," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, leader of the Washington Archdiocese. "He doesn't characterize it as sexual abuse."

In an interview with WUSA-TV, Monsignor Dillard, 54, described a "father-daughter" relationship with one of the girls that involved kissing.

"I know that this young woman feels hurt, and that I have stepped, crossed over a line that, though it did not lead to anything that was untoward, anything sexual, anything like that, I have to take responsibility for that," he said.

After announcing the suspension and the notification of the police about the incidents, Cardinal McCarrick, the leader of 600,000 church members in Washington and southern Maryland, said: "My heart and my prayers go out to the people who have come forward. I can think of almost nothing more painful than to learn a priest may have violated the trust placed in him in this way."

Church officials said the incidents of sexual misconduct were reported to the archdiocese last week by two women, who were not identified. They said they were teenagers at the time of the alleged misconduct, which occurred from 1979 to 1984, church officials said.

Washington's mayor, Anthony A. Williams, a St. Augustine's parishioner and friend of the priest, described Monsignor Dillard as a "source of strength and inspiration."

Cardinal McCarrick praised the monsignor's pastoral record but emphasized the need to investigate the incidents fully and to protect children. He urged others with such abuse complaints to come forward, declaring, "We want to make sure that we're taking care of these people."

The suspension was announced amid growing concern among Catholics across the nation about repeated cases of pedophilia and other alleged abuse of parish children that have recently come to light as a problem in various dioceses.

Under the Washington Archdiocese's 19-year-old policy covering sexual accusations against priests, the police were immediately notified, officials said. District of Columbia police officials said the incidents occurred beyond the district's six-year statute of limitations for such crimes.


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