No Record Of Abuse Report on Md. Priest

By Annie Gowen and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post
May 21, 2002

Baltimore prosecutors said yesterday they could find no evidence that they received two letters in 1998 from the Archdiocese of Baltimore notifying them about child sex-abuse allegations involving a priest who was shot last week.

Catholic Church officials have said they sent the letters in September and October 1998 to the Baltimore state's attorney's office after receiving a complaint that the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell had carried on a sexual relationship with a minor more than 25 years earlier.

Archdiocesan officials faxed copies of the letters to prosecutors Friday to remind them about the allegations, which resurfaced last week when Blackwell was shot and wounded, allegedly by another man who has said he was abused by the priest as a youth.

After spending the weekend combing their files and checking with police, prosecutors said there was no record that the letters ever arrived in 1998. They said that authorities saw them for the first time Friday and that no criminal investigation has ever been conducted into those abuse allegations against the priest.

"We've done an exhaustive search, and we're virtually certain that we never received the letters," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney. "And the police have no record of them either."

Burns said detectives will try to contact the alleged victim to determine whether there is evidence a crime was committed. Prosecutors will also have to determine whether any statute of limitations applies, she said.

Authorities and church officials have declined to name the person who made the 1998 complaint against Blackwell. But sources said that the letters describe the sexual abuse of a child decades ago and that the allegations, if true, could constitute a felony offense.

The letters, both signed by the Rev. Bruce Jarboe, the archdiocese's director of clergy personnel, reveal that the abuse allegations were reported by a friend of the alleged victim in 1998, according to a source who has seen the documents.

When approached by church officials, the alleged victim was initially reluctant to talk but later told them that he was in the fifth grade when he first had sexual contact with Blackwell in the mid-1960s and that the relationship continued for about a decade, the letters state.

The second letter, dated Oct. 9, 1998, reports that archdiocesan officials confronted Blackwell about the allegations and that he admitted having sex with the youth, but only from 1971 to 1975, when the youth would have been about 16 to 20 years old. "Father Blackwell acknowledged that he engaged in a number of sexual encounters with [the youth]," the letter states. "He said that some of these incidents occurred while [the youth] was a minor."

The letter contradicts a public statement issued by Blackwell in 1998, when he acknowledged the relationship but said it ended before he was ordained in 1974.

In response to Blackwell's admission, church officials stripped him of almost all his powers and duties as a priest, though he was allowed to retain his title.

Archdiocesan officials did not respond to a written request for comment about the letters last night.

The missing letters focus more attention on whether the Catholic Church cooperated with authorities regarding abuse allegations lodged against Blackwell during his long career in Baltimore.

In 1993, Dontee D. Stokes, then 17, reported that he had been molested by the priest over a three-year period. Prosecutors said they believed the teenager's allegations but lacked enough evidence to file charges. Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler said, however, that he found the complaint "not credible" and allowed Blackwell to return to his parish after undergoing a three-month stint at a counseling center for troubled priests.

Stokes has told relatives that he was haunted by his experiences with Blackwell. On May 13, he allegedly confronted the priest outside his home and shot him three times in the hip and arm. Blackwell was released from the hospital Saturday and has not spoken publicly about the shooting.

More details surfaced yesterday about Blackwell's conduct since he was placed on administrative leave four years ago.

In September, without notifying his superiors, Blackwell traveled to a secluded resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia to lead a weekend seminar and retreat for 18 Catholic college students from Atlanta -- even though he had been forbidden by the archdiocese to attend such events or perform ministerial acts in public.

Blackwell was invited to lead the retreat by a former seminary classmate, the Rev. Edward Branch, a campus minister at the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of six historically African American colleges, including Morehouse and Spelman.

The two-day gathering was held in a lodge at the Forrest Hills Mountain Resort and Conference Center in northern Georgia, Branch said in a telephone interview.

Blackwell helped organize the adult students in a "trust exercise" -- in which participants led each other blindfolded through the forest -- and gave a talk about famous black Catholic figures such as Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, who ran a school for black children and founded a religious order, Oblate Sisters of Providence, in Baltimore in 1829.

Blackwell immediately established a rapport with the students, Branch said, telling self-deprecating jokes and peppering his talk with references to rap and hip-hop artists.

Branch said he has deep affection and respect for Blackwell. The two were part of a close-knit group of eight African Americans who attended St. Mary's Seminary in the early 1970s.

Branch said he did not know of the abuse allegations against Blackwell at the time of the retreat but would have invited him anyway.

"Whatever had taken place I'm assuming is not habitual, not still a problem," Branch said.

An archdiocesan spokesman said yesterday that Blackwell did not have permission to lead the retreat and that church officials would have tried to prevent him from attending if they had known in advance.

"He was not authorized to perform any public ministry," said the spokesman, Ray Kempisty.


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