16 Area Priests Removed over Abuse Allegations since 1980s

By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post
June 9, 2002

At least 16 Roman Catholic priests in the Washington area have been removed from ministry since the mid-1980s after credible accusations of child sexual abuse, including two this year, according to church officials.

Ten of the priests were from the Washington archdiocese, which comprises the capital and five Maryland counties. Six were from the Baltimore archdiocese. In the Arlington diocese, which includes 21 Virginia counties, no priests are known to have been permanently removed from ministry over child sexual abuse allegations in recent years.

All three dioceses say they have no priests serving in parish ministry against whom credible or substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse have been made.

Church officials in each jurisdiction have treated information about abuse cases with varying degrees of openness. For the most part, the 16 priests were removed quietly and their parishioners were not informed at the time why they were no longer serving. None of the jurisdictions, for example, would say how much money they have spent to counsel victims of abuse and to settle lawsuits out of court.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore did not respond when asked, several times, how many of the 21 priests it has listed as "absent on leave" since 1999 had been accused of child sexual abuse. One of those priests is the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, who was shot by an alleged victim on May 13. A second priest on the list, the Rev. Brian M. Cox, was arrested on May 22 on charges of abusing an altar boy in 1980.

Asked for the number of priests credibly accused of molesting children in recent decades, spokesman Raymond Kempisty responded: "We are not ready to address . . . aggregate numbers." He said that could change because "we are reviewing our files presently."

The three dioceses, where more than 550 diocesan priests are actively ministering to about 1.3 million Catholics, all enacted policies on child sexual abuse years ago: Washington in 1986, Baltimore in the mid-1980s and Arlington in 1991. These policies were strengthened in later years, and since 1993 all three dioceses have complied with local laws requiring the reporting to civil authorities of all child abuse allegations.

Between 1986 and 2001, nine priests in the Washington archdiocese are known to have been removed from ministry after being accused of molesting boys. All were criminally prosecuted. In March, a priest was placed on administrative leave for alleged sexual misconduct with two teenage girls in the early 1980s. He was not criminally charged because the D.C. statute of limitations had run out.

All 10 priests lost their right to celebrate public Masses and to administer the sacraments. One of them, Thomas Chebloski, also lost his priestly status — a procedure called laicization — after his conviction.

Also, in 1995, the Washington archdiocese undertook a review of its priests' personnel files and reported to police past allegations of child sexual abuse, going back to 1947, against six priests. One of those six — Robert J. Petrella — was criminally charged after one of his victims came forward. No charges were brought against the other five, who by 1995 were no longer in active ministry, according to archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

In the Arlington diocese, no priests are known to have been permanently removed from ministry over child sexual abuse allegations in recent years. But in 1994, the Rev. Stephen Roszel was placed on administrative leave after a woman accused him in a civil suit of having abused her when she was a minor. That suit was settled out of court under terms not publicly disclosed. Roszel, who denied the allegation, was returned to parish ministry.

In 1992, Monsignor William T. Reinecke, chancellor of the diocese, committed suicide after being confronted by a man who accused him of molesting him years before.

Since 1985, six priests in the Baltimore archdiocese are known to have been removed from parish ministry and had their right to administer the sacraments revoked because of child sexual abuse allegations. One of the five was criminally prosecuted in 1988, and a second was arrested on May 22 on charges of abuse in 1980. A third was asked to retire this spring from an administrative job in the archdiocese "to reflect support for" its "zero-tolerance policy," spokesman Kempisty said.

Most of those cases became known this year through news reports.

As for the financial fallout of clerical child sexual abuse, Chancellor Robert J. Rippy of Arlington said in March that the diocese had not settled any civil case in the past 10 years stemming from child sexual abuse allegations. He did not address the Roszel suit, whose settlement terms are not known.

Kempisty said the Baltimore archdiocese made two monetary settlements in the past decade, but he would not say how much.

According to news reports, the Washington archdiocese settled child abuse civil suits involving priests in 1988 and 1993. Asked recently for the total amount the archdiocese has paid in such cases, spokeswoman Gibbs said she did not have the information.

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of the Washington archdiocese said in April that the crisis should lead to great openness in the church. If the church has spent money because of wrongdoing by priests, he said, church members "have a right to know, I think."


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