Ousted Priest Did Not Face Md. Charges
Pastor Expelled in Conn. Left Baltimore in '87 after He Admitted Sex Abuse
'Exceptional Clearance' Won
Prosecution Was Waived by Law Because He Agreed to Psychiatric Treatment By Allison Klein and John Rivera
July 9, 2002
A priest ousted from his Roman Catholic church in Connecticut because he was found to have sexually abused boys while working as a pastor in Baltimore was never charged here with a crime, even though he confessed, a police report shows.
The report from 1987 says that the Rev. Robert Victor Newman, who was expelled from his New Haven church over the weekend, was granted "exceptional clearance" by the Baltimore state's attorney's office despite having admitted to police and prosecutors that he fondled a 14-year-old boy.
As a condition of the "exceptional" arrangement, Newman was to continue treatment in a psychiatric hospital rather than face prosecution, the report said. At the time, Maryland law gave prosecutors the option of waiving prosecution if a sex offense suspect agreed to treatment.
According to the report, written five months after the alleged abuse, the arrangement was allowed by Olga Bruning, head of the sex crimes unit at the state's attorney's office.
"This particular prosecutor in 1987 had authority as well as the option open to her to reach this agreement," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "This type of program is not currently an option for felony sex offenders."
A spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese said the state's attorney's office believed there were at least four victims in Baltimore.
Newman, who graduated from a seminary in Baltimore, was assigned in the early 1980s to Most Precious Blood church in Northeast Baltimore. The 15-year-old allegations came to light during a review last month of old abuse cases in the wake of the nationwide sex abuse scandal.
Baltimore church officials did not know that Newman, 54, had found new work as a priest until they launched the review, said Stephen Kearney, spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese.
There have been no allegations of abuse against Newman in New Haven, said the Rev. John P. Gatzak, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Hartford.
According to the 1987 report, Newman had completed 27 days of inpatient psychiatric treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital when he informed police that he had fondled the boy. Newman was represented at the time by lawyer Richard D. Bennett, who later became Maryland's U.S. attorney.
Bennett said yesterday he had no comment. Then-State's Attorney Kurt L. Schmoke said he did not remember Newman.
According to the report, the abuse was limited to one boy, and it took place in October 1986. Newman told police the incident happened while two 14-year-old boys were staying overnight at his home; he reported that he fondled one of the sleeping boys.
Newman apologized to the teen in the morning, the report says, then took him home and explained what happened to the teen's mother.
The teen said he was not aware of the abuse, but his friend who had been in the room said he had pretended to sleep and saw what happened.
At the beginning of February 1987, the Archdiocese of Baltimore pulled Newman from the parish after he acknowledged abusing several boys, Kearney said. Newman then went to Hopkins for treatment, and filed the police report in March.
Sent for treatment
In June of that year, his religious order, the Sons of Charity, sent him to the Institute of Living, a psychiatric hospital in Hartford known for the treatment of pedophiles.
"Our records indicate the archdiocese removed Father Newman the day this information came to our attention in 1987," Kearney said. "And the matter was investigated by the state's attorney's office."
A spokesman for the Hartford Archdiocese said over the weekend that church officials apparently were not aware of the allegations in Baltimore. But the now-deceased archbishop of the Hartford Archdiocese, John F. Whealon, had been informed in 1990 of Newman's transgressions, according to a church associate of Newman's.
The Sons of Charity, a small, Paris-based religious order, has about 200 members worldwide who specialize in ministering to the working poor.
There are just two members in the United States - Newman and the Rev. James Richardson, his associate pastor at Sacred Heart in New Haven. Newman acted as the religious superior, the priest in charge of the U.S. branch of the religious order.
'Open and honest'
Newman was candid about his history and submitted a letter of recommendation from his therapist at the Institute of Living, according to Richardson.
"He was open and honest about who he was and what he could do and we were accepted on that basis, along with the recommendation of his therapist," said Richardson, who has taken over as administrator of Sacred Heart.
Richardson, too, knew that Newman had admitted to fondling several boys.
"He voluntarily sought help. It was his choice to seek help," Richardson said. "He spent a few years in therapy and came out and had the OK of his therapist. And since we've been here, 11 1/2 years, there's been no incident at all."
Richardson said that after he and Newman left Baltimore, they accepted a parish assignment in the summer of 1987 at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, a Hispanic congregation on Chicago's west side.
Then they decided to come back east. Whealon, the archbishop who welcomed Newman to Hartford, died in 1991.
Whealon decided to give Newman a parish despite the problem in Baltimore, Richardson said.
"That would not happen today, obviously," said Gatzak, the spokesman for the Hartford Archdiocese. "Back then, it was certainly a possibility."
Gatzak said it was unlikely Hartford would ask the Sons of Charity to leave the diocese and that church officials will request another priest from the order be assigned to the parish.
"They have truly done a remarkable job over the past 12 years ... in the parish to help revitalize the neighborhood," Gatzak said. "It just points to the tragedy of the fact that Father Newman had to be relieved of his ministerial duties because of this horrible thing that happened years ago."
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