Bishop Defends Ruling in Abuse Case
He Rejects Complaints from Sex Abuse Panel That Ruling Was One-Sided

By Steven G. Vegh
Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
August 2, 2002

A diocesan team investigating sex abuse allegations against the Rev. John E. Leonard recommended in June that the Richmond-area priest get psychological treatment and be returned to parish duties if tests showed he wasn't a sex abuser, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan said Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference in Williamsburg, Sullivan said he complied with those recommendations. He said Leonard "has been in treatment" since 1996.

Leonard went through two sets of psychological tests several weeks ago and the results "eliminated any justification to label or remove him as a sex abuser," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he would not reopen Leonard's case.

"My decision is final," he said.

Sullivan also rejected the complaints of members of a diocesan sexual abuse panel who have said they were left out of his decision to reinstate Leonard.

Two members have resigned since Sullivan cleared Leonard on June 18 and returned him to parish duties at St. Michael Catholic Church in suburban Henrico County near Richmond.

Sullivan met with some of the panel's members after his press conference on Thursday to hear their complaints. The meeting, held at St. Bede's Catholic Church in Williamsburg, was closed to the public.

Sullivan had suspended Leonard from parish duties in May after the diocese received allegations that Leonard abused students at St. John Vianney Seminary, a Catholic high school in Goochland, in the 1970s.

Leonard, who was later the principal of Catholic High School in Norfolk for five years, until 1992, has denied any misconduct.

In 1996, the diocese received a similar complaint and, after an investigation and psychological testing of Leonard, Sullivan ruled that the allegation was unfounded. Leonard began psychological treatment after that allegation was received, Sullivan said.

"I've said that there was behavior that blurred boundaries and which I consider imprudent for a seminary faculty member," Sullivan said. "That appraisal doesn't ignore the setting of an all-boys board school. There are the daily routines, the sports-related pranks and the typical camaraderie that could take on ugly nuances if cast into another setting."

Sullivan said he followed new standards adopted by the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops that state that "a child is abused whether or not this activity involves explicit force, whether or not it involves genital or physical contact, whether or not it is initiated by the child, and whether or not there is discernible harmful outcome."

The key to the policy is motive: Abuse occurs when the adult uses a child as an object of sexual gratification.

Sullivan emphasized that he found no evidence that the Leonard case involved "deviance" or pedophilia.

After meeting with Sullivan Thursday, members of the sexual abuse panel declined to comment on what was discussed, citing the need to preserve confidentiality.

Several members have said recently that they never got the report and recommendations of the investigators who scrutinized the allegations against Leonard. Members have said they did not even discuss the case during their meetings.

Sullivan, however, said the two-person team that investigated the allegation - and not he - was supposed to keep the panel informed of its findings.

"It was not my action that bypassed the panel. It was not for me to give the team's report to the panel," he said. "There has been no coverup of how I arrived at my decision."

After the meeting, Sullivan said he thought the panel members were "very disappointed they didn't receive the report," but declined to comment further.

Before talking to Sullivan, panel members met with Thor Gormley, one of three men who have alleged that Leonard abused them when they were students at St. John Vianney Seminary, where Leonard was a faculty member.

Gormley declined to comment Thursday night.

Last week the panel lost the second of its 10 members with the resignation of Georgette M. Richards. Richards, the principal of St. Edwards-Epiphany Catholic School in Bon Air, could not be reached for comment.

Psychologist Therese M. May quit on July 1 after serving on the panel and on the two-person team that investigated the allegations against Leonard. She said the team's recommendations went to Sullivan and to Monsignor Robert M. Perkins, who heads the sexual abuse panel.

May said this week that she resigned because the panel wasn't included in the diocesan examination of the allegations against Leonard.

"The process was just not being followed," and as a result, "I didn't want to be part of it and didn't want to be publicly associated with it," she said.

May also said the investigating team focused on the recent allegations, and chose not to interview a fourth man who complained to the diocese in 1996 that he was abused by Leonard.

Sullivan has said he considered the investigators' recommendations, and other information he obtained independently, in clearing Leonard.

Diocesan guidelines give the panel responsibility for scrutinizing abuse complaints, and the power to recommend how the bishop should resolve cases.

The guidelines also state that "members of the panel, except for those who participated in the investigation, shall review the investigation team's findings" within 60 days after the investigation starts.


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