Priest Who Abused Boy Avoids Jail
Term Suspended for 20 Years

By Tom Campbell
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
February 1, 2003

A Roman Catholic priest pleaded guilty Friday to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1982, but he avoided a prison sentence.

The Rev. John P. Blankenship faced a maximum of 20 years in prison on four counts of sodomy, and Circuit Judge James F. D'Alton said he would impose the entire sentence if Blankenship misbehaves while he is on indefinite, supervised probation.

The prosecution said the crimes took place between June 1982 and November 1982 when the victim and his mother went to the Church of the Sacred Heart in Prince George County to do housekeeping chores.

The attacks occurred when the boy was left in Blankenship's care, said Detective Eric A. Young, who investigated the case.

The plea agreement said that Blankenship underwent treatment and monitoring from 1989 to 1994 and that was a mitigating circumstance.

The agreement said "incarceration is not warranted to protect the public" from Blankenship, 65, who no longer lives in Virginia.

D'Alton noted that the victim, Robert G. Presson, supported the plea agreement. Presson was in court and issued a written statement afterward.

"Mr. Blankenship's acceptance of his responsibility for the crimes he perpetrated some 20 years ago was a necessary step enabling me to go forward with my life," wrote Presson, who allowed his name to be used.

Blankenship told the court, "20 years ago, I made a tragic mistake. I have never again made that mistake." He said his actions "caused me a sense of sorrow that I will carry to my grave."

Presson said in his statement that he was told by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan last summer that "he was aware of an individual, now deceased, that had come forward with allegations against Mr. Blankenship, in addition to myself."

Sullivan forced Blankenship to retire from priestly duties on Aug. 9. At the time, Blankenship was chaplain at the Petersburg federal prison.

Sullivan learned of the alleged abuse of the teenager in 1988. Blankenship admitted abusing the boy, apologized to him and paid for his college education and counseling, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond said.

In July, the victim had told his story to Prince George authorities. On Aug. 20, Blankenship was indicted on four counts of sodomy.

One of Blankenship's attorneys, Robin Shellow, said in court that her client had taken "moral responsibility from 1988" to the present. She said Blankenship was hospitalized for a year and underwent extensive therapy for six years.

Shellow said her client's actions were "a horrible badge of shame."

D'Alton said he had received 85 letters from people supporting Blankenship. He "has been an exemplary priest except for these offenses," the judge said.

Despite the fact that Blankenship received no prison time, "retribution has been exacted. He has been branded a sex offender. He has been branded a felon," D'Alton said.

Afterward, Shellow declined to say where Blankenship lives or if he plans to return to Virginia.

Also last August, Sullivan removed another priest from the ministry because of sexual abuse allegations. The Rev. Julian B. Goodman, pastor of Holy Comforter parish in Charlottesville, was expelled for allegedly sexually abusing a student at a Catholic school in the 1970s.

In September, the diocese retired the Rev. Eugene Teslovic, pastor of St. Luke's Church in Virginia Beach, after a monthlong investigation unearthed decades-old incidents of sexual misconduct with minors.

No criminal charges have been filed against either Goodman or Teslovic.


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