Virginia Beach Pastor Accused of Sexually Abusing Minor

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 16, 2003

The pastor of a Roman Catholic parish in Virginia Beach has been accused of sexually abusing a minor as recently as 1992 and has been placed on leave while the matter is investigated.

An adult who was underage at the time made the allegation against the Rev. Dwight Shrader of St. John the Apostle church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond said in a statement released Monday.

Diocese spokesman the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo said the single incident occurred no earlier than 1992 and that the accuser was approximately 16 at the time, but declined to give any more details, citing the accuser's concerns about privacy.

The Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, bishop of the diocese, informed parishioners of St. John the Apostle of the allegation in a letter that was read during masses at the church over the weekend.

"It was very devastating news. Many were in shock. A lot couldn't believe it - and don't believe it," Vernon Krajeski, a deacon at the church, said Monday. Sullivan appointed Krajeski to be parish administrator while Shrader is on leave and designated the Rev. Paul Gaughn, a retired priest in residence at the parish, to celebrate Mass.

Shrader, 47, has been the only pastor since the parish of about 5,000 people was founded in 1989 in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Krajeski said. The parish recently opened St. John the Apostle Catholic School in Sandbridge, but Apuzzo said Shrader had little, if any, day-to-day contact with students at the school. No one answered the phone at the school Monday.

Krajeski said he doesn't know anything more about the allegations than what was in Sullivan's letter.

Sullivan wrote that after initial inquiries, he turned the allegation over to the diocese's sexual abuse review board to assess its credibility.

Apuzzo said at a news conference in Richmond that Shrader had undergone psychological testing and that the information the board used to find the complaint credible included the priest's response to the allegation, but Apuzzo declined to give specifics. Following the board's recommendations, the bishop placed Shrader on administrative leave during further investigation.

"I want to assure you that Father Shrader is now in a very safe environment where he is receiving the best of care and attention," Sullivan wrote. "He is cooperating fully and willingly in what is needed from him to address the situation."

Apuzzo said that because the allegation does not involve continuing abuse of a minor, the diocese will not report it to police. He said does not know if the accuser plans to involve the police.

He also said the diocese has notified all other parishes where Shrader has served since he was ordained in 1982. They are St. John Neumann in Powhatan, Holy Cross School and parish in Lynchburg, St. Matthew in Virginia Beach and St. Therese in Chesapeake.

The sex-abuse allegation is the latest in a series against Catholic priests in Virginia, though Apuzzo said it's the only one involving allegations that were "not in the distant past."

In January, the Rev. John P. Blankenship pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1982 at a Prince George County church but avoided prison. He faced a maximum of 20 years in prison on four counts of sodomy, and the judge said he would impose the entire sentence if Blankenship misbehaves while on indefinite, supervised probation.

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

The Rev. Julian B. Goodman, a Charlottesville pastor, was removed from the ministry in August for allegedly sexually abusing a student in the 1970s at St. John Vianney, a now-closed Catholic high school in Goochland County.

In November, Sullivan lifted the suspension of a Roanoke priest accused of sexual misconduct in the 1970s. The Rev. Steven R. Rule did not do anything to warrant his removal from the priesthood, though he behaved inappropriately with a male pupil at St. John Vianney, the diocese's sexual abuse review board found.

The Rev. John E. Leonard of St. Michael's Church in Henrico County is being investigated by Goochland authorities for alleged sexual abuse at St. John Vianney, though the diocese has investigated Leonard and cleared him twice.


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