Beach Priest Put on Leave, Accused of Sexual Abuse
Parish Shocked, Devastated While Inquiry Continues
By Steven G. Vegh and Warren Fiske
June 17, 2003
The Rev. Dwight E. Shrader, who leads St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, has been put on leave while diocesan officials continue investigating an allegation that he sexually abused a teenager.
The accusation was reported in May by the victim, who is now an adult. Bishop Walter F. Sullivan's decision to remove Shrader from the 5,000-member parish was announced during weekend services at the church.
"Everyone was shocked and just really devastated. It's like a death in the family," said Michael Robusto, a longtime parishioner.
Shrader, who was ordained in 1982, has been the parish priest at St. John since the church was founded in 1989. The church is located on Sandbridge Road, near Princess Anne Road.
Shrader is the sixth priest in the Diocese of Richmond to face abuse allegations since the spring of 2002.
Sullivan's announcement of Shrader's removal was read at Mass by the Rev. Thomas J. Caroluzza, who is the bishop's representative in eastern Virginia.
"I want to assure you that Father Schrader is now in a very safe environment where he is receiving the best of care and attention. He is cooperating fully and willingly in what is needed from him to address this situation," Caroluzza said, quoting the bishop.
Sullivan's spokesman, the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, refused Monday to say whether the victim was male or female.
Speaking at a press conference in Richmond, Apuzzo said the complainant contacted the diocese May 7 and reported being "sexually assaulted" by Shrader.
"The person came forward at the urging of family," Apuzzo said.
After making some initial inquiries, Sullivan referred the case to the diocesan Review Board, which examines abuse allegations.
The board found the allegation to be credible and made its initial recommendation to Sullivan June 4. The bishop put Shrader on leave June 5.
Apuzzo said the abuse was alleged to have occurred just once, when the victim was about 16. He said the incident happened within the past 10 years, but he would not describe what happened, where it occurred or give any details provided by the complainant.
"It was sexual in nature, and the Review Board agrees with the accuser that it was abusive," Apuzzo said.
Shrader has only been told that he was named in an abuse complaint and has not been provided detailed information about the allegation, Apuzzo said. "We just simply asked him his version of the story."
The Review Board has not heard directly from the accuser or from Shrader.
"We're not at the point yet where we're bringing their stories together. That's what the Review Board is going to do next," Apuzzo said."
Apuzzo said Shrader is undergoing psychological testing and evaluation, but declined to say where that is taking place.
Apuzzo said he has met with the victim and will maintain contact throughout the Review Board's investigation.
"Hopefully, we can get this thing cleared up in terms of resolution, or some resolution, in a month," he said.
Apuzzo said the diocese's policy is to inform police about every case of ongoing abuse. He added: "I have heard nothing from the victim or family that they plan to go to police."
In Shrader's absence, Deacon Vernon Krajeski has been assigned to run the parish on an interim basis. The Rev. Paul Gaughn, a retired priest living at St. John, will help at Mass and with sacramental duties.
Krajeski said many parishioners left in tears after learning on Sunday of the abuse allegation.
"There was a lot of disbelief - they couldn't imagine anything like that could have happened," Krajeski said.
Robusto described Shrader as personable though not gregarious.
"People came to this parish to hear him preach. The guy is so powerful and good as a speaker, he was easy to listen to. He is very good at motivating people to work for their parish, without being pushy," said Robusto, who is on the St. John parish school board.
Michael Caprio, the school principal, declined to comment. Shrader supervised construction of the school, which opened last fall, but has no teaching or administrative role. The school is for students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
In three of the previous five cases involving allegations against diocesan priests, the accusations were found to be credible, and the priests were forced by Sullivan into retirement.
One of those priests was the Rev. Eugene Teslovic of St. Luke Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, who was expelled last September in connection with several sexual encounters with minors during the late 1970s and mid-1980s.
In another case, the diocesan Review Board determined that no abuse had occurred and the accused priest, the Rev. Steven R. Rule, was not punished.
Rule was pastor of Prince of Peace Church in Chesapeake from 1981 to 1993 and associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Norfolk from 1978 to 1981.
The Rev. John E. Leonard also was cleared by Sullivan, although diocesan investigators had recommended that the priest be removed from parish ministry and receive inpatient therapy.
Leonard, who was the principal of Catholic High School in Norfolk in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remains under investigation by the Goochland County prosecutor.
The investigation is focused on complaints that Leonard abused students while in charge of a boys school in that county in the 1970s.
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