Priest Acquitted of Abusing Wis. Teen in the '80s

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic
August 30, 2003

A Catholic priest, who served in Phoenix, was acquitted in Milwaukee of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1980s but remains suspended from ministry as church officials review that case and another accusation of misconduct.

Father Marvin Knighton, 53, who worked as a campus minister at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix during the 2000-01 school year, is staying with friends. Contacted through the Phoenix Diocese, Knighton has declined to speak to reporters.

He was indicted in June 2002 on charges that he had molested [Redacted 1], a 29-year-old Milwaukee man. Knighton denied the accusations. A jury in Milwaukee acquitted Knighton a week ago after a short deliberation.

[Redacted 1] had accused Knighton of molesting him as a teen when both were living in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. [Redacted 1] said Knighton rubbed against him, kissed him on the mouth and rubbed his hands through his hair, both at the priest's home and at a diocesan recreation facility.

Knighton acknowledged being "a hugger" but said he avoided physical contact with [Redacted 1] because the boy recoiled from efforts to comfort him after the boy's mother died in October 1986. Knighton said he never touched [Redacted 1] again.

Knighton left Milwaukee in 2000 to work at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix after 25 years as a priest. He returned to Milwaukee in 2001, then moved back to Phoenix in June 2002, after charges were filed in the [Redacted 1] case.

Jerry Topczewski, director of communications for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said Knighton has been accused twice of sexual abuse of a minor. [Redacted 1]'s case was the first, reported to the diocese in February 2002. A second came in March 2002, but the incidents, dating to 1975 or 1976, were too old to prosecute.

Knighton was placed on temporary leave after the second allegation was received. He is forbidden to take part in public ministry.

Topczewski said an archdiocesan review board will consider Knighton's status. The board will use the findings of an independent adjudicator to arrive at a finding on Knighton's future that it will recommend to Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

Nothing in Knighton's record indicated cause for concern before he came to St. Mary's for the 2000-01 academic year, officials of the Milwaukee Archdiocese said in letters to Phoenix officials.

But Gerald Boyle, Knighton's attorney, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this year that [Redacted 1]'s father confronted the priest about the allegations in 1993. Boyle said Knighton advised the archdiocese of the allegations at the time and asked to have the matter cleared up, but church officials said nothing could be done because no formal complaint had been made.

No public accusations have been made against Knighton in Phoenix.

"He is a wonderful person," said Bridget Alcocer, whose husband knew Knighton as a member of St. Mary's staff. "The staff loved him as well as the students. It was devastating to hear that charges were filed against him."


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