Norfolk Man Files Abuse Suit against Priest
Says Molestation Occurred in 1970s at School, Beach
By Steven G. Vegh
October 10, 2003
A Norfolk man who says he was sexually assaulted by the Rev. John E. Leonard in the 1970s filed a lawsuit against the Catholic priest on Thursday in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
William Bruce Jeter, 45, first went public with his allegations against Leonard on Aug. 11, 2002. Days later, Goochland County Commonwealth's Attorney Edward Carpenter launched an investigation into whether Leonard committed sexual abuse. That case remains open.
The suit, which seeks $5.3 million in damages, also names former Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the Vatican as defendants.
Neither Leonard, who is the priest at St. Michael Church in Glen Allen outside Richmond, nor Jeter were available for comment on Thursday. Sullivan, who retired last month, also could not be reached.
Stephen C. Swain, the Virginia Beach attorney representing Jeter, said the diocese and Sullivan knew or should have known years ago that Leonard was a pedophile and should have kept the priest away from children.
Swain said Jeter claims that the abuse he describes in the suit left him with long-lasting emotional damage that marred his personal life.
It was only in the past two years that therapy helped Jeter draw a connection between the alleged incidents and his emotional trauma, Swain said.
Swain said he expected to depose, or interview, both Leonard and Sullivan in the course of preparing for trial.
Leonard was a teacher and administrator at St. John Vianney Seminary when Jeter enrolled there as a freshman in 1973.
The boys-only Catholic boarding school was located in Goochland, outside of Richmond, and operated by the diocese. It closed in 1978. Leonard, who had convinced Jeter's parents to send their son to Vianney, became Jeter's spiritual director and confessor.
The suit alleges that during the 1973-74 school year, Jeter was among a group of teenage schoolboys who Leonard brought to a house in Sandbridge for three days. Leonard "encouraged the boys to run along the beach at night without clothes and to join him in the hot tub at the house without clothes," the suit states.
At the school, Leonard lived in a suite adjacent to the dormitory where Jeter lived. The suit states that Leonard sometimes entered the dorm after lights out, woke up Jeter and brought the boy to his suite to smoke cigarettes and watch television.
During those encounters, Leonard fondled the teen, exposed himself and put Jeter's hands on the priest's penis, the suit stated.
Additionally, the suit accuses Leonard of drugging and sexually assaulting Jeter at Vianney in August 1974.
The suit says that Leonard told Jeter at that time, "Tell no one, because you will not be believed.' "
Jeter quit the school to avoid Leonard a week after his sophomore year began, the suit states.
Jeter told the diocese in 1996 that he had been abused by Leonard.
As bishop, Sullivan investigated that complaint and cleared the priest, saying a witness whom Jeter named did not corroborate the accusation. The diocese also said that Leonard had denied wrongdoing and that psychological tests indicated he was not an abuser.
Allegations of sexual misconduct by Leonard resurfaced in the spring of 2002, when at least two more alumni of Vianney told the diocese they had been abused by the priest as students. Leonard said he was innocent.
Sullivan sent the complaints to a diocesan sexual abuse board, and a two-person team investigated. The team reported that the allegations were credible and recommended that Leonard be ordered into inpatient mental health care.
Instead, the bishop reinstated Leonard at St. Michael and refused to consult the board. He said Leonard had acted imprudently and "blurred boundaries" at Vianney but was not guilty of sexual abuse.
Sullivan's handling of those complaints angered Jeter and prompted his public accusation against Leonard in 2002, Jeter said at that time.
Swain said the Virginia Beach court has jurisdiction in the case because of the alleged Sandbridge incident.
A separate suit against the diocese that alleged sexual abuse by Catholic clergy was filed in August by an unidentified accuser who lives in the Richmond area.
That suit accused the Rev. Thomas M. Summers and the Rev. Andrew Roy of molesting him in the early 1960s. Summers died in 1992; Roy is retired and living in Spain.
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