'50s Priest Accused of Abuse

By Don Fasnacht
The Palladium-Item
February 10, 2004

A second Catholic priest who served the St. Mary parish here in the 1950s is being accused of sexually abusing altar boys.

The Rev. William Blackwell has been named in a civil suit filed by a 57-year-old man against the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Richmond's St. Mary School and Parish.

The man, identified as Robert M., accuses Blackwell of multiple sexual assaults between 1957 and 1961.

Blackwell was assistant pastor at St. Mary Church from February 1958 until May 1961.

Two brothers filed suit in October 2003 accusing the Rev. William O'Brien of repeated sexual abuse when they were altar boys at St. Mary from 1951 to 1957.

Blackwell replaced O'Brien in the parish.

Both priests are now dead.

The suit naming Blackwell was filed in Marion County Superior Court in Indianapolis. The suit naming O'Brien was filed in Wayne Superior Court 1 here.

Both suits were filed by Bloomington attorney Eric Allan Koch.

The affidavit in the Blackwell case says Robert M. was molested in the rectory here and at the home of Blackwell's parents in Indianapolis.

Both cases depend on "recovered memory." All of the victims claim they had repressed memories of the assaults for almost half a century. Recovered memory has faced legal challenges to its validity.

The accusations against Blackwell came only days after the Indianapolis Archdiocese issued the results of its study into the problem of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese between 1950 and 2002.

During that time, there were 20 cases involving priests and 12 involving laypersons where credible evidence was found. There were no credible cases within the past 10 years.

There were five lawsuits pending at the time of the Archdiocese report was issued. The Blackwell suit adds to that number.

"We are unable to comment on allegations that are under litigation," Archdiocesan spokesperson Susan Borcherts said.

She did urge that anyone who might have suffered some sort of abuse to contact Suzanne L. Yakimchick, chancellor for the Archdiocese. She is providing counseling and help to any victims.

During the 52 years covered by the Archdiocese study of sexual abuse, the archdiocese paid out $355,000 for sexual abuse expenses, including $251,000 for counseling of victim-survivors.

The two brothers in the suit naming O'Brien were originally anonymous, but in November, Joseph Benjamin came forward in a news conference to make his accusations public. His brother is Lawrence Benjamin. They no longer live in Richmond.

They, like Robert M., are all in late middle age and claim they have suffered through decades of psychological stress and trauma because of sexual abuse by the priests.

Koch, like the Archdiocese, is interested in talking to anyone with information concerning the allegations against the two priests.

To report abuse

To report information relevant to either case, you can:

Contact the Archdiocese of Indianapolis at (800) 382-9836, Ext. 7325, or (317) 236-7325. Ask for Chancellor of the Archdiocese Suzanne Yakimchick.

Contact attorney Eric Allen Koch at (812) 337-3120.


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