Suspension Begins for Va. Priest in Sex Inquiry
Accusations Tied to Former Seminary
By Steven G. Vegh
May 7, 2002
The Diocese of Richmond is launching an investigation today into allegations that a Catholic priest engaged in "sexual misbehavior" involving a minor more than 20 years ago at a now-closed parochial high school.
Monsignor Thomas Caroluzza, the top diocesan representative in eastern Virginia, and Theresa May, a Richmond-based professional therapist, will scrutinize two accusations that link the Rev. John E. Leonard with alleged sexual impropriety at St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County. The school closed in 1978.
Leonard later was the principal of Catholic High School in Norfolk for five years, until 1992.
One of the allegations was made last week by a man who shared his concerns while receiving pastoral counseling from his parish priest. The priest referred him to Caroluzza.
The Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, a diocesan spokesman, said the man had been a student at Vianney while Leonard was on the staff.
"He's not making a complaint, but saying, 'Here's some behavior you ought to know about,' " Apuzzo said.
The Vianney alumnus did not say he was sexually abused by Leonard. "He's not approaching as a victim. . . . He was not asking that any action be taken against Father Leonard," Apuzzo said.
A second, anonymous allegation came late last week via an e-mail received by the diocese. Apuzzo said the message cited sexual misbehavior but was "non-specific."
The alleged misbehavior involved a minor older than 12 but under 18, according to Caroluzza, the diocese's episcopal vicar for eastern Virginia.
The two allegations - which have emerged as a national scandal over child abuse by priests continues to shake the Catholic Church - prompted Bishop Walter J. Sullivan's decision to begin an investigation, following diocesan guidelines in place since 1998.
"He's determined to find out the truth of this matter," Apuzzo said of Sullivan. "If we have priests abusing children, he wants them out of the priesthood."
Leonard was put on administrative leave starting Monday, which means he has been relieved of his duties as priest of St. Michael Church in Richmond during the investigation.
Apuzzo stressed that the suspension was not a punishment or an indicator of guilt.
Caroluzza said he and May will interview the Vianney alumnus and any other individuals whom the man names as potential witnesses to activity at the former school.
Leonard, who has denied the allegations, will be interviewed as well.
The investigation does not involve law enforcement agencies, Apuzzo said.
Caroluzza and May have 60 days to complete their work and report their findings to the diocese. The report must include a specific statement about whether reasonable cause exists to suspect that sexual abuse has occurred. It also includes recommendations for what action the bishop should take.
The report will then be studied by the Diocesan Sexual Abuse Panel. The nine-member group includes a civil lawyer, a canon lawyer, three experts in treating sexual abuse, a lay person, and a diocesan priest.
The panel can propose alternate recommendations to the bishop that differ from the investigatory team's.
Sullivan has sole authority to accept findings and implement recommendations.
Apuzzo said he could not estimate when Sullivan would take final action in the matter. "That's a case-by-case thing. We want it to move quickly, but we want it to be thorough."
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