Panel to advise Keeler on priest-sex cases

By Frank P.L. Somerville
Baltimore Sun
December 10, 1993

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, beset with allegations that priests have sexually abused minors, has named a panel of nine community leaders and educators to review the handling of past, present and future cases.

Archbishop William H. Keeler's announcement yesterday that an Independent Review Board will advise him on the adequacy of measures to deal with sexual abuse came as still another local priest was dismissed from his job because of such accusations.

The Rev. Francis M. Sweeney, 60, has been removed as chaplain at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville and is undergoing psychological evaluation and counseling at an undisclosed location.

He allegedly had "inappropriate sexual contact with minors" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the archdiocese said in a statement.

Father Sweeney is a former teacher at St. Mary's Seminary and University and a former director of campus ministry at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has been Charlestown's chaplain for nearly four years.

The review board of six men and three women appointed by Archbishop Keeler is to be chaired by P. McEvoy Cromwell, a Baltimore lawyer and active Catholic layman. None of the members is a priest or sister, and not all are Catholics.

They include Dr. Michael E. Johns, dean of the Johns Hopkins Medical School; Sally Michel, who chaired the Mayor's Task Force on Child Abuse; and Darrell D. Friedman, president of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

"Our hope is that the members of the board will give us advice on handling future cases and will speak their mind candidly regarding actions with respect to any past or current case," Archbishop Keeler said.

According to a new policy statement on sex abuse which, in the words of local church officials, "refines and clarifies" procedures in effect since 1985, the independent review panel is intended "to assure the integrity of the archdiocesan process for responding to reports of child abuse, to offer advice regarding investigations and to provide oversight of the archdiocese's handling of all such cases."

The other members of the board are Beverly A. Cooper, vice president of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation; Mary Kay Finan, an assistant professor at Frostburg State University; Jesse J. Harris, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Leonard A. Strom, a Black & Decker Corp. vice president; and Paul G. Wist, senior partner of the C. W. Amos accounting firm.

The policy statement, made public last week, defines the review board as "appointed by the archbishop after consultation with appropriate archdiocesan committees" and says that no member may be employed by the archdiocese.

Father Sweeney is the sixth priest in the Baltimore archdiocese to be connected publicly with alleged sexual misconduct since a Baltimore County pastor committed suicide in August after being confronted with such an accusation.

One of those accused, the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, was removed for nearly three months from his pastorate of St. Edward's Church in West Baltimore while he underwent counseling and evaluation at an out-of-state facility. Father Blackwell recently returned to St. Edward's because "the archdiocese is satisfied that the allegation is groundless," a church spokesman said.

None of the other five priests named by the archdiocese in connection with such allegations since August has been reinstated.

Father Sweeney, a member of the Paulist religious order, had been serving as chaplain at Charlestown since early 1990, a spokesman for the retirement community said yesterday, adding that "he was well regarded by our residents."

"We are shocked and very saddened" by the reasons given by the archdiocese last Sunday for Father Sweeney's sudden removal from his chaplaincy post, said Daniel K. O'Brien, director of operations at Charlestown. "Our prayers go out to him, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the families involved."

Mr. O'Brien said that, until the hastily called meetings at Charlestown Sunday afternoon, first with the Parish Council there and then with the parishioners, "we had no indications of his personal or professional problems."

Archdiocesan officials have provided only sketchy information about those problems, but Mark Pacione, a spokesman for Archbishop Keeler, said that "there is strong reason to believe" that there is a basis for the accusations.

Mr. Pacione said he was not aware of any criminal charges filed against the priest, however. And Mr. Pacione said he did not know whether the minors involved in the allegations are male or female, or where or precisely when the alleged misconduct occurred.

Father Sweeney, a native of New York State, was ordained in 1961.




















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