Prosecutors Say Georgia Diocese Was Warned about Abusive Priest

By Phuong Ly
Washington Post
February 7, 2003

An inactive Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty in November to molesting two young Gaithersburg brothers in the mid-1970s was long suspected of having improper relationships with boys, but his Georgia diocese allowed him to work with children for years before removing him from parish duties in 1988, Montgomery County prosecutors said yesterday.

The Rev. Wayland Y. Brown, 59, who was sentenced to 10 years in a Maryland prison yesterday, admitted that he molested the Gaithersburg boys, now 40 and 41, while he was a seminarian at Catholic University.

After his arrest in June, the Diocese of Savannah, where Brown spent nearly all his career, said it knew of no earlier sex abuse complaints against him in the diocese, where he began teaching catechism classes in 1969 and was ordained in 1977.

But in a sentencing memo given to a Montgomery County judge yesterday, prosecutors said Brown's church personnel file shows that the Savannah Diocese received numerous warnings from priests and others who noticed Brown's suspicious relationships with boys from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. Since March, when one of the Gaithersburg victims reported being abused by Brown in 1974 and 1975, three other men have alleged that, in the late 1960s and 1970s, they also were molested by him.

The U.S. Catholic Church has been rocked in the last year by revelations that, for decades, church leaders across the country failed to take strong action against pedophile priests, concealing allegations against them. Brown's personnel file suggests that the Savannah Diocese followed that pattern, allowing Brown to work around children despite mounting suspicions about him and failing to share suspicions with police.

For example, the sentencing memo includes a statement from a sheriff's sergeant in Georgia alleging that Bishop Raymond W. Lessard, head of the Savannah Diocese for much of Brown's tenure, did not cooperate in a sex-abuse investigation of Brown in 1986. The sergeant said Brown could not be questioned because Lessard "sent [him] to an unknown location for an indefinite amount of time."

The sergeant said the bishop "at no time supplied me with any helpful information pertaining to" Brown. According to his personnel file, Brown was sent for treatment at a psychiatric center, after which he was returned to parish duties in the diocese. The law enforcement investigation did not result in charges.

"Father Brown robbed me of my future and left me shackled to the chains of guilt," one of the Gaithersburg brothers said in court yesterday. "How could God have allowed you to turn the rectory . . . into a place that was your own personal house of horrors?"

Brown, who pleaded guilty to child abuse and battery charges, sat quietly with his hands propping his chin and stared at his accuser. Then he told Circuit Court Judge Ann S. Harrington that he was remorseful over his past but was now a changed man and that he had helped many young people in "legitimate ways."

Barbara King, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Savannah, said yesterday that the diocese was accurate in its statement in June. No formal complaints had been filed against Brown before the Gaithersburg case.

King said the diocese could not comment further on the case yesterday because the current bishop, the Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland, was out of the office.

Lessard, who retired as the Savannah bishop in 1995 and teaches at a Florida seminary, was unavailable to comment on Brown, according to a seminary secretary.

According to the personnel file, the monsignor of a Savannah parish expressed suspicions about Brown in 1969, when Brown was a catechism teacher. The monsignor wrote that Brown was "developing a coterie of young boys around him." Numerous similar reports followed from others.

When Brown applied for the priesthood in 1972, the monsignor wrote a letter to Lessard about his concerns. But Brown was accepted and began studying at Washington Theological College at Catholic University.

The abuse of the Gaithersburg boys began in 1974 after Brown befriended the brothers' mother and began spending a lot of time in their home. The brothers told police that they were sexually abused repeatedly until 1975. They said the abuse occurred in several places, including Brown's dormitory room at Catholic University.

In later years, according to Brown's personnel file, fellow priests and others continued warning about Brown's suspicious relationships with boys.

Lessard noted that he and Brown discussed "insinuations of homosexual orientation" by Brown and reports that Brown had been seen "at a local beach . . . in indiscreet behavior with a woman." According to the bishop's notes, Brown replied that he was not at the beach with a woman but with a young boy.


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