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Archbishop Might Defrock Baltimore Priest

Jun 5, 2002 | The Washington Post

Cardinal William H. Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, said yesterday that he is considering formally defrocking Maurice J. Blackwell, the Baltimore priest who was shot May 13, almost a decade after being accused of molesting the man who is now accused of shooting him.

Blackwell has been barred from priestly duties since 1998, when another alleged victim came forward, but defrocking is a more severe step that would formally push Blackwell out of the priesthood.

The announcement came as Keeler publicly urged the U.S. Conference of Bishops to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for priests who are credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

The Conference of Bishops will vote next week on a new sexual abuse policy, a draft of which would allow priests who have been accused once of child molestation to return to the priesthood under certain conditions -- a position Keeler said he does not support.

"This path we tried to follow here some years ago and we found that it did not work," he said yesterday, referring to Blackwell.

In 1993, Blackwell, who was pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church, was accused of repeatedly molesting Dontee D. Stokes, a teenager in his parish. After a brief suspension that included counseling, Blackwell returned to the pulpit -- against the recommendations of a lay board. Not until 1998, when another alleged victim came forward, did the archdiocese decide to use its administrative powers to put Blackwell on permanent leave and bar him from acting as a priest.

Defrocking -- officially called laicization -- is a more severe measure and would require authorization from the Vatican.

To victims groups, handling such matters administratively, as many archdioceses have done, is inadequate. "Anything short of laicization suggests that it's okay for sexual predators to remain walking through the rectories of America," said Mark Serrano, Washington area director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national group.

But the archdiocese has been reluctant in the past to defrock priests for two reasons, said spokesman Raymond P. Kempisty. In practical terms, he said, "to the people in the pews, it makes no difference" whether such matters are handled administratively or through the Vatican -- in either case, accused clergy can no longer act as priests. In addition, laicization can take years, he said.

At its meeting next week, the Conference of Bishops will consider measures to speed the laicization process, changes Keeler supports. Kempisty said the archdiocese will wait until after the conference to decide whether to pursue laicization of Blackwell.

Also yesterday, the Baltimore state's attorney's office released the police report filed May 23 by the third man to accuse Blackwell of sexual abuse, Baltimore limousine driver Ricardo Wayman. Wayman came forward after Stokes acknowledged shooting Blackwell.

Wayman called a news conference May 22 to claim that he was abused by Blackwell when Blackwell was a seminarian at St. Mary's Seminary and Wayman was 15.

However, some dates he gave at the initial news conference did not appear to correspond with church accounts of where Blackwell was living and studying at the time.

According to the report released yesterday, Wayman told police he first met Blackwell when he was 16 or 17 years old in 1969 or 1970. The report notes: "However, if [Wayman] was born in 1952, in 1969 he would have been 17 years old, in 1970 he would have been 18 years old."

Robert Joyce, Wayman's attorney, defended the apparent discrepancies yesterday, saying that Wayman simply said the abuse happened when he was a teenager. "He didn't remember exact dates," Joyce said.

Wayman and some friends had been invited to attend a concert at St. Mary's Seminary, according to the report. After the concert, Blackwell and two other seminarians offered to take Wayman on a tour of the seminary. Blackwell and Wayman ended up alone together in what he assumed was Blackwell's room, Wayman told police.

Wayman said Blackwell came close to him and touched him inappropriately, forcing him to perform fellatio and sodomizing him.

"He said that he was hollering and screaming and he could not understand why no one would help him," the report said. He said Blackwell told him, "It's best not to tell anyone about this incident."

Blackwell called him several days later and asked to see him again, Wayman alleged.

Wayman said the priest took him to an apartment, where they drank wine and listened to music, and Blackwell engaged in more inappropriate sexual behavior.

Wayman told police he and Blackwell met once a week for the following "two or three" years. He said the affair ended when Blackwell "became nasty and would force him to perform sexual acts that he did not want to do."

Prosecutors in the Baltimore state's attorney's office will examine the case over the next several weeks to determine Wayman's exact age at the time of the abuse and whether the relationship was consensual, spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns said.


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