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Baltimore Officials Probe '98 Claims Against Priest

May 19, 2002 | The Washington Post

The Baltimore state's attorney's office is trying to determine what actions prosecutors took following allegations of child sex abuse made against Baltimore priest Maurice J. Blackwell in 1998, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

The allegations did not involve Dontee D. Stokes, the 26-year-old Baltimore man who was charged Monday with shooting Blackwell. Stokes accused the Roman Catholic priest of molesting him repeatedly over a three-year period that ended in 1993, but no charges were filed.

Since the shooting, the state's attorney's office has said that it has in its files no other allegation against Blackwell, 56. But Friday, the Baltimore Archdiocese sent the office a copy of a 1998 letter it had written to the state's attorney about sexual contact that Blackwell had with a minor more than 25 years earlier.

Also Friday, Cardinal William H. Keeler visited the home of Stokes's grandfather. "He apologized to me on behalf of the church," Charles Stokes said. He said that the cardinal offered to pay for medical and psychological treatment related to the alleged abuse and that he planned to personally apologize to Dontee and his mother, Tamara Stokes, this week.

"He was very humble and sincere," Charles Stokes said.

The timing of the letter from the Baltimore Archdiocese to the state's attorney coincides with Blackwell's admission in 1998 that he had sex with a boy in the early 1970s.

"We're investigating this matter," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "It is part of our review right now to determine if there was an investigation and what it might have revealed. We have no files or notes or anything that would indicate what happened to that case, but we do acknowledge that this office was contacted in 1998." She would not discuss the letter's content.

At that time, Emanuel Brown was in charge of sexual abuse investigations at the state's attorney's office, but he left after being named a Baltimore City District Court judge in November 1998.

"I have no independent recollection of the letter," Brown said yesterday. But he added that he generally forwarded all complaints involving child sex abuse to the city police department.

"I cannot tell you specifically what happened to that case," he said.

Burns said that child sex abuse cases are very difficult to prosecute. "A victim's testimony is crucial, because these incidents are done in secret," she said. "Often, witnesses are reluctant to come forward."

Burns said that an investigation could be started regarding any of the 1998 allegations forwarded by the archdiocese if they are determined to be felonies and therefore not restricted by the state's statute of limitations.

Stokes claimed that Blackwell had fondled him. That type of sex abuse would constitute a misdemeanor, although the time limit to file such a charge has long passed.

Burns also said that over the past two months, the state's attorney's office had received from the archdiocese five other complaints from adults who said they were sexually abused by priests when they were minors. The complaints, dating to the 1960s, are under investigation, she said.

Blackwell, who was shot Monday night on a Baltimore street corner, was released yesterday from Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. He was wounded in the hip and arm.

Stokes has told police that Blackwell molested him between 1990 and 1993 and that the priest refused to apologize when Stokes confronted him on Monday.

Authorities said last week that they investigated Stokes's allegations in 1993 and believed him but did not file charges against the priest because the only evidence they had was the teenager's word.

Stokes was released from jail Friday and placed on house arrest with an electronic monitor. He is staying at the home of a relative.

In 1998, Blackwell was removed from his priestly duties at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church, where had been pastor since 1979. According to archdiocese officials, Blackwell admitted at that time to having sex with a minor in the early 1970s, before he was ordained.

Also Friday, Keeler issued a public apology to Stokes during a noon Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Keeler said Stokes "suffered intensely because of the difficulties in which he now finds himself and which we find ourselves," according to an article in the Baltimore Sun.

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