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Beach Man Says Diocese Covered Up Sexual Abuse

Jun 21, 2002 | The Virginian-Pilot

The Virginia Beach man who accused a priest of sexual abuse said Thursday the exoneration of the Rev. John E. Leonard this week by the Diocese of Richmond represented a cover-up of ``abhorrent behavior.''

``I came forward because I love my church. I came forward because Father Leonard engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior,'' Thor Gormley said in an interview. ``I'm morally obligated to speak up.''

Leonard, who has denied any wrongdoing, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

He was suspended in May as the priest of St. Michael Parish in the Richmond suburb of Glen Allen pending the outcome of the investigation. On Tuesday, Bishop Walter F. Sullivan announced that, based on the investigation's findings, Leonard's suspension was ``unwarranted.'' Leonard was restored to his post the same day.

Gormley, who manages a local mortgage office, attended St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County in the 1970s. He said Leonard, who taught at the now-defunct Catholic high school, was his spiritual director for four years. He alleges that the sexual misconduct occurred during that period.

Gormley said he didn't report the incidents at the time because he regarded Leonard as almost a surrogate parent whom he trusted and deeply respected.

But the encounters weighed upon him for years afterward, he said. ``I've thought about this every month, for my entire life.''

Gormley, 49, is studying to become an ordained Catholic deacon, in a diocesan program directed by Leonard. Gormley said the spiritual maturity he has gained during his training compelled him to share his story of abuse with his parish priest.

That priest referred Gormley to the Rev. Thomas Caroluzza, who is Sullivan's representative in eastern Virginia. Gormley said he recounted his St. Vianney experiences but never sought a diocesan investigation.

Nonetheless, diocesan protocol put an investigation in motion, and a team that included Caroluzza and a mental health therapist interviewed Gormley and other alleged victims and witnesses. Gormley was not identified until he went public with his response to Leonard's exoneration.

In a second news release Wednesday that gave a fuller explanation of Sullivan's decision, the diocese said three former St. Vianney students ``complained of incidents involving back rubs, questionable conversations, immodest dress or inappropriate contact, none of which involved genital touch or activity.''

The Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, Sullivan's spokesman, said Thursday that the investigative team took the testimony but did not judge whether the stories were true. Sullivan had sole authority to weigh the findings and decide how to resolve the case.

Gormley on Thursday accused the diocese of minimizing his allegations by intentionally using a narrow, legalistic definition of what constitutes sexual abuse. ``For them, it's the cover-up that matters.''

Gormley said he would not sue the diocese or Leonard. ``I leave it to the laity of the Diocese of Richmond to judge the true nature of this embarrassing incident,'' he wrote in a news release.

He said in the interview that although some church leaders made mistakes, he does not fault the Catholic faith.

``This is a beautiful faith,'' he said. ``I want to be ordained as a minister in this faith.''

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