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Five Members Resign From Virginia Diocese Sex Abuse Panel Over Priest's Reinstatement

Aug 22, 2002 | AP

The Diocese of Richmond lost all five lay members of its sexual abuse panel when they resigned to protest the reinstatement of a priest accused of abusing teenage boys in the 1970s.

The panelists had recommended in June that the Rev. John E. Leonard be removed from duty and hospitalized for counseling. But Bishop Walter F. Sullivan cleared the priest of the allegations and returned him to his suburban parish.

Panelists said Sullivan did not follow procedures and that they never received the investigative team's final report. Some also said they disagreed with the bishop's decision.

"I resigned because the process was not followed the same reason everyone else has given," said Kathy Jones said Friday after becoming the last lay person of the 10-member panel to resign. The remaining panelists are either priests or work for the Catholic diocese.

Four men accused Leonard of improper sexual behavior when he was principal of the St. John Vianney Seminary, a boys high school in Goochland County that closed in 1978. A fifth man told the Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk this week that Leonard raped him while he was a student at the school in 1974.

The investigative report concluded the accusers were believable, while Leonard's responses were not, according to The Virginian-Pilot, which obtained a copy.

Goochland County prosecutor Edward K. Carpenter began a criminal investigation Monday.

Leonard, who was put on leave in May when the investigation began, has denied the allegations. His lawyer, James C. Roberts, declined to comment Friday on the panel members' resignations.

Sullivan is on vacation and could not be reached for comment, the Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, diocese spokesman, said Friday.

The case is among the latest in a series of scandals involving priests accused of sexual abuse that has rocked the Roman Catholic church in the United States and abroad.

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