At least eight Catholic priests serving as chaplains have been punished in the U.S. military for sexual misconduct allegations involving either children or soldiers.
In addition, at least one Protestant minister has been court-martialed for sexual misconduct.
The priests include:
Robert Milewski, a former Navy chaplain convicted in a court-martial last year of touching an enlisted man inappropriately during a massage. He was fined $48,000.
Milewski argued there was not enough evidence to convict him of an indecent act. “Even if these therapies were ‘over the line,’ they were not worthy of criminal sanctions,” his lawyer argued in an appeal.
Pat Nicholson, dismissed as a chaplain at the Air Force Academy in 2000 after a female officer accused him of having a long-term sexual relationship with her, beginning when she was a cadet at the Colorado Springs school. Nicholson has an unlisted home telephone number in Long Beach, Calif., and could not be reached for comment. His lawyer did not return telephone messages.
Neal Destefano, a former Navy chaplain who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to sex-related charges at a 1994 court-martial. Destefano admitted getting two Marines drunk on grain alcohol at a San Diego motel and making sexual advances. He was dismissed from the Navy and resigned from the Jesuit religious order.
Destefano said he had never done anything similar before or since. “It was a tremendous failure of moral responsibility on my part as an officer and a priest,” he said.
Robert Hrdlicka, who served nearly six years in prison after pleading guilty at a 1993 court-martial to sexually abusing four boys, ages 7 to 11, while serving as a Navy chaplain in Italy and South Carolina. Hrdlicka was dismissed from the Navy and from the priesthood. His St. Louis telephone number is unlisted.
Owen J. Melody, who in 1987 pleaded guilty in a Virginia court to aggravated sexual battery against a 13-year-old girl. Melody was then a Navy lieutenant commander and a chaplain in Norfolk. A judge gave him a 20-year suspended sentence, and he was dismissed from the Navy and the priesthood.
Melody, who now lives in Pensacola, Fla., said he was innocent but pleaded guilty because “I didn’t want to bring disgrace on the chaplain corps, the Navy or myself.”
The Rev. Carl Peltz, accused in a federal lawsuit of molesting a boy while serving as a Navy chaplain at a base in Iceland in the 1980s. The Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, settled the lawsuit for $25,000.
Peltz, now pastor of a church in Parchment, Mich., told his parishioners this month that he is innocent. He declined further comment. His lawyer did not return telephone messages.
Robert R. Peebles Jr., accused of molesting a 15-year-old boy in 1984 at Fort Benning, Ga.
Peebles confessed to molesting the boy, according to testimony from military investigators and documents filed by the victim’s family in a civil lawsuit. He was allowed to resign from the Army instead of being prosecuted, records show.
Peebles, who is now a lawyer in New Orleans, did not return telephone messages left at his home.
The Rev. Timothy Sugrue, accused in a lawsuit of molesting a girl in 1978 who lived next door while he was the Catholic chaplain at the now-closed Blytheville Air Force Base in Arkansas. A jury awarded the woman $1.5 million, but she has not collected because Sugrue took a vow of poverty when he joined the Marist religious order.
Sugrue resigned from the Air Force after he learned he was being investigated, according to testimony in the lawsuit.
Sugrue, business manager for the Washington Marist Center, declined comment.