Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb apologized Saturday to about 200 people at St. Pius X Catholic Church for letting a priest with a history of sexual abuse continue preaching.
The Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock resigned last week after a fourth accusation of sexual abuse was made against him. Sherlock has admitted to three other incidents in years past.
The archbishop repeatedly apologized to parishioners at the 90-minute for Sherlock’s actions and his own naivetDe in trusting Sherlock.
“I believed Father Sherlock,” Lipscomb said. “I’m sorry, but I obviously did.”
Parishioners expressed both concern and support for the Catholic hierarchy at the meeting. Some were angry that Lipscomb allowed Sherlock to stay after the first abuse allegation surfaced in 1997. But they also booed a woman who asked Lipscomb to resign.
Sherlock, 62, was pastor at the church from 1989 to 1997.
Lipscomb said he believed the fourth incident took place between 1986 and 1989, when Sherlock was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Mobile.
Church officials have said all of the victims were male teenagers.
An abuse incident during that time could be prosecuted under state law. No sex crimes committed after Jan. 7, 1985, against people younger than 16 is subject to a statute of limitations in Alabama.
Lipscomb said he didn’t know the name of the fourth accuser, who contacted police or prosecutors.
“It came from outside and through an attorney and went directly to civil authorities,” Lipscomb said. “But I was given notice of it.”
The District Attorney’s office has launched a criminal investigation.
Lipscomb said the other three incidents appear to have expired under the statute of limitations.
“We were in consultation with our attorneys in each of these instances,” Lipscomb said. “Because of the remoteness of the incident in time, we were told the statute of limitations did not require us to go to the district attorney.”
The archbishop said that at least three other priests from the Archdiocese of Mobile have been removed on charges of sexual abuse since he became archbishop in 1980.
“There have been certainly three and maybe four such cases, where I have acted swiftly within 24 hours to remove a priest, as soon as this was credible and I found out about it.”
In one of those instances, the late Rev. Cordell Lang was cleared of charges and reinstated to his duties at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mobile.