Prosecutors are poring over massive personnel records provided by the Archdiocese of Mobile in an investigation of sex abuse allegations against a former priest who recently resigned after 37 years at churches in Mobile and Montgomery.
Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, who admitted letting the Rev. J. Alexander Sherlock continue in the ministry after learning of sex abuse incidents involving Sherlock, was urged by the Mobile Register in an editorial Thursday to resign earlier than planned.
The newspaper said Lipscomb “has a duty to take the kind of action that makes clear that egregious decisions have consequences.”
Lipscomb was in Montgomery on church business Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Sherlock, 62, served six Mobile area parishes between 1966 and 1997, then moved to Montgomery to serve as pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church. He resigned from the priesthood Feb. 28.
Lipscomb said he learned of one credible accusation of child sex abuse against Sherlock in 1997 and that two more individuals brought credible allegations to him “after the year 2000.” The archbishop said he felt appropriate steps were taken when he decided not to remove Sherlock from active ministry, then a fourth credible allegation surfaced last week.
Mobile County District Attorney John M. Tyson Jr. Tyson, who opened his investigation Monday, would not comment on how many people had come forward.
The Very Rev. Michael L. Farmer, chancellor of the archdiocese, said the documents turned over to the district attorney’s office Tuesday were “personnel files, pretty much.” He said he believes the four cases referred to by Lipscomb involve males.
Tyson did not rule out future requests of archdiocesan documents during the investigation.
“My request is an open-ended request, and as we go through various available records we may make additional requests,” Tyson said. “The response to our request has been timely.”
Lipscomb said the first allegation he knew of dated back to the mid-1970s. The archbishop could not offer a time frame for other instances of abuse.
Alabama law does not require clergy to tell authorities about abuse, but bills mandating them to report known or suspected cases of child abuse to the state Department of Human Resources have been introduced in the House and Senate.
Lipscomb said Tuesday he supports the legislation.
The archbishop said he did not remove Sherlock from active ministry upon first learning of his behavior because he “was convinced this was a past instance that occurred years earlier and was not operative in his life.”
Lipscomb said he informed Sherlock in January 2003 that “particular law governing his case would be operative as of March 1 and I would be obliged to remove him.”