The Catholic Diocese of Savannah ignored warning signs for years that the Rev. Wayland Yoder Brown was behaving inappropriately with young boys, Montgomery prosecutors said last week.
Brown was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison for molesting a Gaithersburg boy and improperly touching the boy’s younger brother in 1974, while he was a seminarian interning at the St. Rose of Lima Church in Gaithersburg.
The 59-year-old priest pleaded guilty in November to one count of child abuse and one count of battery, after being extradited from his hometown of Savannah, Ga..
“If we knew then what we know now, Father Brown would not have been ordained,” the Savannah diocese’s Bishop J. Kevin Boland said in a statement Friday. Boland said he would begin the formal process of defrocking Brown with the Vatican; the diocese made Brown’s inactive status as priest permanent after his guilty plea.
At Brown’s Feb. 6 sentencing in Circuit Court in Rockville, his victim, now 41, told the court of the lasting devastation the former priest caused him three decades ago.
“Father Brown’s legacy will be one of regret, regret for the day I met him, regret for the lifetime I wasted,” said the man, who was 13 when Brown crawled into his bed and began fondling him at his Gaithersburg home in 1974. “He stole my sense of self and left me crippled.”
Brown was studying theology at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., when he befriended the boy’s family at St. Rose of Lima.
The abuse lasted three years and forced the boy to drop out of high school when he was 16 and live the life of a recluse, unwilling to enter into any meaningful relationship, the victim told the court. The Gazette does not name victims of sexual abuse.
At one point, the victim looked up directly at Brown. “Because of you, I have never gone to church. I have tested my faith,” he said. “How could [God] allow you to turn a holy place into your own personal house of horrors?
“You say nothing happened,” he said of comments Brown made after he confronted him last year in a police-arranged sting. “How dare you?”
A second victim, now 38 and living in Oklahoma, testified that Brown, by then an ordained priest in Georgia, abused him on a trip to Walt Disney World in 1978.
Judge Ann S. Harrington also ordered Brown to be placed on five years probation, have no contact with anyone under 18 and abstain from alcohol.
The victim’s words, she said, was “a manifestation of a lifetime of pain.”
Brown apologized to his victims, his church and his fellow priests, saying he is a changed man.
“It’s there. I did it. I feel sorry for it and I changed,” he said. “In the midst of these horrible facts, I feel a serenity and peace of mind. I feel no need to deny the past and close the door.”
Prosecutor Peter A. Feeney revealed that the diocese in Savannah knew about Brown’s proclivity for young boys for years, even postponing his ordination for a year in 1976 because of serious reservations about his suitability as a priest.
In August 1975, Bishop Raymond W. Lessard met with Brown and discussed reports of his inappropriate behavior with local Boy Scout troops and at Armstrong College in Savannah where Brown taught math from 1968 to 1972.
But Lessard took no action other than postponing Brown’s ordination. Brown became a priest in 1977 and served in four Georgia churches until 1986, when police from two Georgia counties began investigating him for child sexual abuse.
The diocese removed him from pastoral duties and made him unavailable to police investigators.
In September 1986, Brown was relieved as administrator of two Georgia churches, with the diocese saying it was for medical reasons.
Brown went to St. Luke’s Institute in Silver Spring, an institute that specializes in treating priests for sexual addiction and alcoholism. By June 1987, he was back in Savannah, working as an associate pastor.
Following more allegations a year later at a church school, the diocese placed Brown on unassigned status, according to the personnel files.
Barbara D. King, a spokeswoman for the Savannah archdiocese, told The Gazette in June that Brown was removed because of “a personality conflict.”
“He stole these boys’ childhood, their dignity, their emotional status and brought them to despair,” Montgomery State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) said at Brown’s sentencing. “He portrayed himself as a man of God and violated and abused that trust.”
The Gaithersburg victim told reporters after sentencing that he would have preferred Brown get the maximum sentence of 25 years.
“I wouldn’t say it was fair,” he said of Brown’s 10-year sentence. “He took all those years from me. But I can live with that.”