Many at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church for months couldn’t believe their pastor had violated the trust of troubled young parishioners placed in his care.
But that changed last week when they heard Mark Roberts’confession.
The suspended Catholic priest told a judge Thursday that he abused five boys who had sought his spiritual guidance.
“Everybody was in disbelief,”Doug Rice, 58, one of the many St. Peter parishioners who watched television coverage of the court proceeding, said.”You didn’t want to believe it. And I’m not sure I did until he actually stood in a courtroom and admitted it.”
In response to questioning from District Judge Joseph Bonaventure, Roberts acknowledged Thursday that in separate incidents he made the boys take off their clothes and spread their arms in a mock crucifixion, and that he whipped them with a cord.
He also admitted to ordering one to give him a massage and another to fondle his penis.
Prosecutors said the 51-year-old priest ordered the boys to perform the acts as penance for their sins when they visited his rectory at the Henderson parish.
On Saturday, outside the church that Roberts was removed from nearly a year ago, parishioners shared their thoughts about their former pastor.
“I was surprised because I was very fond of him,”said Al Barrera, 59, who was accompanying his mother to Mass.”I felt he was an asset to the community. He had a very good rapport with his parishioners.”
Barrera, a local attorney who has attended St. Peter since 1996, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he saw Roberts on Thursday.
“I was in the courthouse when he came in for his plea, and that was the hardest thing. I didn’t go in the courtroom.”
Several parishioners had mixed feelings when asked about Roberts’crimes.
“Judge not lest ye be judged,”said 79-year-old parishioner John Latus, echoing a sentiment expressed by others.”He was a very good priest, so it’s bad and it’s also very sad.”
Many parishioners said although they were shocked and disgusted by the acts Roberts admitted to, they still would cherish certain memories.
“He baptized our grandson, and it was just a very special celebration,”parishioner Linda Rice said.”We’re lifelong Catholics, and he was one of the best priests we’ve ever had.”
Roberts faces a sentence ranging from probation to five years in prison when he is sentenced March 10.
He also faces a civil lawsuit in connection with the abuse, which was filed by six young men who are now all 17 to 20 years old. Also named as defendants are the Diocese of Las Vegas, Bishop Joseph Pepe and his predecessor, Daniel Walsh.