A pastor at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church has been suspended from his priestly duties while Baltimore police investigate a claim that he sexually abused a 14-year-old boy in April at the historic East Baltimore church, an archdiocese spokesman said yesterday.
No charges have been filed in the investigation, said police spokeswoman Sherri Albrecht. Police interviewed the boy Wednesday night, she said, but would not disclose details of the boy’s allegations.
The Archdiocese Of Baltimore placed the priest, the Rev. Alfred A. Dean, on administrative leave after learning of the investigation Wednesday night, archdiocese spokesman Stephen Kearney said last night.
The archdiocese also required Dean to move out of the church rectory and into the headquarters of his order, the Josephite Fathers, Kearney said.
A man answering the phone last night at the Josephite Fathers who identified himself as an out-of-town visitor said the priests were out celebrating the Fourth of July and could not comment.
News of the investigation startled parishioners of St. Francis Xavier, the first black Catholic parish in the United States and a beacon for local African-American Catholics.
They describe Dean, 42, as a friendly pastor whose vigorous sermons draw big crowds, many from far outside the neighborhood, to the 10 a.m. Mass at the large stone Gothic church at Oliver and Caroline streets. Dean arrived in the parish about three years ago, they said.
“He speaks well,” said Grady C. Hill, 78, who lives a block from the church and has been attending services there for 40 years. “So many people like him. You should hear him speak.”
Shelley Douglas, 15, and Tameika Brown, 17, said Dean often visited the playground next to the church with his dog to chat with children.
“He would ask them when they would be coming to church,” said Gloria Douglas, Shelley’s mother. “That’s all he would ever talk to them about.”
“I don’t believe it,” Gloria Douglas said of the abuse allegation.
Neighbors of the church described it as an important institution, even for those who didn’t attend services there. The church oversees a Head Start program and a halfway house, and often organizes block parties and holiday events, they said.
The parish was consecrated in 1864 by an order formed in the 1790s to serve black Catholic refugees from San Domingo. It moved to the current church, a 100-year-old building, in 1968.
The investigation comes two months after a former pastor at a Roman Catholic church in West Baltimore, the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, was shot by a former parishioner, Dontee D. Stokes, who said he was seeking an apology for sexual abuse he suffered from Blackwell as a teen-ager in the early 1990s.
Blackwell was removed from St. Edward church in 1998 after a separate allegation of abuse was brought against him.
The alleged abuse being investigated at St. Francis Xavier is said to have occurred in April -at the peak of the scandal that has brought nationwide scrutiny to charges of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
Hill said that Dean addressed the problem of sexual abuse in sermons both before and after the scandal of recent months.
Hill said he worried what effect the latest investigation would have on the parish, one of whose former pastors, the Rev. Carl Fisher, was promoted to bishop in Los Angeles in 1986.
“But then again,” Hill added, “it’s survived ever since I’ve been here.”