A Catholic priest from Savannah addressed one of his victims in a Maryland court Tuesday after pleading guilty to sexually abusing him and his brother in the 1970s.
The Rev. Wayland Yoder Brown, 59, pleaded guilty to child abuse and battery charges for performing sexual acts on the teen-age boy and his younger brother between 1974 and 1977.
Under a plea agreement, Brown, who has not worked as a priest since 1988, could face three years in jail when sentenced Jan. 22. Brown remains jailed in Montgomery County in Rockville, Md., on $750,000 bond.
The abuse occurred about 25 years ago while Brown was studying to be a priest and include molestations in Savannah, where Brown was working at St. James Church. He was ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Savannah in 1977.
Bishop J. Kevin Boland, head of the Savannah Diocese, said Tuesday that Brown can’t celebrate Mass, wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest. Boland also said Brown could be defrocked.
“On behalf of our diocese, I extend sincere apologies and deepest regrets to the victims of the crimes to which Father Brown has pleaded guilty,” Boland said.
Jailed in Maryland since July, Brown was escorted into Montgomery County Circuit Court in a jail uniform and handcuffs. His handcuffs were taken off before he pleaded guilty before Judge Ann S. Harrington.
Brown then turned to one of the brothers, now 41, who sat the courtroom with his parents, sister and friends. The priest, a Savannah resident for the last several years, said the victim was not at fault.
Brown told him, “It had nothing to do you. You didn’t bring this upon yourself,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Feeney.
Brown was referring to a question the victim repeatedly had asked Brown during a phone conversation between Brown and the victim. The call was recorded as part of the investigation.
The victim had asked Brown what about his personality and demeanor made Brown select him, Feeney said. Brown’s answer at that time was: “If what he (the victim) said was true, he didn’t have any memory of it because he had had a nervous breakdown,” Feeney said.
The priest also apologized.
Feeney said he believes Brown is a serial offender, regularly seen in company of young boys around Savannah up until few years ago. He said Brown typically picked victims from devout families and gained their trust.
Brown was working at a Gaithersburg, Md., church when he met the brothers, then ages 13 and 12. He became close with the boys while counseling their mother on her marital problems, Feeney said. He would sometimes spend the night at the family home and took the boys on hiking trips, to movies and concerts.
Since Brown’s arrest at his Savannah home on Old Montgomery Road on June 26, at least four other men have reported that Brown molested them in the 1970s. All were beginning puberty at the time.
One was an altar boy at a Prince George’s County, Md., church and two are from Georgia. The fourth was allegedly molested while visiting Disney World with Brown.
The statute of limitations on the alleged crimes has run out in Florida and Georgia, meaning he can’t be prosecuted in those states, Feeney said.
“But I am absolutely convinced there are many others. I would hope that others would get fortitude to come forward,” Feeney said.
The Savannah Diocese has offered counseling and spiritual assistance to those affected by Brown’s actions, Boland said.
The case against Brown started after one of the brothers reported to the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office that he had been abused sexually as a teen-ager by Brown over a period of years. The seminarian also had abused his brother, reports show.
The older brother was sexually abused at home in Gaithersburg, at St. Rose of Lima parish rectory in Gaithersburg, at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and at various locations in Georgia. The younger brother was mostly abused at Catholic University.
The abuse still greatly affects the men’s lives today in various ways, including spiritually, Feeney said. He said neither of the men remain practicing Catholics.
Brown’s attorney, Paul Kemp, said Brown spent nine months at the St. Luke Institute in 1985 and 1986, a Silver Spring psychiatric hospital for priests. Kemp said Brown suffered from a sexual addiction, but has been celibate since he was released, The Associated Press reported.
“He feels so terrible about this. He thinks he should be punished,” Kemp said.
One Catholic church official had concerns about Brown even before he went to seminary, according to a law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, the AP reported. Letters in Brown’s personnel file written by people who knew Brown in Georgia and at least one church official stressed that he could be a danger to children. The letters recommended he not be sent to seminary, the source was quoted as saying.
“There were grave concerns about him that he was only interested in young boys,” the source said. “They said ‘don’t send him.’ ”
According to the AP, at the time, the diocese’s vocations director, who handled personnel issues, recommended in a 1977 letter that Brown not be ordained because of concerns that he might be abusing children, the source said. He was later ordained into the priesthood by then-Bishop Raymond Lessard.
Lessard didn’t immediately return an AP call Tuesday seeking comment, and Boland would not comment on Brown’s personnel records, the AP said.
Statement from Bishop J. Kevin Boland Concerning Father Wayland Y. Brown, dated Nov. 19, 2002
Today we received word from the District Attorney’s office of Montgomery County, Maryland that Father Wayland Brown pleaded guilty to one count of child molestation and one count of battery against a minor.
He was charged with offenses in connection with incidents that occurred between July 1, 1974 and May 1, 1977 in Maryland with two victims.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was approved by the Bishops of the United States in June 2002, in its opening article says,
“The first obligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation.” The Diocese has offered counseling and spiritual assistance to those who have been affected by the actions of Father Brown. He was not a priest at the time of the incidents but he was an ordained deacon in preparation for the priesthood. As a seminarian for our diocese, he was under our jurisdiction. On behalf of our diocese, I extend sincere apologies and deepest regrets to the victims of the crimes to which Father Brown has pleaded guilty.
I express gratitude to representatives of the Archdiocese of Washington, who have been extremely helpful in acting as intermediaries on our behalf, so that such counseling could be availed of, if desired by the victims. The same offer was shared with the District Attorney’s office of Montgomery County, Maryland.
In regard to the future status of Father Brown, I will implement the requirements as set forth by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Father Brown has not been in active ministry since 1988. That status will now be permanent. As our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, stated “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” Father Brown will not be permitted to celebrate Mass, to wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest. This has been more or less his status since 1988. There were some occasions when he said Mass publicly at a convalescent home and on such occasions he would wear clerical garb. This is no longer applicable.
I commit myself to following the process provided for in Church Law. These provisions include the request by the priest for a dispensation from the obligation of Holy Orders and the loss of the clerical state. The Bishop may also request a dismissal from the clerical state even without the consent of the priest. These options will be communicated to Father Brown. For the sake of due process, he will be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel. When necessary, the Diocese will supply canonical counsel to a priest.