The chairman of the theology department at Villanova University, accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a seminary student in the mid-1970s, has resigned from his position, a university spokeswoman said Saturday.
The Rev. Arthur B. Chappell resigned in early May, several months after the alleged victim, Gary Belkot, leveled accusations that he was sexually abused in 1975 and 1976 while studying to be an Augustinian priest at the suburban Philadelphia university, said spokeswoman Barbara Clement.
William Sweeney, a lawyer for the Augustinian order, said Chappell has acknowledged engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with Belkot but “disagrees significantly with Mr. Belkot in the number and places and nature of events.” He said Chappell, who at the time was serving as a provincial secretary in the Augustinian order but had no position at Villanova, considered the sexual contact to be consensual. Belkot, then 18, said he was the victim of about 25 instances of sexual abuse during his freshman year, when he lived in an on-campus house of seminarians.
“It was very much like this brainwashing thing,” Belkot, who is now married with three children and lives in Delaware, said in an interview Saturday. “I certainly didn’t believe at the time that this was sexual because I think there’s a disassociation that goes along with it.
“It’s like, ‘This is happening, but it’s not really happening.’ It takes on a whole dreamlike quality.”
Belkot, 46, said he reported the abuse in 1977 to a Villanova psychologist who then notified the Augustinian order, but no written report of the complaint was ever produced. He said he began contacting Villanova administrators, including the university president, last January after becoming more involved in support groups for victims of sexual abuse.
“You get to a point in your life where if I don’t say something, who will?” Belkot said.
The order had offered to pay $300 a month for three years to cover Belkot’s therapy and counseling, but Belkot said he rejected the offer primarily because it would have forbidden him to sue.
“The therapy helps and assists him for here and now,” said his attorney, Gregory Gianforcaro. “But what about all those years? I think Gary’s offended by the fact that throughout these decades, he’s endured a substantial amount of pain.”
There was not a telephone listing in Pennsylvania for Arthur B. Chappell and he could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday. Chappell’s attorney, John Rogers Carroll, did not immediately return a call left at his office.
Clement, the Villanova spokeswoman, said Chappell had worked at the university for about 15 years, during which time there had “never been any report of anything of questionable behavior.”
Chappell has been placed on indefinite unpaid leave from Villanova and will not return to the faculty next year, Clement said. His resignation was first reported Friday by WPVI-TV.