Probe of priest dropped boy had alleged abuse Father Blackwell remains on leave

September 29, 1993|By Gregory P. Kane and Michael James | Gregory P. Kane and Michael James,Staff Writers Staff writer David Michael Ettlin contributed to this article.

Authorities have ended the Father Blackwell criminal investigation of a popular West Baltimore priest that stemmed from an allegation of child sexual abuse.

The decision not to prosecute the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell was made because of insufficient evidence, Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said last night.

"We concluded the evidence was insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that terminates at least our aspect of the inquiry," Mr. Simms said. "There having been no arrest or no formalized proceeding, nothing was dropped. We just made our analysis and concluded our inquiry."

Father Blackwell, 47, was removed from his pulpit at St. Edward's Roman Catholic Church earlier this month after a teen-age parishioner told police and archdiocese officials that the priest had "inappropriately touched him."

Mr. Simms said he knew of only the single allegation against the priest.

Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said the prosecutor's decision concludes the police investigation.

Archdiocese officials said that they haven't ended their review, however, and the priest remains on administrative leave pending completion of a psychological evaluation.

With the agreement of Father Blackwell, who denied the abuse allegation, the archdiocese sent the priest to an undisclosed residential treatment center for psychological evaluation.

Father Blackwell will not be returning to the pulpit until that evaluation is completed, said Rob Rehg, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

"The police have made a statement on where they are, but we still have a process we have to go through, with Father Blackwell's cooperation," Mr. Rehg said.

Mr. Rehg said that it is unclear when the evaluation will be finished and that Father Blackwell remains on administrative leave.

In 1974, Father Blackwell became the second black priest ordained in the Baltimore archdiocese. He became known as a charismatic priest as he helped the predominantly black Poplar Grove Street congregation wed its Catholic faith to its African-American heritage. He is credited with helping St. Edward's more than triple in size to about 300 families.

His suspension from the pulpit raised questions among parishioners and friends about whether the archdiocese was treating him fairly.

Yesterday, parishioners expressed support for Father Blackwell and said they hope he returns soon.

"The news today is great," said CreSaundra Sills, principal of the church Sunday school. "We can't wait for him to come back. We've all been praying very hard for him."

Bedford Bentley, parish council president, said, "It's what I expected, and I'm glad it's been announced. The archdiocese is doing what it thinks is best. My concern is that he returns to our church as soon as possible, and I hope there's a rapid resolution of that. We've gotten the outcome we expected."

Skip Sanders, an administrator with the Maryland Department of Education, a parishioner and a friend of Father Blackwell for 30 years, said that parishioners are "elated and very relieved."

"My personal [feeling] is that many of us have believed in Father Blackwell in the first place. I've had problems with the archdiocese's course of action from the beginning," he said. "I think the archdiocese needs to re-evaluate its policy."

Father Martin dePorres Smith, a Baltimore priest who has worked with Father Blackwell, said that he didn't fault the archdiocese for proceeding with the evaluation.

OC "The archdiocese has to protect itself, and him, too," he said.

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