Priest issues flat denial of teen sex-abuse charge

March 13, 1994|By Kris Antonelli and Gary Gately | Kris Antonelli and Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writers

An attorney for a Roman Catholic priest denied yesterday allegations that the priest sexually abused a student he had counseled in the late 1980s.

Kevin M. Kelly, a Las Vegas attorney representing the Rev. Jerome F. Toohey Jr., issued a detailed, two-page denial in response to a civil suit seeking millions of dollars that was filed Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court.

The priest, a friend and former college classmate of Mr. Kelly, was unavailable for comment.

The suit claimed that Father Toohey -- former president of the board of directors of John Carroll School in Bel Air and a former chaplain at Calvert Hall College high school in Towson -- "engaged in a course of conduct whereby he sexually, mentally, emotionally, verbally and physically abused" the teen.

The suit also claimed Father Toohey, 47, "condoned" the student's "potential homosexuality."

But in his statement, Mr. Kelly said: "Father Toohey categorically denies that he ever 'sexually, mentally, emotionally, verbally or physically abused' " the alleged victim, now 23. The Sun does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse.

According to the suit, the student told his family in the spring of 1986 that he was "afraid that he was homosexual." His father met with then-Archbishop William D. Borders, who referred the boy to Father Toohey for counseling, the suit states.

According to the suit, during the counseling, from 1986 to the end of 1989, the student was sexually abused in the priest's offices at John Carroll and at Calvert Hall and at the priest's Towson home.

Mr. Kelly's statement, however, said that all the counseling took place at John Carroll in its religion department offices and that the relationship was "most appropriate and proper."

The alleged victim, the lawyer's statement said, had been represented by two previous attorneys who had not brought forward any allegations of abuse while they represented him.

No accusation of abuse had been reported to Father Toohey until Dec. 10, 1993, when he learned of the youth's allegation from archdiocesan officials, the statement said.

The statement also denies that Father Toohey, known as "Father Jeff," ever condoned the alleged victim's homosexuality.

xTC "Father Toohey," Mr. Kelly's statement said, "never condoned nor encouraged [the teen's] sexual orientation but only ensured that his sexual orientations did not interfere with [his] being the best person humanly possible."

The statement said that conversations after Dec. 10, 1993, with the attorneys who had represented the alleged victim earlier revealed an accusation of a "single unlawful act of touching" four years ago.

In accordance with its policies on reports of abuse, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore reported the allegation to state prosecutors, who did not pursue the case, the statement said.

The suit accuses the priest of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. It accuses the archdiocese of negligence for referring the student to the priest for counseling. In each of the suit's six counts, the plaintiff asks for $1 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

The suit also named as defendants Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler, retired Archbishop Borders and the archdiocese.

In a written statement Friday, the archdiocese said an internal investigation after the allegations surfaced showed the organization had no reason to believe Father Toohey would "act in an inappropriate manner."

The archdiocese said that the investigation found no other reports of sexual misconduct by Father Toohey and that the priest denies the allegations in the lawsuit.

The priest, who had been an associate pastor at Baltimore's St. Francis of Assisi parish, was a chaplain at Calvert Hall from 1984 until December, when his priestly powers were suspended in the wake of the youth's allegations, archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul said.

Officials from John Carroll School and the archdiocese were unable to say Friday how long Father Toohey had been on the school's board of directors.

John Carroll Principal Robert J. Garbacik said Father Toohey has had no involvement with the school since at least 1990.

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