Rerrection Farm staff pledge to continue work

September 08, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

The doors of Resurrection Farm remain open to the homeless, to the spiritually broken who need time and support to get back on their feet.

But the people who turned the 181-acre farm into a retreat and shelter 13 years ago are praying to remain strong in the face of news last week that their co-founder, the Rev. Brian Cox, has been suspended by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore for sexual misconduct.

"The board is committed to the work here, yes. And I am committed to the work here," said Judith McPherson, one of the six lay people who founded the shelter and retreat at the Carroll County farm with Father Cox nearly 13 years ago.

"Father Brian's way of dealing with the truth has given courage to a lot of people," said Ms. McPherson.

Archdiocesan spokesman William Blaul said that Father Cox acknowledged an incident with a teen-age boy 15 years ago and is at an in-patient facility for evaluation and treatment. Mr. Blaul would not disclose the location.

A few of the trustees had known for about three weeks that Father Cox was to be suspended, but most of them found out along with the farm's residents and supporters on Aug. 30 and 31. Father Cox had called them all to meetings on those days to inform them.

"Father Brian spoke to all of them himself," Ms. McPherson said.

No wrongdoing has been linked to Father Cox's work at Resurrection Farm, trustees said. The farm is owned by a board independent of the archdiocese, although most people affiliated with it are parishioners at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster.

Father Cox was associate pastor there from 1978 to 1989, when he left to devote his time to Resurrection Farm.

The announcement to St. John parishioners came in their bulletins Sunday, in a letter from the archdiocese. Parishioners at St. Peter Roman Catholic Church in Libertytown also had a notice in their bulletins. Father Cox assisted at both churches on weekends.

In a Sept. 4 letter to the farm's supporters, the nine trustees of the farm, all of them lay people, wrote: "Father Brian, whom God inspired with a dream that became Resurrection Farm . . . has acknowledged to the [archdiocese] and to us an incident involving inappropriate touching of a minor which took place nearly 15 years ago."

Elizabeth Treantafellow, one of the nine lay trustees, said she has repeated to herself the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who died in 1955 -- "Faith has need of the whole truth."

"We are in a period of self-discovery and self-disclosure," Ms. Treantafellow said.

"We have faith in the truth, that truth brings healing," Ms. McPherson said.

Since he was a boy, Father Cox had always envisioned a farm to help the poor or the spiritually broken, he told The Sun in an interview in May. When his mother was being treated for breast cancer at a New York City hospital, he and his older brother had been sent to stay with family friends at a farm upstate.

"It was such a happy time, about three weeks," Father Cox said during the May interview. "I even forgot to pray for my mother, I think. But she pulled through. I said, 'When I grow up, I'm going to have a farm so I can make people happy.' "

When Father Cox and the other six found the 181-acre farm in Silver Run and sent letters to supporters asking for prayers, they received checks, eventually raising enough for a $40,000 down payment.

They lease 85 acres to a farmer. The rest of their income is from private donations. The farm even does its own version of tithing: 10 percent of all the money that comes in goes back out in contributions to other charities or individuals in need, Ms. McPherson said.

Up to a dozen people live there, and a total of 225 people have passed through its doors to spend one night or many, as long as it takes to get back on their feet. The trustees set no rule on the length of stay -- people stay until they are able to live on their own or choose to leave.

Very few have been asked to leave for breaking house rules, which include no drug or alcohol use, no physical or verbal abuse and no sex between unmarried couples while they are at the farm.

St. John parishioners regularly contribute food, money, clothes and services.

"It's a difficult situation for everyone. We're praying for Father Brian and anyone involved in any way," said the Rev. Arthur Valenzano, pastor at St. John.

"This cannot negate the good work they do there," Father Valenzano said of the farm. "That work has already happened."

Father Cox had lived at the farm, but the trustees all have their own homes and families, and most have full-time jobs.

"We need to fill a big gap in the operations," Ms. McPherson said.

Resurrection Farm has always operated mostly on faith -- with no government grants or regular income, only the contributions that flow from supporters.

"We really do rely on individual contributions, and we are confident that will continue," Ms. McPherson said. "We stand empty-handed before God, and we trust God will provide for the works and the needs of the people."

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