Archdiocese removes church's pastor after sex abuse admitted Priest at St. Edward issues statement on '70s incident

October 21, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A Roman Catholic priest has been removed from his West Baltimore parish after admitting he sexually abused a minor in a relationship more than 20 years ago, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said yesterday.

The Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, 52, who had been pastor of St. Edward Roman Catholic Church at Poplar Grove Street and Prospect Avenue since 1979, has been put on a leave of absence from his ministry, according to a statement released by the archdiocese.

The sex abuse allegation surfaced six weeks ago when someone who knows the victim approached the Baltimore archdiocese, said Raymond Kempisty, an archdiocesan spokesman. Archdiocesan officials contacted the victim, who told them of the consensual affair, which started at least 25 years ago when he was a teen-ager.

After archdiocesan officials interviewed him, they confronted Blackwell, who acknowledged the sexual affair. It ended nearly 20 years ago, the statement said. As state law requires, the archdiocese reported the details to the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

Kempisty said Blackwell's authorization to function as a priest has been revoked. "There are no plans for his return to priestly ministry," the spokesman said.

Blackwell, in a statement to St. Edward parishioners issued yesterday through his attorney, said the incident "occurred more than 25 to 30 years ago, before I was ordained a priest [in 1974], before I was appointed as your pastor, and before I matured in my determination to walk in the ways of the Lord. I know that God has forgiven me, and that His Grace and Mercy are sufficient."

This is the second allegation that Blackwell engaged in sexual contact with a minor. In September 1993, he was removed from the parish after the city Police Department informed the archdiocese that it was investigating a complaint that the priest inappropriately touched a teen-age male parishioner.

Blackwell was sent to a church-run residential treatment center in Hartford, Conn., for psychological evaluation.

Police dropped the investigation in late September because of insufficient evidence. Three months after he was removed, upon completing the treatment center program and interviewing with Cardinal William H. Keeler, Blackwell was allowed to return to St. Edward.

At that time, a panel that Keeler had appointed to review the archdiocese's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases criticized his decision. The panel noted that a team Keeler had assembled to study Blackwell's case found the accusations against him "consistent and credible."

Keeler responded that the panel had not met with Blackwell, and that he was satisfied that the priest "had recommited himself to faithful spiritual service to the people" of St. Edward.

The Rev. Damien Nalepa has been appointed temporary administrator of St. Edward, in addition to his assignment as pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in West Baltimore.

Blackwell was popular in the church and in the community and helped revitalize St. Edward.

"He has accomplished a lot throughout the Catholic Church and the city," said Bedford Bentley, a former parish council president at St. Edward. "When he came in 1979, the church was pretty moribund."

He said Blackwell enlivened the liturgy, started programs for youth and opened the church to community groups.

"He really put us on the track where we are a growing church with a bright future," Bentley said.

Anyone who suspects or alleges child abuse by a priest, deacon, or any church employee is encouraged to call Monsignor W. Francis Malooly, chancellor of the archdiocese, at 410-547-5446.

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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