City police investigating rape allegation by ex-nun

She accuses former priest of attacking her in 1989

May 10, 2002|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police have opened an investigation into a 13-year-old allegation by a former nun who says she was raped by a priest in the rectory of a Park Heights parish.

Sister Rita D. Monahan, who made her complaints public in a news conference yesterday, said she went to church officials, including Cardinal William H. Keeler, in early 1990 seeking assurances that the priest, the Rev. Thomas R. Schwind, would be sent to a psychiatric center that treats sexual disorders.

Instead, she said, the priest was transferred from St. Ambrose to another parish, and she was invited to confess her sins and was offered a $5,000 settlement on the condition that she not press charges and not speak about the incident.

"The betrayal by Cardinal Keeler was, if not as devastating as was the actual sexual assault, even maybe more so because I trusted the church," said Monahan, 53, who left her religious order in 1984 and is studying theology at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

The allegation, which was aired in one of 25 news conferences across the United States and Canada organized by the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, a victims' advocacy group often at odds with church leaders, is the first to involve the Baltimore Archdiocese in the priest sex abuse scandal.

The Baltimore police sex offense unit has opened an investigation and subpoenaed relevant documents from the archdiocese. Church officials are cooperating, said Raymond P. Kempisty, a spokesman for Keeler.

Schwind, married and pastor of New Covenant Tabernacle in East Baltimore, and the archdiocese deny wrongdoing.

"Everything that happened at that time, it was very traumatic for me," Schwind, 50, said in a brief interview outside his Northeast Baltimore home. He said he "absolutely" did not rape Monahan, adding that in 1990, the allegation she made against him involved "inappropriate touching," which he also denied.

"There were no charges, there was nothing that ever ultimately proceeded out of that," said Schwind, who left the priesthood in 1993. "I just have to let the chips fall where they may. I'm just going to put it in God's hands."

Kempisty said Monahan's allegations of a cover-up are false. The archdiocese received a complaint from Monahan in 1990 that Schwind had tried to kiss her and touch her inappropriately and investigated the allegations with "inconclusive" results at the time, he said. The archdiocese also cooperated with the state's attorney's office in its investigation.

"After a number of meetings with Sister Rita and her attorney, the matter ended with us without resolution," Kempisty said. "We believe that our response to Sister Rita's allegations in 1990 was sensitive, pastoral and thorough."

State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy acknowledged that her office investigated Monahan's allegation of a sexual assault in 1990.

"At that time the victim indicated that she did not want to pursue criminal charges," her statement said. "According to our records, the victim was requested by the Church to drop the case and was advised the suspect would get counseling in this matter."

Monahan has hired lawyer Joanne L. Suder, who has represented victims of sexual abuse in lawsuits. Suder said a civil suit against Schwind and the archdiocese is under consideration.

Monahan said she was motivated to speak out after reading recent comments by church officials that the Baltimore Archdiocese had properly dealt with priest abusers since the mid-1980s.

"I came forward in the hope that my story would give hope to any other person ... who has been violated by a priest," Monahan said.

Monahan said she was raped on the night of Feb. 12, 1989. Monahan had met Schwind the year before, when he became her confessor and spiritual adviser, and she began volunteering at his parish. At the time of the alleged rape, she was temporarily living at the rectory while she recovered from an illness.

Monahan said this is how the alleged attack occurred: On a Sunday night, she and Schwind came back to an empty rectory from dinner after a long day of working at the parish. Schwind invited Monahan upstairs to his room to pray the Divine Office, the daily prayer that priests and other members of religious orders are required to recite. Near the conclusion of the prayer, Schwind put on a recording of Christian music and told her to close her eyes. Then she was thrown on the floor and attacked.

Monahan said that when she confronted Schwind the next day, he told her they had consummated a "mystical marriage."

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