`No record' of letters, prosecutors say

Archdiocese says it sent allegations of abuse in '98

May 21, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

An "exhaustive" search by the city state's attorney's office has found no evidence it was informed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1998 of allegations that the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell had had sex with a boy decades earlier, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

"Our office can say with virtual certainty that we did not receive letters detailing allegations of abuse from 1998 that were brought to our attention on Friday," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns.

The archdiocese contends that it sent two letters, dated Sept. 17, 1998, and Oct. 9, 1998, to city prosecutors. The first details accusations of sexual activity between Blackwell and a boy, beginning about 30 years earlier when the boy was in fifth grade, and continuing for several years.

The second letter, according to a source who has read it, said that "Father Blackwell acknowledged that he engaged in a number of sexual encounters with [the youth] between 1971 and 1975." The letter, from the Rev. J. Bruce Jarboe, the archdiocese director of clergy, related that Blackwell asked for and was granted a leave of absence from his ministry, and that his authority to function as a priest had been revoked.

At the time, the archdiocese released a public statement saying it had reported the alleged abuse to the state's attorney's office. Raymond P. Kempisty, spokesman for the archdiocese, has stood by that statement. The letters were addressed to Emanuel Brown, then chief of the child sexual abuse unit, Kempisty said last week.

"Both letters name the victim, who to my understanding has never wanted to be publicly identified," Kempisty said.

But Burns said yesterday that prosecutors and staff members who worked in the sexual offense unit at the time have no memory of the case and have found no trace of the letters or of the alleged victim's name.

Burns said that Baltimore police detectives also don't recall the case and that the department does not have a referral about the allegations from the state's attorney's office - a routine document in any such case.

"The fact that we have no record of this alleged abuse is highly unusual," Burns said, adding that prosecutors have other documents from the archdiocese from the same period.

As a result of the 1998 allegations, which church officials characterized as a consensual affair with a teen-ager, Blackwell was removed from St. Edward Catholic Church in West Baltimore, and he lost his authority to celebrate Mass and other sacraments. Blackwell admitted in a statement to his parish that he had sexual relations with the boy, but said he stopped before he was ordained in 1974.

Five years earlier, in 1993, Blackwell had been accused of fondling Dontee Stokes over a three-year period when Stokes was a teen-ager. Prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge Blackwell, and Archbishop William H. Keeler reinstated him after a three-month stay at a Connecticut treatment center.

Stokes is accused of shooting Blackwell on May 13, apparently in a rage over a lack of apology from the priest.

Blackwell, 56, is recovering at his home. Stokes, 26, has been charged with first-degree attempted murder and has been released on an unsecured bail.

The cardinal plans to visit Stokes this week and offer a personal apology, Kempisty said.

The apparent disappearance of the 1998 letters took a political turn yesterday when City Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil demanded State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's resignation.

Stancil, who is running for Jessamy's job this year, blamed her for losing the original letters and accused her of incompetence. Stancil also requested that State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. investigate the matter.

Stancil said she had information that Jessamy's office had had other "communications" subsequent to the 1998 letters that should have tipped prosecutors off to the problem. But she offered no details or substantiation.

Burns said yesterday that the office had no subsequent correspondence regarding the 1998 case - until the office began looking into it last week.

Burns said Jessamy and her staff will decide in the next few days how, or whether, to open an investigation: "We will immediately assess what the appropriate next steps are and it could include re-contacting the victim in this case, if that individual is able to be located."

If the alleged victim wants to cooperate, prosecutors will determine whether a crime was committed, and if it constituted a felony at the time - since there is no statute of limitations for such crimes.

Child abuse is a felony, but those statutes were not created in Maryland until the mid-1980s. The state's sexual offense laws did not include acts besides vaginal intercourse until the mid-1970s. That leaves assault, which could be a felony depending on the severity.

City prosecutors will use the same process as they review other long-ago abuse claims forwarded by the archdiocese. In the past three months, the office has received four complaints dating from the late 1940s to 1974. The letters name one seminary student and various priests. The alleged victims include three boys and two girls.

The Baltimore County state's attorney's office has also received two recent letters from the archdiocese. An April letter alleges a priest abused a young boy in 1975. A February letter alleges another priest abused a girl in the 1960s.

Sun staff writers John Rivera and Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.