Stokes says he did not seek criminal probe of Blackwell

Claim of abuse was made so priest could `get help,' according to accuser

May 29, 2002|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Dontee D. Stokes said yesterday that when he told others in 1993 that the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell had sexually abused him, he did not intend to start a criminal investigation of the popular West Baltimore priest.

"All I wanted was to be believed and to have him get help," Stokes said in a telephone interview. "I never wanted for the world to know he did these things to me."

Stokes said that after he told a counselor at his high school, St. Frances Academy, about the alleged abuse, she told him the law required her to report it to police and the Department of Social Services. "Personally, I never wanted criminal charges against Blackwell," he said. "I was forced to go public. My back was against the wall."

He said the incident derailed his plans to go to college and pursue a career in youth ministry, not only because of the trauma and depression it caused, but because his accusations against Blackwell rebounded against him.

"I was outcast from the church completely," he said.

Stokes, 26, is accused of shooting Blackwell three times May 13 after confronting him outside the priest's house in Reservoir Hill and demanding an apology for the abuse that he says occurred.

He spoke from the Randallstown home of his uncle and aunt, where he is confined while awaiting trial on attempted murder and other charges. He spoke in a calm, measured voice, occasionally interrupted by his baby daughter, Tanee, whom he balanced on his arm during the conversation.

Stokes declined to discuss the sexual abuse that he says he suffered or the circumstances of the shooting, but he said he wanted to speak out for reform of the state law that prevents most adult victims of sexual abuse in Maryland from filing lawsuits.

Lawsuits derailed

Maryland law, as interpreted by the state's highest court, requires a person who was sexually abused as a child to file suit within three years of turning 18, by his 21st birthday. That provision has derailed major lawsuits by victims of abuse by priests and a Catholic schoolteacher; it also has protected the Archdiocese of Baltimore from the multimillion-dollar claims that have hit the Boston Archdiocese and others around the country.

At least 39 other states have extended the statute of limitations in sexual child-abuse cases, responding to the concerns of advocates who say abuse victims are often too traumatized to report the abuse until long after they turn 21.

Stokes' family consulted several lawyers about the possibility of filing a lawsuit in 1993, when he was 17 and the alleged abuse was within the statute of limitations, but none was filed. Stokes said he recalls that after the Baltimore state's attorney's office declined to pursue charges against Blackwell, discussion of filing a lawsuit ended.

Because he is over 21, he would be prevented by current law from filing suit against Blackwell or the archdiocese. He said he decided to speak out because he thinks the existing law is unfair to all victims, but he said he would consider filing suit if the statute of limitations is changed.

"If the abuse leads to you not being able to fulfill your life, and you're not able to finish high school, to continue work," then a victim should be allowed to seek compensation in court, he said.

Stokes said his dream was to become a youth minister. As a teen-ager, he was president of the youth organization at St. Edward Catholic Church, Blackwell's parish.

"When I was in church doing youth ministry, I was the happiest I've ever been," he said.

But he said that dream was shattered by the alleged abuse and its aftermath. After then-State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms declined to pursue charges, Cardinal William H. Keeler reinstated Blackwell at St. Edward's. Five years later, in 1998, Blackwell admitted to sexually abusing another youth many years earlier, and he was removed from the parish, and his powers to act as a priest were suspended.

By that time, Stokes had suffered severe depression and attempted suicide at least once. He had dropped out of high school, though eventually he attended barber school and has worked successfully as a barber in recent years.

"The abuse can lead to depression, and you can't function," he said. If it becomes possible under the law, he added, "I would file a lawsuit at least for them to pay for schooling. I was planning to go to college."

In 1993, Stokes alleged that the abuse consisted of fondling. However, since the shooting, Stokes' mother, Tamara Stokes, and other family members have suggested that the abuse, which Stokes alleged went on for three years, might have gone beyond that.

He declined yesterday to comment on the details of the abuse, but said: "The point the church and the state need to understand is all abuse is traumatic spiritually and traumatic emotionally, no matter how much you were violated."

Meanwhile, a South Baltimore legislator said he intends to propose changing state law to extend the time limit for survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

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