Cardinal meets with Stokes and his family

Visit to suspect in shooting of priest seen as `healing'

May 31, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Cardinal William H. Keeler visited Dontee D. Stokes yesterday at the Randallstown home where the 26-year-old is under house arrest in the shooting of a Catholic priest over alleged sexual abuse years ago.

The one-hour meeting was described by Stokes' attorney as a "healing event."

It came nearly two weeks after Keeler, at a Mass, issued a public apology to Stokes, who is accused of shooting the Rev. Maurice Blackwell on May 13 outside the priest's house in Reservoir Hill.

In 1993, then-State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms declined to pursue charges based on Stokes' allegations that he had been abused by Blackwell, and the Baltimore archbishop reinstated the priest at St. Edward Catholic Church, where Stokes was a parishioner.

In 1998, after Blackwell admitted sexually abusing another youth many years earlier, he was removed from the parish and suspended from his priestly functions.

About 4:30 p.m. yesterday, the cardinal arrived at the home of Stokes' uncle and aunt in the 3400 block of Meadowdale Drive, where Stokes is confined while awaiting trial on charges including attempted murder.

After talking with Stokes' relatives for about 20 minutes, the cardinal sat outside on the porch with Stokes, and the two spoke privately, said Warren A. Brown, an attorney for Stokes, who was at the house.

Brown declined to say what the two men discussed during their 40-minute exchange but said there was a "a great deal of prayer" and "a lot of tears."

"It was a healing event. It was very moving," said Brown, who helped arrange the meeting. "The cardinal is a very compassionate and humble man. His concern was genuine and appreciated."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore could not be reached for comment, but Brown said the cardinal is expected to issue a statement today about the meeting.

During a noontime Mass at the Basilica of the Assumption on May 17, Keeler apologized to Stokes in his homily, saying, "I take this occasion to express publicly my apologies to all who have been victims, and in a very special way to Mr. Stokes, who has suffered intensely because of the difficulties in which he now finds himself and which we find ourselves."

Of yesterday's meeting, Stokes' grandfather, Charles P. Stokes Sr., said, "It's always a step in the right direction when the shepherd meets the flock."

The meeting between Keeler and Stokes evolved out of a letter Brown sent to Keeler on Tuesday, asking the cardinal to support efforts to provide his client with counseling instead of jail time.

"I do understand and acknowledge the pain which Dontee Stokes has experienced through the years," Keeler wrote in a reply to Brown's letter later that day, adding that he looked forward to meeting Stokes.

Brown said he followed up, and the cardinal rearranged his schedule to meet with Stokes yesterday.

"He was very amenable to the idea," Brown said. "He made Dontee's circumstances a priority."

Brown said he hopes to meet with Blackwell next week to "bring him into this circle of forgiveness and healing."

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