A Florida man came forward yesterday and said he was repeatedly raped as a teen-ager by the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell at the rectory of St. Bernardine Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore, where, the man said, he and as many as 10 other youths would routinely spend the night.
Warren Hart, a native Baltimorean who is now 42 years old, said he is telling his story publicly to show support for a man he has never met, Dontee Stokes.
Stokes, an alleged victim of Blackwell, told police he shot the priest in May because Blackwell refused to apologize for molesting him.
"I came here to help Dontee," said Hart, who spoke tearfully to the press yesterday afternoon at the office of his lawyer, Joanne L. Suder. "When I heard what happened, I called up Joanne and said, `This kid is not lying. I can see why he did it.'"
Stokes, 27, is charged with attempted murder and is being held on house arrest.
Blackwell, 56, is being investigated by the state's attorney's office but has not been charged with a crime.
Hart, who served in the Air Force after he left Baltimore, is scheduled to speak with detectives for the first time today about Blackwell.
Another alleged victim of Blackwell is also scheduled to speak with authorities today, according to Suder, bringing the total to five men who have accused the priest of abusing them when they were young.
"It was always known Maurice was with boys," said Hart, who grew up in the Gwynn Oak neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore. "People would say to me, `Is Maurice doing you?'"
Neither Blackwell nor his lawyer could be reached for comment yesterday.
Suder, who previously represented Stokes, declined to release Hart's last name until this afternoon. His identity was confirmed by law enforcement officials yesterday.
Warren A. Brown, Stokes' lawyer, said Hart's story makes Blackwell "more of a villain."
"It underscores even more the nature of Blackwell's relationship with these boys, that he was truly a sexual predator," Brown said. "When you treat people on a regular basis the way he treated Dontee and Warren, bad things are going to happen to you."
Hart said the alleged abuse, which lasted for at least two years, started in 1975 when he was 15 years old.
"There is no question people in the church knew or could have known," Suder said.
A spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese said it knew nothing about the alleged abuse in the 1970s. Hart is scheduled to meet with archdiocesan officials this week.
Hart is a computer network specialist who lives in Pembroke Pines, Fla., and has four children.
Looking back, Hart expressed conflicting feelings about Blackwell. Hart said that it was wrong for Blackwell to repeatedly rape him. But the Florida man also said the priest provided structure in his life and was a father figure to him after his father left. Hart even named his first-born son Maurice, who is now 23 years old, after the priest.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Hart's parents were going through a divorce, and he would sleep at the rectory two to three nights a week because he often didn't want to go home, Hart said. He had his own room at the rectory, he continued, and when he was in bed, Blackwell would come into the room.
"It was the lesser of two evils," said Hart, who attended Cardinal Gibbons High School. "I just got used to it."
Hart said he could usually do as he pleased at the rectory, sometimes smoking marijuana or showing up at 2 a.m. He also said Blackwell would take him to drink liquor at a Pennsylvania Avenue bar owned by Blackwell's brother.
Hart left Baltimore in 1977 to join the Air Force and did not return. He said he will always be grateful to Blackwell for helping him join the military.
"I found a new life in the Air Force," he said.
Hart said that apart from a military chaplain and Suder, he never spoke of the alleged abuse.
"The chaplain just told me to pray about it," he said.
Hart said he thinks Blackwell is a good man but "needs to get help."
"Maurice was a good guy and still probably is. It hurt me to see Maurice get hurt," Hart said. " ... Maurice has a sickness, and he needs to deal with that."
Suder said Hart also requires counseling.
Hart said he tries to lead a normal life and is engaged to be married. But, he said, the alleged abuse has had long-term effects on him.
"I don't trust anybody now. I'm a loner. I have very few friends," he said. "Like I told my fiancee, if you can't trust a priest, who can you trust?"