Church's `scandal' is others' kindness

November 18, 2007|By DAN RODRICKS

Father Ray Martin's offenses as pastor of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore included hiring a church maintenance man who had a criminal record. While not Martin's most serious offense - that would be letting a female Episcopalian priest read the Gospel during a funeral Mass - a spokesman for the archbishop threw the maintenance man into the mix of objections to Martin's ministry.

It was mentioned, frequently and cryptically, in news reports about the priest's dismissal as pastor of three churches in South Baltimore.

But who is this maintenance man? How serious is his criminal record, and how old are the charges against him?

Answer: He's Frank Gulbrandsen, a 41-year-old welder and handyman. Most of his problems with the law go back to the early to mid-1990s, when he was in his 20s. Some of the charges against him involved drugs, including marijuana and PCP; most were dropped.

His relationship with Martin developed last spring, when the priest hired Gulbrandsen to make repairs at Holy Cross Church in South Baltimore, one of three in Martin's pastorate. More than his supervisor, Martin became Gulbrandsen's encouraging friend and spiritual mentor. By late summer, Gulbrandsen, who was raised a Lutheran, was ready to convert to Catholicism.

He was happy - "Closer to God than I've ever been before," he says - until the Archdiocese of Baltimore rejected him as a full-time employee at Holy Cross.

And the archdiocese rejected him, he says, because of a crime he did not commit.

In 2005, Gulbrandsen owned a modest rowhouse on a side street in the Brooklyn section of Baltimore. He rented the second floor to a young woman.

One day, his tenant's boyfriend was arrested in the basement of the house for selling drugs. Police arrested Gulbrandsen, too, though he claimed he had nothing to do with the crime. "They arrested me because I owned the house, that's all," he says.

Though the charges against him were eventually dropped, Gulbrandsen says, the arrest cost him the house; he spent 2 1/2 months in jail, fell behind in mortgage payments and lost the property in an auction. He lost most of its contents to theft.

The arrest, he says, also cost him a job with the archdiocese.

Because the arrest had stayed on Gulbrandsen's record, it showed up last summer when the archdiocese human resources office ran a background check on him.

By then, Gulbrandsen had worked for Father Martin at Holy Cross for a few months, making repairs for modest wages and, he says, saving the church a few thousand dollars in the process.

Martin liked Gulbrandsen's work enough to offer him a full-time job.

"I did an application with the archdiocese in July," Gulbrandsen says. "And it was three months later the woman from human resources had a meeting with me and Father Ray and she said it would not be in the best interest of the church for me to continue working there."

It wasn't Gulbrandsen's overall criminal record, but the arrest in 2005 that threatened his job.

When Gulbrandsen protested his innocence, he says, the archdiocesan official suggested he have the charge expunged from his record. "If we got it expunged, she would reopen my case," Gulbrandsen says. "That was very clear, absolutely. Get that [charge] off my record and she said, `I'll re-represent it to the bishop.' ... Father Ray and I left that meeting and went right to the courthouse on Patapsco Avenue and he got all the paperwork for me and he paid the [$30 expungement] fee out of his own pocket."

Martin kept Gulbrandsen working at Holy Cross into the fall. That's apparently the offense cited by the archdiocese in forcing Martin to resign as pastor of Holy Cross and his two other churches. (Contacted for The Sun by a parishioner, Martin declined comment on this story.)

Sean Caine, the spokesman for the archdiocese who mentioned the maintenance man when news of Martin's firing first broke, would not comment on Gulbrandsen. "I am not able to discuss a particular employee's record or employment situation," he wrote in an e-mail.

But Caine elaborated for the weekly Baltimore Guide, saying the maintenance man had a criminal history that included theft and drug arrests. (Theft does not appear on Gulbrandsen's criminal record, though drug possession charges do.)

"Fr. Martin had agreed to terminate that employee, but we found he had not; the employee was still working there," Caine told the Guide. "The hiring and screening of employees is important. There's not a lot of room for flexibility."

But that's not exactly what Caine said in his e-mail to The Sun.

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