deny, deny, deny

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jan 14, 2004

Richmond VA priest Fr. John Leonard pleaded guilty yesterday to a pair of misdemeanor assault charges involving two minors.

He was charged yesterday in Goochland Circuit Court with three felony sex offenses, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Edward K. Carpenter. Under a plea agreement, two counts of forcible sodomy were reduced to misdemeanor assault and battery charges, and a third charge of abduction was withdrawn. Leonard is to be sentenced to consecutive 12-month jail terms, suspended for life, and placed on supervised probation. Sentencing is set for March 30.

A very interesting conclusion. Why? Because Leonard has an extraordinary record of abuse allegations, and has been repeatedly judged fit for ministry and reassigned by (don't be shocked) America's most notoriously gay-friendly bishop, the newly-retired Walter Sullivan. Leonard and Sullivan made headlines back in August of 2002, after accusations had re-surfaced that Leonard drugged and sexually assaulted a male high school student in the late 1970s. A half-lay, half-clergy panel had been created the previous April to deal with sex abuse accusations; a sub-group of this panel was designated as an "investigative team," and the team recommended to Sullivan that Leonard be pulled from his parish and psychologically evaluated. Clever Sullivan quickly reinstated Leonard, on the basis of old psychological evaluations done in response to previous allegations. This prompted the resignation of all five lay members of Richmond's 10-person panel, and the consequent media coverage was a huge embarrassment to Sullivan.

Sullivan responded with a contorted and deeply dishonest smoke-and-mirrors job (available here as a PDF file):

[The investigative] team presented its full findings and recommendations to me. Any suggestions that I made my decision apart from the panel's team, or without considering the report of that team are absolutely false. It was only after I had deliberated, formulated and announced my decision that I was told the panel had not seen the team report. That team was supposed to report its findings and recommendations to the panel when it reported the same to me. That team never did so. What is worse, the panel member who resigned because the panel never got its report sat on the very team that failed to report to the panel. It is incorrect to say that I circumvented the panel. It is also noteworthy that the team was demanding a quick decision from me while leaving the panel without any information about its own investigation. To say that I did not follow the team's recommendations is untruthful. I have honestly stated what the team advised and I did not ignore its recommendations

Sullivan's playing a shell-game with us here. We've got the Team, the Panel, and the Bishop. The Team reported to the Bishop but didn't report to the Panel. The Bishop made his decision overruling the Team's recommendation, but not the Panel's recommendation, because the Panel never had a chance to make one. It seems supremely unlikely that the Team member who resigned would have worked to block the report from getting to the Panel, and it seems bizarre that, since Sullivan disagreed with the Team, he would not have disagreed with the Panel also had they backed up the Team. And it is odder still that Sullivan would not at least ask for a recommendation from the Panel if the Panel (not just the Team) was supposed to get the report. But in a technical and utterly vacuous sense it is true: Sullivan did not circumvent the Panel.

So whom do we believe -- Bishop Sullivan, or the five lay Panel members? It no longer matters. Sullivan made it to retirement with all flags flying, Leonard's retired at 65 with sentences suspended for life, with ample time to study the Good Touch Bad Touch guidelines in nearby Arlington and work on his approach shots. A happy ending?

The Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan, who retired in September as bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, declined to comment.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2004 6:59 AM ET USA

    And God said: "Didst thou eat of the forbidden fruit?" Adam: "The woman gave it to me..." Eve: "The serpent beguiled me..." Satan: "Er, the devil made me do it. Huh? Oh right - that's me. Never mind..."

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2004 11:24 PM ET USA

    who is the head of this bishop? for that matter, of any bishop? it seems John Paul 2 needs some help overseeing them. should we have a regional/country cardinal/bishop overseeing and directly reporting to the pope? where is the accountability? what is to be our attitude towards bishops like this? i respect the office, but the man is another story. why aren't his "brother bishops" calling him on this? silence is complicity. this is public, say something. if you don't, what are we to think?

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2004 3:12 PM ET USA

    One of the most confusing explanations I have ever read. Abp Sullivan was outrageous and I will never understand how he got away with it. Can't help but speculate. But tell us, was Leonard's sentence suspended or his right to act as a priest? Both your write-up and the article are ambiguous.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2004 1:38 PM ET USA

    How long, O, Lord? Do these bishops really believe what they say? By now, for those paying attention, it is obvious that the problem is widespread though worse in some dioceses than others. The problem of homosexuality in the priesthood is out of the closet. "Consexual homosexual sex" meaning gross immortality among priests is the present day problem. Do these bishops still believe that this empty verbiage is saving face? Honesty in word and action would go a long way to restoring trust.