abuse scandal widens in military
Matt Kelley - Associated Press
Oct. 12, 2003
WASHINGTON - Even as the Catholic Church has tried to put
its sex abuse scandal behind it with fresh policies and investigations,
new accusations have surfaced in the past year against 11
current or former priests who served as chaplains in the military.
The new claims bring to more than two dozen the number of
More than 25 current
or former Roman Catholic priests serving as U.S. military
chaplains have been accused of sexual abuse. They include:
Navy Cmdr. Brian Bjorklund,
suspended in July by the Detroit archdiocese after what
it called a substantive allegation he molested a child
in Michigan before he joined the Navy in 1988. Bjorklund
did not return repeated telephone calls to his home.
Monsignor Robert Reidy, accused in a lawsuit
last year by two Youngstown, Ohio, brothers of molesting
them in the 1960s before he joined the Navy. Nancy Yuhasz,
chancellor of the Youngstown diocese, told reporters
last year Reidy had admitted the abuse. Youngstown Bishop
Thomas Tobin later said Reidy denied the allegations.
Yuhasz said last month she could no longer comment on
the matter because of the lawsuit. Reidy did not return
repeated telephone messages left at his Niles, Ohio,
Thomas Forry, sent to be an Army chaplain in
1988 by the Boston Archdiocese despite an allegation
that he beat his housekeeper. Last year, church officials
suspended Forry, who had left the Army and returned
to the Boston area, after he was accused of molesting
children. He has an unlisted telephone number and could
not be reached for comment.
Carmelo "Mel" Baltazar, a former Navy
chaplain convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison
for molesting a boy in Idaho in 1985. A lawsuit filed
this year accuses Baltazar of molesting another boy
while he was in the Navy stationed in San Diego. Baltazar,
who has been defrocked by the church, could not be located
Four Catholic Navy chaplains disciplined for
sexual misconduct from 1994 through 1999. Their cases
were mentioned in an internal Navy report obtained by
The Associated Press. The accusations included sodomy,
downloading pornography on a computer with someone being
counseled, "homosexual acts/assault," sexual
assault and unspecified sexual misconduct. The report
did not include the priests' names.
Barry E. Ryan, a former Air Force chaplain. Church
officials told an Alabama prosecutor this year that
Ryan had been accused of sexual misconduct while at
Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. Ryan is no longer
a priest and this year left his job at a school in Stuart,
Fla. He could not be reached for comment.
An Army chaplain suspended by the diocese of
Greensburg, Pa., last year. The diocese did not name
the priest, who was suspended because of a credible
allegation of child molestation before he joined the
Pat Nicholson, dismissed as a chaplain at the
Air Force Academy in 2000 after a female officer accused
him of having a long-term sexual relationship with her,
beginning when she was a cadet. Another woman has accused
Nicholson of molesting her while he was a priest near
Montgomery, Ala., in the 1970s before he joined the
Air Force. Nicholson has an unlisted home telephone
number in Long Beach, Calif., and could not be reached
Robert Milewski, a former Navy chaplain convicted
in a 2001 court-martial of touching an enlisted man
inappropriately during a massage. He was fined $48,000.
Neal Destefano, a former Navy chaplain who was
sentenced to five years in prison in 1994 after pleading
guilty to drugging and molesting two Marines. He was
dismissed from the Navy and resigned from the Jesuit
religious order. "It was a tremendous failure of
moral responsibility on my part as an officer and a
priest," he said.
Robert Hrdlicka, who served nearly six years
in prison after pleading guilty at a 1993 court-martial
to sexually abusing four boys, ages 7 to 11, while serving
as a Navy chaplain in Italy and South Carolina. Hrdlicka
was dismissed from the Navy and from the priesthood.
His St. Louis telephone number is unlisted.
Owen J. Melody, who in 1987 pleaded guilty in
Virginia to aggravated sexual battery against a 13-year-old
girl while he was a Navy chaplain. A judge gave him
a 20-year suspended sentence, and he was dismissed from
the Navy and the priesthood. Melody now says he is innocent.
He is married to another Navy chaplain, Capt. Julia
Cadenhead, who helped the Navy institute a training
program called "Ethics First!"
Alvin Campbell, a former Army chaplain who pleaded
guilty to molesting Illinois boys in 1985. Campbell
served about seven years in prison and died last year.
Carl Peltz, accused in a federal lawsuit of molesting
a boy while serving as a Navy chaplain at a base in
Iceland in 1985. The Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio,
settled the lawsuit for $25,000. Peltz, now pastor of
a church in Parchment, Mich., told his parishioners
he is innocent. A review by the diocese of Kalamazoo,
Mich., this year found no "credible evidence"
to support the allegation.
Robert R. Peebles Jr., accused of molesting a
15-year-old boy in 1984 at Fort Benning, Ga. Peebles
admitted molesting the boy, according to court documents
and testimony, and was allowed to resign from the Army
instead of being prosecuted. Peebles, who is now a lawyer
for the Social Security Administration in New Orleans,
did not return telephone messages left at his home.
Timothy Sugrue, accused in a lawsuit of molesting
a girl in 1978 at the now-closed Blytheville Air Force
Base in Arkansas. A jury awarded the woman $1.5 million,
but she has not collected because Sugrue took a vow
of poverty. Sugrue resigned from the Air Force after
he learned he was being investigated, according to testimony.
Sugrue declined comment.
Copyright 2003 by
The Associated Press.
chaplains accused of sexual abuse, according to an Associated
Press review of church, military and court records.
Among the latest to be accused is Navy Cmdr. Brian Bjorklund,
who had his priestly powers suspended by the Detroit Archdiocese
in July because of a credible allegation that he abused a
child before he joined the Navy. Bjorklund has been suspended
as a chaplain at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, Calif.
He is one of at least eight Catholic chaplains accused of
sexual misconduct before joining the military, the AP review
found. Church and court records show that Catholic officials
knew, but did not tell the military, about the misdeeds of
at least two priests before they became chaplains.
Victims' advocates say those cases suggest church leaders
may have knowingly endangered military personnel and their
families by sending problem priests to the Army, Navy or Air
Force. Church officials deny doing that.
Bjorklund did not return several telephone messages left
at his home near the California naval base.
Of more than 25 military priests accused of sexual misconduct
in the past three decades, at least 19 have been punished
by military, civilian or church authorities, the AP review
found. They include priests sent to prison for raping children,
priests found guilty of abuse by juries in lawsuits or priests
removed from their posts by the military or the church.
Other priests have avoided jail by agreeing to quit the military
rather than face prosecution. In 1992, for example, Roberto
DeOtero resigned from the Navy after admitting he molested
a boy at the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., court
Two other former altar boys are suing DeOtero and the Catholic
Diocese of Hawaii, saying DeOtero molested them before he
joined the Navy in 1987. DeOtero declined comment when contacted
at his father's home in California.
The Catholic Church has been rocked by revelations that hundreds
of priests have sexually abused parishioners and that church
leaders often shifted abusive priests from assignment to assignment
to cover up the assaults. One option for church officials
was to send priests into the military, where about 900 of
the more than 5,500 chaplains are Roman Catholic priests.
The military relies on the Catholic Church and other religious
organizations to check the backgrounds of potential chaplains
and certify they are morally and ecclesiastically fit for
Priests serving in the military technically answer to the
bishop in the diocese where they worked before joining the
service. While the military determines chaplains' assignments,
promotions and discipline, the military archdiocese is liaison
between the Catholic Church and the military.
Sexual misconduct by military chaplains is not unique to
the Catholic Church. A 1999 Navy study obtained by the AP,
for example, found that 19 chaplains from 12 denominations
had been punished for sexual misconduct between 1994 and 1999.
But the problem seems particularly acute among Catholics.
Five of the 19 punished Navy chaplains were Catholic priests,
the most of any denomination. And three of the four senior
officers punished for misconduct were Catholic, that internal
Navy report said.
In all, the military has disciplined, discharged or jailed
at least 13 Catholic chaplains for sexual misconduct during
the past 25 years, records show.
Victims' advocates say the Catholic Church had a pattern
of sending problem priests into the military, either in an
attempt to straighten them out or cover up their abuses.
"I think the military is particularly attractive for
a bishop in that situation," said David Clohessy, national
director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"The priest ends up far away from the diocese, so the
bishop can say they took the father out of active ministry
and say he's no longer in the diocese."
Church officials deny knowingly sending abusive priests into
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