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Catholic sex 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 Catholic military

Accusations Against Priests

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, home.

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 for comment.

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 Army.

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 for comment.

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 records show.

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 the job.

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 the military.

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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