Roman Catholic Heartbreak: Baltimore Update

On the heels of the conviction of Boston priest Paul Shanley on charges of molesting children, the spotlight in the continuing Roman Catholic scandal moves to Baltimore.

Tomorrow, the trial begins for Maurice Blackwell. The former West Baltimore priest is accused of molesting Dontee Stokes, a teenager in his parish, on four separate occasions between 1989 and 1992. In 2002, that teenager, then a grown man, shot Blackwell, who had gone unpunished after Stokes unsuccessfully pressed charges against him in 1993. (Blackwell was stripped of his priestly duties in 1998 after he admitted having a “relationship” with another teenager in the late 1970s; Pope John Paul II officially defrocked him in October 2004.) Stokes served 18 months under house arrest for a handgun conviction following the shooting, but he was acquitted of attempted-murder charges.

Until now, Blackwell was publicly silent about the matter. Today, he finally said his piece.

From Baltimore’s WBAL-TV:

In the past 10 years, he has lost “most of what a person holds dear,” Blackwell said.

“I have lost my good name and reputation, my peace of mind — even my health and physical mobility have been impaired over something I did not do,” Blackwell said at a news conference in his attorney’s office.

Blackwell, 58, described Stokes as a mentally disturbed young man who made the allegations in hopes of getting money out of him and the Catholic Church. …

Blackwell, who was defrocked by the Vatican in October, said the church abandoned him and “orchestrated my defrocking.” He also blamed “media sensationalism.”

Blackwell attributed the charges against him to “the power and evil of money: its allure for those who are willing to deceive to get it, for a shepherd willing to desert one of his own to keep it, for those willing to defame an innocent man to make it.”

Harsh words from an apparently bitter man: If indeed he did not touch Stokes, well, his bitterness is justified. We are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. As Blackwell’s attorney Kenneth Ravenell noted, “This is a man who was almost killed by Dontee Stokes, and people seem to have forgotten that… . It’s amazing in our society that someone can be shot and left for dead and all of a sudden people seem to rally around the person who shot him – all believing something without knowing all the details.” We don’t know all the facts; it would be unfair of us to judge either way. Let us hope that Blackwell gets a fair trial

We do know — Blackwell admitted this — that the onetime pride of Baltimore’s African-American Catholic community (or that’s what they keep saying around these parts), a grown man, had indecent contact with another teenager. To my mind, this justifies his removal from the priesthood, so his whining about his defrocking is just noise.

In any case, Dontee Stokes is not the issue here — he has had his day in court and has paid his debt to society. Tomorrow, Maurice Blackwell finally will have his turn. Now it is time to let the judge, lawyers, and jury do their jobs and hope that justice will be done. And it is long past time to scrutinize Cardinal William Keeler’s complicity in allowing someone who admitted to abusing a teenager to continue in ministry. When does Keeler go on trial???

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