Sunday, August 21, 2005

Woman says church warned

A Covington woman says if the Catholic Church had heeded her warnings, a second woman would not have been victimized.

Eleven years ago, a parishioner accused a Catholic priest of sexually abusing her in the confessional of their Covington church.

Related material
>> E-mail from the Rev. DiLorenzo's administrative assistant

>> Letter from the Rev. DiLorenzo
(both files in PDF format)

The woman who made the allegation against the Rev. Edward C. Moran said the church promised her that he would never lead another parish.

Earlier this year, Moran was leading another parish - and facing another allegation of sexual misconduct.

Although both cases involve adult victims and murky details, some say these incidents mirror the way the Roman Catholic church has handled priests who molested children, which sparked a national controversy.

David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a Chicago-based victims advocacy group, said Moran's case appears to fit the pattern: priests accused of sexual abuse being moved from one parish to another by a church unwilling to recognize the scandal's wide scope.

"I warned them, and now there's another victim," said the woman who accused Moran of assaulting her at the Covington parish. "If they had done what they promised to do, that person would not have been victimized."

In March, Moran was temporarily suspended from the ministry for sexual misconduct with an adult woman, said Steve Neill, spokesman for the Catholic Church's Diocese of Richmond. Moran could not be reached.

Neill said Moran acknowledged the offense, which happened while he was pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in West Point, a small Tidewater town.

However, the Catholic church has been more tight-lipped about allegations made in 1994 by the woman who said Moran abused her at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Covington.

The diocese confirmed that Moran left the Covington church in 1994 after being accused of misconduct. Although Neill declined to elaborate on the complaint, he did say that it resulted in the priest's being sent to a treatment program.

"I don't have access to those records," he said when asked what kind of treatment. "I just know he went away for treatment, for lack of a better word."

The woman spoke to The Roanoke Times on the condition that she not be named. The newspaper's policy is to not name accusers in cases involving alleged sexual assaults.

Moran has reportedly left the West Point area, and officials at the local church and the Diocese in Richmond said they do not know where he is. Multiple attempts to reach him were unsuccessful, and there was no reply to a certified letter sent to his last known address in Chester.

With the church releasing little information about the 1994 accusation against Moran, and with his whereabouts unknown, the most detailed source of information is the woman herself.

"If the woman wants to talk about it, she can tell anything she wants," Neill said. "But we're not going to make any comment as to what transpired between her and the diocese. That's confidential."

The woman never sought charges against Moran, 54, or filed a lawsuit against him.

At the time, she said, she was satisfied with a promise that he would never return to the ministry, which she said was made by the then-bishop and another high-ranking church official. The retired bishop has denied making such a promise, and questioned other parts of the woman's account.

The church will neither confirm nor deny that such a promise was made.

"I wouldn't know," Neill said. "I doubt that promise was made, because obviously he was reassigned."

Nor would the church rule out the possibility that Moran might someday be reinstated as a priest.

"Whether or not he comes back, that remains to be seen," Neill said. "I can't say never. That would depend on dialogue between him and the bishop and his own desire, whatever that may be."

Seeking a spiritual refuge

Photo courtesy the Virginian Review
The Rev. Edward C. Moran, seen here in a photo from the early 1990s, is accused of sexual misconduct at two Virginia parishes."I warned them, and now there's another victim. If they had done what they promised to do, that person would not have been victimized."

The Rev. Edward Moran was assigned to Sacred Heart, a small Catholic church in downtown Covington, in 1990. It was about the same time the woman who would later accuse him of sexual assault was searching for a new direction in her life.

The woman, now 52, said in a recent interview that she was distressed at the time about breaking up with her husband. She began to go to different churches in the Covington area. Although she was not a Catholic, the woman was attracted by the church's history and the way she felt welcomed by the local congregation.

She was also impressed by the priest.

"I really looked up to him," she said. "You look at a priest and they're above you. They have that spiritual floatiness about them."

The woman decided to become a Catholic and join the church. Moran became her spiritual counselor.

As they got to know each other, Moran joined the board of a local charity where the woman worked. He became a frequent visitor to her workplace, the woman said.

Then came an event that changed their relationship, the woman said. She gave the following account:

One summer night in 1991, the woman was working late when Moran called her. He said he needed to speak to her right away at the church.

When she arrived, Moran directed her into his portion of the confessional. He pulled her down on his lap and began groping at her breasts and crotch through her clothing.

"He said, 'We need to pray to God because I have lust in my heart for you,'" the woman said.

At first, the woman was paralyzed by fear and shock. "It was like a nightmare where you want to run but you're too scared," she said.

She finally broke free after about 10 minutes and ran off.

The woman never called the police.

"I was in a situation in a small town where everybody knows everybody. I was embarrassed to go to the police and make a big stink about it. I knew it would be around town in a matter of minutes. I didn't want the scandal."

Abuse, or a woman scorned?

For several years, the woman said, she did not tell anyone else in the church about what happened, even as Moran repeatedly tried to get her alone following church events or show up at her job.

Finally, after confiding in a friend who was a co-worker and a church member, the woman decided in 1994 to report Moran to the Diocese of Richmond.

After hearing her account, the woman said, church officials told her three things: Moran was temporarily suspended, he was to undergo counseling and he would not lead another parish.

One of the officials named by the woman - the Most Rev. Walter Sullivan, who at the time was bishop of the Richmond Diocese - said there was never a promise that Moran would not lead another parish.

"I don't want to get into a he-said, she-said kind of thing," Sullivan, who is now retired, said when reached at his home. "But that was never an assurance given to her. It may be a big misunderstanding."

Sullivan also said he did not recall the woman alleging actual sexual abuse. "I just don't recall it being as stark as that," he said when told of her allegations. "It was just very vague."

Sullivan said the woman could have developed an infatuation with Moran, only to become angry when he tried to distance himself from her. "I just think she's a lady who feels scorned," he said.

Today, members of the church were reluctant to talk about the incident if identified. But three parishioners said the woman clearly enjoyed the time and attention Moran gave her.

"She was ga-ga over him," one member said.

Feeling the fallout

The reasons for Moran's departure from Sacred Heart in 1994 were murky then and remain so today.

In announcing his departure to the congregation, Moran said the bishop had graciously granted him a sabbatical to study in Rome, the woman said.

Neill, of the diocese, confirmed that was the reason Moran gave. He declined to comment when asked if that was a true statement.

As word got around the parish about the woman's allegations, she said, she began to feel the fallout from church members loyal to Moran. Some people accused her of making false allegations, she said, and of being mentally unstable.

The harassment got so bad that the woman had her lawyer write to the attorneys who were representing Moran and the diocese.

The woman "has received numerous phone calls (many of them hang-ups) and expressed and implied threats to her well-being from persons who remain friendly with Moran," Alexandria attorney Roger Amole wrote in a letter dated May 12, 1994.

In the letter, Amole said the diocese had a responsibility to his client and the congregation to tell them the truth: "Which is that Father Moran has been placed on sabbatical pending an investigation of a number of allegations that he has committed sexual and other improprieties."

Amole's letter did not address the other improprieties. But according to the woman, four other parishioners complained to the diocese about Moran at the same time she made her accusations. She said those complaints dealt with his suitability to be a priest.

No explanation was ever given for Moran's departure, according to several church members. "I don't remember them saying one word," Pat Johnson said. "He was just gone."

To this day, Moran's accuser said, she still must deal with resentment from some church members who don't know the full story.

An unexpected discovery

Nearly a decade passed.

Then, in July 2002, the woman was planning a trip to visit her nephew, who lives near West Point. Thinking she might attend the Catholic church while she was there, the woman looked it up on the Internet.

She saw that Edward Moran was the pastor.

"I was devastated," she said. "It was horrific for me to see him there."

The woman sent e-mails to all the West Point church members she found on the Web site, telling them about her accusations against Moran at the Covington church. Most of the e-mails went unreturned. One person wrote back, asking how dare she make such accusations.

The diocese was equally unresponsive to her concerns, the woman said.

Three more years went by. Then, in February, the woman was at her computer when an e-mail popped up. It was from a member of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in West Point.

"I was given a copy of the e-mail you sent to a member of the parish council back in July of 2002," the church member wrote. "Nothing was ever done with the e-mail because we did not know if it was true or not. Things have now happened that have changed my mind."

Sent for evaluation

The following month, an announcement was made to the West Point congregation: Moran had resigned as pastor after acknowledging "sexual misconduct with an adult woman."

He was to be sent to "a Catholic treatment facility for clergy for evaluation," according to an article in the diocese newsletter, The Catholic Virginian, that ran about the same time.

Neill, the diocese spokesman, declined to elaborate on the case recently, except to say that Moran remains temporarily suspended.

According to Peg Conklin, a member of the West Point church who remains friends with Moran, the incident involved a consensual affair he was having with a woman who had recently joined the church. The woman could not be located for comment.

Even if the encounter was consensual, that's not much of a defense, according to David Clohessy of SNAP.

"I believe there really cannot be a consensual relationship between a Catholic priest and a Catholic because of the inherent power differential," he said.

"Catholics are raised from birth to trust, revere and respect priests and to believe that they are God's representative on earth. A priest is the only one who can forgive our sins and thereby get us into heaven. So when somebody has that kind of awesome power, it's inherently abusive for them to have sex with a Catholic."

Clohessy was also struck by the wording of the church's statement in the newsletter, which emphasized that the accusation against Moran "in no way" involved sexual misconduct with a minor.

Such a statement - apparently influenced by the controversy over Catholic priests abusing children - is "common but hurtful," Clohessy said. "Because in essence the message to the [adult] victims is, 'Your pain doesn't count as much.'"

'Sorry ... for all the pain'

Although the church has not commented on the Covington parishioner's accusations, it comes close to confirming them in correspondence she provided to The Roanoke Times.

"I know I speak for the Bishop when I tell you how sorry I am for all the pain you have suffered in your life," Anne Edwards, administrative assistant to Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, wrote in a March e-mail to the woman. Edwards was replying to an e-mail the woman sent after learning about the incident at the West Point church.

Edwards wrote that she recalled, years ago, the woman meeting with church officials who were investigating "the matter that was brought to the Diocese's attention."

"Now that this issue is being made public, you are suffering the same pain all over again."

Although Edwards never spelled out just what "the matter" entailed, her e-mail also contains this line: "Even though you were not a minor when this occurred, you still have the same rights as any victim of abuse."

The church confirmed sending both the e-mail and a letter from the bishop also provided by the woman.

Edwards said in the e-mail that the church would provide counseling to the woman.

And at the time the e-mail was sent, Moran was "undergoing a psychological assessment to determine his suitability for continuation in priestly ministry," Edwards wrote.

If the woman liked, she added, the bishop could meet with her.

'God should be crying'

On a Sunday afternoon in May, the woman and DiLorenzo met in the priest's office of a Catholic church in Roanoke, where the bishop was visiting for an ordination Mass.

The woman said she made several requests, including asking the church to make an official statement to the parish in Covington, explaining both the West Point situation involving Moran and her allegations from 1994.

If people hadn't believed her then, she figured, maybe they would after learning of the more recent case.

On July 12, DiLorenzo responded in a one-page letter: "We feel that coming to the parish for a meeting, or writing a letter to be read to the parishioners, would be counter-productive to repairing your relations in the parish."

The bishop repeated the church's promise to pay for the woman's counseling. "Under the circumstances, I can understand your frustration," DiLorenzo wrote. "I have assured you that Father Moran is no longer serving in any capacity in this Diocese."

But such wording leaves open the possibility that Moran might someday show up at another parish, the woman and Clohessy said.

"Church officials will vehemently deny they still reassign these men," Clohessy said. "But the sad truth is that they do."

Neill declined to comment on the woman's assertion that Moran should never have been placed in another church after what happened in 1994.

"That's her opinion," he said.

"We are a forgiving people. If somebody makes a mistake, Christ has commanded us to forgive."

After years of asking the church to keep the promise she said it made to her in 1994, the woman said she recently decided to make her concerns public. She contacted the newspaper after receiving the July 12 letter from DiLorenzo.

She never wanted criminal charges, the woman said, or the money a lawsuit might bring.

All she wanted, she said, was honest answers from the church.

"It's really damaged my faith in the church," she said. "I think God should be crying for what this church has done. He should be ashamed of them."

News researcher Belinda Harris contributed to this report.

Quotes from those involved

Covington woman who made first accusation: "I just don't recall it [the woman's accusation] being as stark at that. ... It was just very vague. ... I just think she's a lady who feels scorned."

The Most Rev. Walter Sullivan former bishop of the Richmond Diocese: "I believe there really cannot be a consensual relationship between a Catholic priest and a Catholic because of the inherent power differential."

David Clohessy, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests: "We are a forgiving people. If somebody makes a mistake, Christ has commanded us to forgive."

Steve Neill, spokesman for the Catholic Church's Diocese of Richmond: The Rev. Edward C. Moran was recently suspended from a Catholic church in West Point for sexual misconduct. A woman at the Covington church where Moran was pastor 11 years ago says that she, too, was a victim of sexual abuse by Moran.1990 One year after he was ordained, Moran is assigned to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Covington.

Timline of events

  • 1991 A woman who has recently joined the church says that Moran sexually abused her in the church confessional. She does not tell anyone at the time.
  • 1994 The woman decides to come forward with her story, she says. The church removes Moran from the parish and orders him to a treatment program. The woman says she was promised Moran would never lead a parish again.
  • 1997 Moran becomes a military chaplain for the U.S. Air Force. One of his churches is at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.
  • 2001 Moran becomes the pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in West Point.
  • 2005 The Diocese of Richmond announces in March that Moran has been placed on temporary suspension for sexual misconduct involving an adult woman at West Point, an offense that he reportedly acknowledged.

(Sources: The Catholic Church's Diocese of Richmond; interviews with the woman at Sacred Heart; the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.)

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