State police arrested a Carroll County priest last night and charged him with molesting an adolescent boy more than two decades ago while on swimming outings at a Western Maryland College pool.
The Rev. Brian M. Cox, 63, was taken into custody at a house near Resurrection Farm, the ministry to homeless people and families that he operates on a rural plot near Westminster.
Cox, an assistant pastor at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster at the time the alleged abuse occurred, was suspended from priestly duties in 1995, after a similar allegation was made involving another youth. He was never charged in that case.
A new investigation was opened in April, when John F. "Jef" Curran III, who lives in North Carolina, contacted the Carroll County state's attorney's office and alleged that he was abused by Cox several times in 1980 while a fifth-grade student at St. John Catholic School.
Curran, 33, told investigators that in April 1980, soon after he became an altar boy at St. John, Cox took him to swim at the indoor pool at nearby Western Maryland College to celebrate a birthday.
Nothing sexual occurred the first few times they went, Curran said. But later, after a swim, Cox would fondle Curran while they took a shower, according to the charging document. The abuse continued for more than six months, the document says, until Curran refused to go swimming.
Cox was charged with felony child abuse, third-degree sex offense, fourth-degree sex offense and battery. He was being held last night at the Westminster state police barracks and was expected to be transferred to the county detention center for an appearance before a court commissioner.
Allegations against Cox surfaced initially in July 1995, when the Archdiocese Of Baltimore received information that the priest had engaged in "inappropriate touching" with a minor 15 years earlier. Church officials confronted Cox - then working full time at Resurrection Farm after leaving St. John in 1989 - and he admitted the allegation was true, an archdiocese spokesman said in 1995.
The archdiocese forwarded the allegation to the Carroll County state's attorney's office in August 1995, and sent Cox to an in-patient psychiatric center in St. Louis. Investigators were unable to interview him, and no charges were filed.
The deputy state's attorney assigned to the case, Marcie S. Wogan, complained at the time that prosecutors had been thwarted in earlier attempts to investigate Cox.
"Father Brian Cox has been the subject of an investigation in previous years," Wogan said in 1995. "Father Cox was never questioned, because when investigators from the state's attorney's office attempted to reach him, he went on sabbatical and the church would not disclose his whereabouts."
Though he was not charged criminally, his admission to church officials prompted the archdiocese to place him on permanent leave - barring him from priestly duties.
At that time, he was assisting at a parish in Pennsylvania on weekends while working at Resurrection Farm, a nonprofit unaffiliated with the Catholic Church. At the farm, founded 12 years earlier by Cox and six St. John parishioners, he offered spiritual counsel and help for the homeless. Friday-night gatherings for prayer and socializing were a popular draw for area Catholics and others.
News of Cox's removal for treatment was met with a wave of community support for the priest. Many wrote letters to the Carroll County Times.
"More Father Brians are needed in this sad, hateful and so much jealous world. ... Giving up his whole life for God is enough proof of his unselfishness. Come back, Father, nothing can compare to a bright tomorrow," one letter said.
Cox returned to the farm after treatment, despite entreaties from archdiocese officials.
Wogan, who has left the state's attorney's office, recalled last night that the climate of support for Cox hindered her ability to persuade him to cooperate in her investigation.
"When my office was investigating this matter in 1995, there was a great deal of anger and hostility directed toward whoever the public perceived as the victim of Brian Cox, and that was very painful, I'm sure, for anyone who was in that position to experience," she said. "I'd like to think now, in 2002, the child victims of any priest would be given a warmer reception than they received anonymously in 1995 in Carroll County."
Cox, who was born and raised in Panama, became a priest in the Josephite order in 1968. He left the order in the early 1970s to join the Baltimore Archdiocese. His ministerial career has been largely dedicated to the poor. After ordination, he operated a mission house in West Baltimore called Resurrection House. He had assignments at St. Pius V in West Baltimore from 1968 to 1973, and was a chaplain at Archbishop Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore from 1973 to 1978. He was assigned to St. John in 1978 and served there until 1989, when he left for Resurrection Farm.
The 181-acre retreat in Silver Run was the fulfillment of a life-long dream. In a 1995 interview with The Sun, Cox said his dream of living on a farm was born when he and a brother stayed with friends in upstate New York while his mother was being treated for breast cancer.
"It was a such a happy time," he said. "I even forgot to pray for my mother, I think. But she pulled through. I said, 'When I grow up, I'm going to have a farm so I can make people happy.'"
Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.