Priest at Immaculate Conception relieved of duties after arrest

George Towle, a Timonium resident who attends Church of the Immaculate Conception in Towson, said he wasn't surprised this week when the church acted quickly to remove the Rev. Mark Stewart Bullock, known as "Father Stew" to parishioners, after he was arrested for indecent exposure Jan. 16 in Abingdon.

"Any charge like that — if you're in a position of teacher, priest, policeman or anything like that — you lose your job," said Towle, who has worked with Bullock on the church's master plan.

"If you're supposed to be above a normal standard, you're supposed to behave above a normal standard," Towle said.

According to a police report obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Bullock was arrested after two deputies discovered him nude from the waist down in a movie theater inside of Bush River Books & Movies, an adult store in Abingdon, Harford County.

The report said Bullock was exposing himself in an area of the store where customers could see him, the Sun reported.

Monica Worrell, spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, said Bullock was released on his own recognizance shortly after his arrest.

He is scheduled to appear in District Court in Harford County March 6 on misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum fine of $1,000 and three years in prison.

According to Sean Caine, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the archdiocese heard news of his arrest the following day and Bullock was dismissed from his priestly duties.

"Upon learning of it, the Cardinal-designate (Edwin O'Brien, apostolic administrator of the archdiocese), immediately removed his faculties to function as a priest, contacted the parish and informed them of the decision," Caine said.

Bullock was told he could no longer live at the parish and was instructed to undergo psychological evaluation.

At the 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday morning at Immaculate Conception, parishioners were asked to remain in the church following the service.

At that time, the pastor, the Rev. Joseph Barr, announced that church officials would be handing out a letter pertaining to a "sensitive matter" to all of the adults as they left the church that morning.

In the letter, Barr told Parishioners of the arrest, and said "in the interest of transparency … I wanted to share this news with you directly and ask for your prayers for Fr. Bullock and for our parish."

Barr's letter emphasized that "no adults or children from the parish, or our parish school, were involved."

He told parishioners that Bullock would not be allowed to participate in parish or school functions. The letter also included information for parents to contact church and school officials if they desired.

"The first course of action was to ensure that the pastor had the opportunity to communicate with parishioners this weekend," Caine said.

Carole Gibison, a Timonium resident who has worked with Bullock on church committees, said she was shocked to learn of the allegations.

Gibison was at the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday morning, but found out about the incident from a friend who had been to Mass on Saturday evening.

Bullock was ordained June 30, 2006, and served as the associate pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park until he was transferred to Immaculate Conception in July 2010.

In all that time, Caine said, no issues were raised that would bring Bullock's suitability for priesthood into question.

The archdiocese has launched an internal investigation into Bullock's actions.

"The investigation will begin in earnest this week," said Caine, who added that the investigation will be used to determine whether Bullock is suited to return to public ministry.

"There's certainly an expectation on the part of Catholics in the archdiocese that those representing the church, whether they be priests or lay people, that they model a certain behavior," Caine said. "We have that same expectation.

"When we have reason to believe that's the case, we have to act appropriately, and that's what we feel we've done in this case," he said.

As a part of the fallout from his arrest, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center "immediately and permanently severed" its relationship with Bullock, according to GBMC spokesman Michael Schwartzberg.

"In his role with the Church of the Immaculate Conception, he had, on an occasional basis during the past two years, assisted with administering sacraments to Roman Catholic patients," Schwartzberg said in an email to the Towson Times.

Though Bullock was not an employee and was not paid for his services, Schwartzberg said that priests from Immaculate Conception have served at GBMC for more than 40 years.

Worrell said the arrest came from a periodic spot check that the sheriff's office routinely performs at all of the county's adult book stores. After complaints from community members that the store Bullock was arrested at had been seeing more traffic than usual, they performed a spot check and saw people violating the law.

Worrell said that in the last 30 days, three arrests have been made at the location, with two charges still pending.

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