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Archdiocese names panel on sex abuse

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, beset with allegations that priests have sexually abused minors, has named a panel of nine community leaders and educators to review the handling of past, present and future cases.

Archbishop William H. Keeler's announcement yesterday that an independent review board will advise him on the adequacy of measures to deal with sexual abuse came as still another local priest was dismissed from his job because of such accusations.

The Rev. Francis M. Sweeney, 60, has been removed as chaplain at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville and is undergoing psychological evaluation and counseling at an undisclosed location.

He allegedly had "inappropriate sexual contact with minors" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the archdiocese said in a statement.

Father Sweeney is a former teacher at St. Mary's Seminary and University and a former director of campus ministry at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has been Charlestown's chaplain for nearly four years.

The review board of six men and three women appointed by Archbishop Keeler is to be chaired by P. McEvoy Cromwell, a Baltimore lawyer and active Catholic layman. None of the members is a priest or sister, and not all are Catholics.

They include Dr. Michael E. Johns, dean of the Johns Hopkins Medical School; Sally Michel, who chaired the Mayor's Task Force on Child Abuse; and Darrell D. Friedman, president of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

"Our hope is that the members of the board will give us advice on handling future cases and will speak their mind candidly regarding actions with respect to any past or current case," Archbishop Keeler said.

According to a new policy statement on sex abuse which, in the words of local church officials, "refines and clarifies" procedures in effect since 1985, the independent review panel is intended "to assure the integrity of the archdiocesan process for responding to reports of child abuse, to offer advice regarding investigations and to provide oversight of the archdiocese's handling of all such cases."

The other members of the board are Beverly A. Cooper, vice president of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation; Mary Kay Finan, an assistant professor at Frostburg State University; Jesse J. Harris, dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Leonard A. Strom, a Black & Decker Corp. vice president; and Paul G. Wist, senior partner of the C. W. Amos accounting firm.

The policy statement, made public last week, defines the review board as "appointed by the archbishop after consultation with appropriate archdiocesan committees" and says that no member may be employed by the archdiocese.

Father Sweeney is the sixth priest in the Baltimore archdiocese to be connected publicly with alleged sexual misconduct since a Baltimore County pastor committed suicide in August after being confronted with such an accusation.

One of those accused, the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, was removed for nearly three months from his pastorate of St. Edward's Church in West Baltimore while he underwent counseling and evaluation at an out-of-state facility. Father Blackwell recently returned to St. Edward's because "the archdiocese is satisfied that the allegation is groundless," a church spokesman said.

None of the other five priests named by the archdiocese in connection with such allegations since August has been reinstated.

Father Sweeney, a member of the Paulist religious order, had been serving as chaplain at Charlestown since early 1990, a spokesman for the retirement community said yesterday, adding that "he was well regarded by our residents."

"We are shocked and very saddened" by the reasons given by the archdiocese last Sunday for Father Sweeney's sudden removal from his chaplaincy post, said Daniel K. O'Brien, director of operations at Charlestown. "Our prayers go out to him, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the families involved."

Mr. O'Brien said that, until the hastily called meetings at Charlestown Sunday afternoon, first with the Parish Council there and then with the parishioners, "we had no indications of his personal or professional problems."

Archdiocesan officials have provided only sketchy information about those problems, but Mark Pacione, a spokesman for Archbishop Keeler, said that "there is strong reason to believe" that there is a basis for the accusations.

Mr. Pacione said he was not aware of any criminal charges filed against the priest, however. And Mr. Pacione said he did not know whether the minors involved in the allegations are male or female, or where or precisely when the alleged misconduct occurred.

Father Sweeney, a native of New York State, was ordained in 1961.

A spokesman for the Paulists said the priest has been under the supervision of the archdiocese of Baltimore -- not the Paulist order -- for about 10 years. The archdiocese, however, said that the Paulist Fathers had arranged for Father Sweeney to participant in "a residential treatment program."

Mr. Pacione said he was not at liberty to reveal where.

From 1972 to 1976, Father Sweeney was campus minister at UMBC; he returned to that post in 1983 after obtaining a degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola College. From 1976 to 1978, he worked in campus ministry in Santa Barbara, Calif., the archdiocese said.

At St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park, Father Sweeney was a part-time member of the faculty in 1985 and 1986, and a full-time teacher in 1986 and 1987, a spokesman for that institution said. The priest taught pastoral theology.

BOARD MEMBERS

* P. McEvoy Cromwell, chairman, is a member of the law firm of Wright, Constable and Skeen. A graduate of Gilman School and Princeton University, he is chairman of the board of Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center.

* Beverly A. Cooper, a graduate of Baltimore Catholic schools and Fordham University, is vice president of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation. She has been on the boards of Associated Catholic Charities and the Institute for Christian-Jewish Studies.

* Mary Kay Finan, who has degrees from the University of Maryland, Frostburg State University and Loyola College, is an assistant professor of education at Frostburg.

* Darrell D. Friedman is on the boards of the Kennedy- Krieger Institute and the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp. He has been chief executive officer of Baltimore's Associated Jewish Community Federation since 1986.

* Jesse J. Harris, UM's dean of social work, is on the board of Baltimore Mental Health Systems and on the planning committee of the American Professional Society on Abuse of Children.

* Dr. Michael E. Johns, dean of the Johns Hopkins Medical School and a vice president of the university, is on the corporate board of Associated Catholic Charities.

* Sally Michel is on the boards of UM's School of Social Work, the Abell Foundation and the Children's Trust Fund.

* Leonard A. Strom, a Black & Decker vice president, is a member of the Board of Financial Advisers of the Catholic archdiocese.

* Paul G. Wist, a certified financial planner, has been a board member of St. Joseph Hospital, the Cardinal Shehan Center for the Aging and Associated Catholic Charities.

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