CUMBERLAND -- Ten men have so far accused a former Roman Catholic priest of sexual abuse during his 47-year tenure at parishes in Allegany County and the Baltimore area, the Archdiocese of Baltimore says.
Several of the men came forward last week after parishioners in the Baltimore area and in Allegany County were notified of
allegations of sexual abuse by the Rev. Robert Hopkins, 75, through inserts in their church bulletins and from the pulpit last weekend.
None has been identified publicly by the church, although names of at least several have been provided to prosecutors in appropriate jurisdictions.
A church spokesman declined to release any other details about the allegations.
But the spokesman, Bill Blaul, added: "We fear there may be victims in all of the parishes where he was assigned."
Father Hopkins, who has been stripped of his priestly duties and is being treated at an undisclosed location, is the 13th priest since 1987 to be linked publicly to sexual abuse of minors by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Archdiocese officials are continuing to contact other possible victims, either identified by Father Hopkins or other sources, Mr. Blaul said. No criminal charges have been filed, and the matter has been turned over to prosecutors in Baltimore and in Allegany and Baltimore counties.
Mr. Blaul said the abuse that is alleged is believed to have occurred between 15 and 40 years ago. Father Hopkins was ordained in 1948 and began his vocation at St. Mary's in Cumberland, where he served until 1962. He then spent several years at Our Lady of Hope in Dundalk and St. Jerome's in Baltimore before returning to churches in Allegany County. He ,, retired from St. Patrick's in Cumberland last month.
Lawrence Kelly, the Allegany County state's attorney, said his office has begun an investigation but that initial victims -- he would not specify how many -- contacted declined to be interviewed until after they talked to their lawyers. No other victims have come forward to his office, he said.
"All the information we have has come from the archdiocese," Mr. Kelly said. "We hope to see an investigation completed by early October, when the grand jury meets. We don't see any real rush."
Baltimore state's attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said yesterday that the office could not comment on the matter during an investigation.
Parishioners interviewed in Cumberland and Lonaconing expressed shock and disbelief last week at the allegations against Father Hopkins, a Cumberland native whom many described as a reserved, kindly priest.
"People are just dumbfounded," said Joseph Krumpach, a 42-year member of St. Mary of the Annunciation in Lonaconing, a parish of 163 families southwest of Cumberland. Father Hopkins served as pastor at St. Mary's from 1971 to 1982.
"It's going to take a while for people in the congregation and in the town to digest this," said Mr. Krumpach, a former mayor of this western Allegany County town of about 1,100 people. "It's just like finding out your next door neighbor is running around with somebody, and you knew them both real well and never had an inkling something was going on. We're all shocked."
Reaction was similar among parishioners in Cumberland.
"Everyone that I have talked to has really been taken aback," said Mary Miltenberger, a member of St. Patrick's, a white-columned church in downtown Cumberland that serves about 1,000 families. "There's a lot of shock because [Father Hopkins] is from this area and people have known him since he was a boy. They've known him socially. It's just so out of character."
Parishioners said Father Hopkins was attentive to the sick and elderly and has been helping to care for his 95-year-old mother.
"I've been here all my life, and I've known Father Hopkins since he came here," said Margaret King, a member of St. Mary's in Cumberland, a 700-family parish. "I just can't imagine this. I just don't believe it. He was a good priest. When I was ill about six years ago, he came right down to see me, and he wasn't even at St. Mary's anymore. I have nothing but admiration for the man."
Others described Father Hopkins as an old-fashioned priest who stuck to the Scriptures during his sermons.
"He was from the old church," said Edward Taylor, a former member of St. Patrick's who attends another Cumberland parish. "He was more conservative than some of the other priests. He was a very, very good priest and he did what he was supposed to do from the pulpit.
"He spoke out against abortion -- something that has been very badly needed," Mr. Taylor added. "A lot of priests today won't attack what I think is the holocaust of this country like he did."
Many here raised questions about the victims coming forward with the allegations after decades had passed.
"I don't understand why it takes all these years for people to come forward. Why now, when he's retiring?" asked Merry Aman, a former member of St. Mary's and a parishioner at St. Patrick's. "He was a good priest. He was well liked. I don't think people are feeling too harshly about it."