Cardinal changes his mind, publicly apologizes to Stokes


Cardinal William H. Keeler issued a public apology yesterday during a noontime Mass to Dontee D. Stokes, the 26-year-old man who was charged this week with shooting a priest who Stokes says sexually abused him a decade ago.

The archbishop of Baltimore, speaking at the Basilica of the Assumption, began his homily with a reference to "the events of this week, which bring so strikingly and so painfully home to us the impact of sexual child abuse.

"I take this occasion to express publicly my apologies to all who have been victims, and in a very special way to Mr. Stokes, who has suffered intensely because of the difficulties in which he now finds himself and which we find ourselves," he said. "I express my sympathy to him and to his family members, to all who suffer because of what has been transpiring. It is an occasion for us before the Lord to commit ourselves more deeply to the protection of young people, the protection of children."

Keeler later prayed for Stokes and all sexual abuse victims: "For those who have been the victims of abuse and in a special way for Mr. Stokes, that God may bless them, give them healing, bring them close to him. For them, we pray to the Lord."

Tamara Stokes, Dontee Stokes' mother, said Keeler's gesture was not enough. "The apology should have come on the phone, to me," she said yesterday afternoon. "From 1993 on, I never got an apology. And I still have not got an apology."

This week, Keeler's spokesman, Raymond P. Kempisty, had said that no apology to Stokes or his family was planned. Keeler issued a more general statement of contrition in an article he wrote that appeared in yesterday's edition of The Sun. In that article, he apologized for times when church leaders have failed in "seeking solace for victims and fair punishment for perpetrators."

Yesterday, Keeler apparently changed his mind and apologized during the 12:10 p.m. Mass in front of a gathering of youth ministers and a bank of television cameras. Keeler usually celebrates only the 7:30 a.m. Mass in the Basilica. Last night, Kempisty declined to say whether the cardinal would contact Stokes or his family. He confirmed that Keeler visited the Rev. Maurice Blackwell, the former priest accused of abuse, on Tuesday at his bedside at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Tamara Stokes also contradicted Keeler's statement in his Sun article that her son was offered counseling. "There have been no calls since [1993] to apologize, not to offer help, nothing. Nothing," she said.

The written apology and Keeler's apology yesterday to Stokes are part of an evolving response, Kempisty said yesterday.

"The shooting was Monday night, and then we had a press conference that was previously scheduled for the related, but different, issue [of child sexual abuse by priests] on Tuesday," he said. "[Keeler] felt a need for clarification, a need for greater understanding of our position" and thought a written statement was the best way to do that. "Today's address was a further clarification about where we are on the issue of the sexual abuse of children and our complete feeling of compassion for the victims and our sorrow for our inadequacies along the way."

Sun staff writers Todd Richissin and Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.

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