For nearly 20 years, Thomas Roberts kept quiet, hiding the secret of sexual abuse by the high school chaplain he sought counseling from in 1987.
When another young man who had attended a different school came forward in 1993 with similar allegations against the priest, Roberts still kept quiet.
Yesterday, as a Baltimore County judge prepared to sentence Jerome F. Toohey Jr. for the sexual abuse that occurred over three years, Roberts kept quiet no longer.
"Father Jeff lived nearly 20 years in the freedom of my silence," the 33-year-old former Calvert Hall College High School student told the judge. Turning to face Toohey, Roberts added, "I'm old enough and strong enough now to fight for the young man you abused. Today, the balance of power has finally shifted, and the burden is completely yours."
Toohey, 59, a former Roman Catholic priest and Calvert Hall chaplain, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexually abusing Roberts after his mother asked the priest to counsel her then-14-year-old son, who was struggling with his parents' divorce and questions about his sexuality.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II handed down a five-year sentence, suspending all but 18 months. He also recommended that Toohey be granted work release and directed him to serve 18 months of supervised probation after his release from the county detention center.
Known as "Father Jeff," Toohey has also worked as a chaplain to the deaf community and Baltimore Police Department and as an associate at St. John the Evangelist in Hydes.
He was stripped of his authority to function as a pastor in 1993 by the Baltimore Archdiocese after a former student at John Carroll School in Bel Air accused the priest of sexually abusing him in the 1980s after he had sought counseling. A lawsuit filed in 1994 against Toohey by that student, Michael Goles, was dismissed because state law requires that civil suits be filed within three years of an alleged incident.
Defense attorney Andrew Jay Graham characterized Toohey's conduct as a byproduct of severe alcoholism that "just short-circuited his moral compass, his ability to restrain himself." Toohey eventually sought treatment in 1988 when he enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous, Graham said. Because Toohey never used force with Roberts, Graham said, the priest mistakenly viewed their sexual encounters as consensual. "He came to believe over the years that this was a relationship and not a predatory thing," the defense attorney told the judge. "He believed it was a warm friendship, if not something more."
But Roberts, now a news anchor with CNN Headline News in Atlanta, characterized the evenings and mornings spent at his high school chaplain's Loch Raven home after their counseling sessions in very different terms.
"Father Jeff single-handedly designed my high school experience to be the most isolated and lonely time. When the sexual abuse began, high school became my prison," Roberts told the judge. "It was a prison of confusion, self-hatred, shame, secrecy and complete self-doubt."
He spoke of a suicide attempt when he believed there was no way out, describing Toohey's response as having "ratcheted up the sexual encounters" and telling Roberts he "had so much to live for."
He described wanting to "disappear through the floor" when, in his junior year, he began dating Toohey's niece and the priest joked that "one day he would marry us." And he expressed anger that his mentor "exploited my blind trust."
Goles, 35, now the manager of a telecommunications company's training department in Atlanta, addressed the judge yesterday. As part of a plea agreement reached in November, prosecutors said they would not pursue criminal charges against Toohey for the alleged sexual abuse of Goles, but could use his account in court to argue for a tougher sentence.
Prosecutor Jason League asked the judge for a prison term of more than 10 years, saying Toohey "has earned each and every moment that he spends in prison." Graham, the defense attorney, asked for a long period of probation with substantial community service.
In the moments before Turnbull announced his sentence, Toohey apologized in court to both Goles and Roberts.
"Michael and Thomas, I want you to know that I am very, very sorry for any pain I inflicted upon you, any difficulties it caused you or your families," he said. "I also would like to say to the church and to Calvert Hall, who have suffered because of my actions, I would like to extend my heartfelt apology and sorrow to them for damage I have done to their reputations."
Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese, said yesterday that the archdiocese had been awaiting the sentencing hearing to close out the case, which will be forwarded to Rome with a request to defrock Toohey, making permanent the archdiocese's actions. Only the Vatican can take such an action against a priest.
In recent years, Toohey has worked as the executive vice president of a job placement and career counseling business. He lost that job after being charged in May in the abuse of Roberts between 1987 and 1989 when Roberts was a student at the Towson boys school. The charge to which Toohey pleaded guilty covered abuse only between September 1987 and March 1988. Other charges involving later alleged abuse were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Goles said he appreciated the opportunity to have his voice heard at last. "The stress and anxiety has been tremendous leading up to this," he said after the hearing. "There's a sense of relief, but it's not over. There's a weight being lifted but it's just a new chapter."
The Sun does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims without their permission. Roberts and Goles asked that their full names be used in coverage of Toohey's case.