Baltimore Church to Close, Suspend Most Services After Pastor Faced Sex Assault Claims
A Catholic church in Baltimore has announced it will close after its head pastor was recently removed, following allegations of clergy sex assault.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore issued a statement to its parishioners on November 4, announcing that most services at the church will end on November 15, following the removal of its longtime pastor, Father Paschal Morlino, who was fired from the position last month. Morlino’s removal came after a 2018 complaint that alleged he sexually harassed an adult member of the church, who died in 2020.
Morlino admitted to having paid an undisclosed amount to settle the allegations, and the Archdiocese indicates they have no one to replace the pastor, who worked with the church for nearly 40 years. The decision was made by both the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which owned and operated the church.
“Regrettably, the decision also means that Mass, the Sacraments, sacramental preparation, and worship services will no longer continue at St. Benedict Church, effective on November 15, 2023. We understand that this news comes at a difficult time for the parishioners,” the press release states. “An outreach team will be available to assist parishioners and if they wish, help them receive Catholic pastoral services at nearby parishes.”
The parishioners can receive services at the Transfiguration Catholic Community, St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish, St. William of York Catholic Church, Our Lady of Victory Parish and St. Edward Church, the press release states.
Various community outreach programs run from St. Benedict will be continued by the Benedictines of Saint Vincent Archabbey, the Archdiocese announced.
The closure is one of the latest blows to the Catholic Church of Maryland, which faces a growing number of child sex abuse lawsuits filed in the wake of a recently passed Maryland law which removed the statute of limitations from all claims of childhood sexual abuse, meaning the Baltimore Archdiocese will likely face hundreds of claims in the coming months and years.
The Baltimore Archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on September 29. In a letter to church members, Archbishop William E. Lori cited the new Maryland law as the driving factor in the archdiocese’ bankruptcy filing.
Maryland Child Victims Act
The Maryland Child Victims Act of 2023 was enacted in April, and went into effect early last month, allowing claims for child sex abuse committed by priests, pastors and other church employees to be pursued, regardless of how long ago the assault occurred.
Since the law went into effect on October 1, dozens of claims have already been filed in state courts, raising allegations that the Baltimore Archdiocese and other churches exposed children to known sexual predators. However, there are also claims brought against the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services and other institutions, such as private schools.
The Maryland state legislature passed the Child Victims Act just days after a long-awaited Baltimore Archdiocese child sex abuse report was released by the Maryland Attorney General, which detailed information about Catholic priests that abused children in Maryland over the last 60 years, including the names of 146 priests, deacons, seminarians and others who have been credibly accused by more than 300 victims and witnesses that came forward during the investigation.
For years, lawmakers attempted to change the Maryland child sex abuse statute of limitations, which previously prevented most survivors from pursuing lawsuits, and the new law was passed almost immediately after the report was published.
Supporters of the legislation argued that removing the Maryland statute of limitations on child sex abuse claims was necessary, since many survivors are not prepared to address the conduct until much later in life. In addition, the Catholic Church has been notorious for covering up credible allegations, discrediting child survivors of abuse and pressuring devoted families from pursuing any action against priests or other members of the clergy.
Catholic Church Expected to Challenge the New Maryland Law
The Catholic Church of Maryland plans to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. The Maryland Attorney General has indicated that he believed the law can be successfully defended in court.
The Maryland Child Victims Act includes a provision that an interlocutory appeal may be immediately pursued following any order denying a motion to dismiss based on a defense that the Maryland statute of limitations or statute of repose bars the claim, or that the legislative action reviving the claim is unconstitutional.
An interlocutory appeal allows the higher courts to consider the case before any final judgment is rendered in the trial court. While this measure will introduce substantial delays before survivors of sexual abuse are able to obtain justice, it will also avoid the need for each individual to recount their trauma at trial before the Maryland Supreme Court evaluates the constitutionality of the new law.
Maryland is one of a string of states to pass similar legislation in recent years.
After a two year window in the New York child sex abuse statute of limitations was opened in 2020, tens of thousands of claims were brought against the Boy Scouts, Catholic Church and other entitles throughout the state. The Buffalo Diocese alone had at least 230 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors, with eight specific priests accounting for more than 1,000 lawsuits filed in that part of the state.
While statute of limitations laws have also been enacted in a number of other states, including New Jersey, California and Louisiana, other states are still debating similar bills that would allow survivors to hold abusers and entities that enabled their conduct accountable.
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