ST. MARY'S COUNTY

Teacher Accused of Molesting Student in 1978

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Five months ago, according to St. Mary's County detectives, a 44-year-old resident came forward and told a remarkable story:

He had been molested 29 years ago, as a ninth-grader, by his biology teacher at a Catholic high school in Leonardtown. When his father told the principal, nothing happened. He told two guidance counselors. Nothing. He tried a physics teacher.

The physics teacher described the biology teacher as "a very weak man!" according to a sworn application of charges by St. Mary's Detective Charles Earle.

The recollections led to a five-month investigation, complete with three secretly recorded telephone conversations with the suspect, now 64 and living in Florida, according to St. Mary's detectives. He was arrested last week.

Prosecutors say they are not bound by a statute of limitations because of the nature of the case.

Authorities have identified the suspect as Philip M. Spoelker, a Xaverian brother. The Xaverian Brothers, a congregation of lay religious brothers headquartered in Baltimore, sponsor about 11 schools across the United States.

Spoelker was served with a fugitive arrest warrant in Florida on Thursday and was released on $25,000 bond. St. Mary's authorities have given him until Sept. 10 to turn himself in.

According to Earle's sworn statement, authorities in Maryland intend to charge Spoelker with one count of child abuse and one count of fourth-degree sex offense.

John Mudd, Spoelker's Maryland attorney, declined to comment. Attempts to reach Spoelker at his Venice, Fla., address -- called "Ryken House" in court records -- were unsuccessful.

Mary Joy Hurlburt, president of St. Mary's Ryken High School, confirmed that Spoelker was at Ryken High from 1969 to 1982.

"Our hearts go out to the person who came forward," Hurlburt said. "We will cooperate with the local and state authorities."

In 1916, the Xaverian Brothers bought 100 acres along Breton Bay in Leonardtown and turned it into a summer camp for boys. They later built a school on the property and named it after Theodore James Ryken, founder of the Xaverian order.

After enrollment declined at Ryken High, it was combined in 1981 with nearby St. Mary's Academy, a coeducational boarding school. The school has about 700 students.

The 44-year-old told authorities that he had been seeing a counselor to address "issues of being molested," according to Earle's statement. The counselor told the man to report the incident to law enforcement, Earle wrote.

Recalling the incident to detectives, the man said that in late April or May of 1978, he came to school after having a hernia operation. His biology teacher asked to see the scar, according to Earle's application for charges. The teacher then lured him into a storage area to get a better look, Earle wrote, and molested the boy for 10 minutes while he stood too scared to move.

The man told authorities that he did not tell police about the incident 29 years ago because he was ashamed, Earle wrote.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company