Navy Chaplain Pleads Guilty

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007

QUANTICO, Va. -- Talk to the chaplain.

The words have long been a mantra for those in distress. But prosecutors say the authority the phrase suggests allowed Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Matthew Lee to prey on vulnerable lower-ranking male troops, some of whom he exposed to HIV.

"His selfishness was so strong he was willing to destroy the lives of others to make himself happy," Maj. Derek Brostek, the prosecutor, said yesterday, as Lee pleaded guilty at a court-martial to forcible sodomy, aggravated assault and other crimes and was sentenced to 12 years of confinement, all but two of them suspended.

Since 2004, Lee has used his position as a Catholic priest and his rank to obtain sexual gratification from at least three servicemen, according to the findings of the Marine Corps investigation outlined yesterday during the court-martial.

In 2004, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, a midshipman struggling with academic and personal problems sought counsel from Lee. The two had dinner one night, and Lee invited the 20-year-old to his apartment. As they drank scotch and beer on the balcony, Lee began masturbating, the young man testified.

The young man, now an ensign, said he attempted to ignore it, until Lee initiated a sex act on him.

"I said I didn't want it," the ensign said. Lee continued, the ensign testified, telling him: "It's all right, it's all right."

The ensign said he didn't report the incident partly because he feared Lee's word might trump his. "After the event happened, I felt guilty," he said. "I thought that I must have done something wrong that led up to that."

The encounter was the basis of the forcible sodomy count, the most serious of the charges. No physical force was alleged, but the act was considered forcible because of Lee's superior rank.

The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

Lee learned in April 2005 that he had HIV, he said in court.

The aggravated assault charge stems from an encounter between Lee and a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel last December. Lee said yesterday that he found the man on the Internet site craigslist, which has a section where men can post queries and photos of themselves to solicit sexual encounters.

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