After his days sorting mail at a D.C. law firm, 22-year-old Derek Edwin Brown liked to go dancing in gay clubs. His favorite was Tracks DC, near the Washington Navy Yard. There, one night in April 1987, he met an older man.

"We talked for a while and exchanged numbers," Brown said. "I didn't know anything about him -- just a guy named George."

The guy named George was a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. George Augustus Stallings Jr.

Brown, now 25, said he and Stallings, 42, were lovers for the next two years, during which time he lived in Augustus Manor, the priest's house in Anacostia. For nine months of that time, Stallings employed Brown as a pastoral assistant at St. Teresa of Avila parish. Brown and other employees said that much of the time he was out of the parish on trips with Stallings.

Brown and Stallings were consenting adults, but Stallings was sworn to celibacy in a church that considers homosexual activity a sin. Brown said Stallings knew parishioners were whispering about their relationship. "It bothered him, but all people could do was insinuate," Brown said. "He didn't think it would catch up with him."

For years, Cardinal James A. Hickey and other officials of the Archdiocese of Washington had heard of parishioners' concerns that their talented priest might be involved in homosexual activity, which Stallings denied, a church official said.

Hickey also had heard something more serious. In 1986, he received a signed letter from a parishioner who alleged that Stallings was having sex with a boy in her family, a church official said. The woman wouldn't provide more information, and Hickey could not confirm her allegation.

Still, Hickey was concerned enough that he sent his aides to check police records and talk to police officers, according to a church official. The aides found nothing on Stallings, according to associates of Hickey's.

Although Hickey couldn't establish whether Stallings was breaking his vow of celibacy, he could see that Stallings was breaking another vow -- of obedience. In 1987, for instance, Stallings hired without permission a priest who had been suspended from his order in another city because of allegations that he made sexual advances to teenage boys.

It is unclear what disturbed Hickey most about Stallings: the questions about his homosexual activity or his repeated challenges in many areas to the bishop's authority. After years of such challenges, Hickey last summer gave Stallings an ultimatum.

In a dramatic confrontation, according to Stallings, Hickey ordered him to seek psychiatric treatment for an "excessive ego" at a church hospital known for treating priests with sexual disorders.

Stallings, calling the order an insult, walked out of Hickey's office. Thirteen days later, he labeled the Roman Catholic Church racist and announced he was forming his own church, the Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation.

Both Stallings and Hickey declined several written requests for interviews with The Post when told the subjects of this series of articles, which is based on interviews with more than 150 parishioners, church officials and associates of both men.

"We feel it's in our best interest not to participate with the white media," said William E. Marshall Jr., spokesman for Stallings and his church.

Hickey's deputy, Vicar General William J. Kane, responded to questions from The Post with a written statement. "The Archdiocese is not involved in your efforts to investigate Father Stallings's past conduct or behavior," the statement said in part. "We are deeply distressed that this entire matter has wounded the Church of Washington and has hurt specific individuals." Conflicting Loyalties

Roman Catholic doctrine does not condemn homosexuality as a sexual orientation, but it condemns homosexual activity as a sin. In practice, however, gay priests who are discreet are rarely disciplined, according to several priests interviewed.

One bishop said his fellow bishops often are uncomfortable dealing with issues of sexuality. They realize that public attitudes on sexuality have changed, and the Roman Catholic Church suffers from a shortage of priests, the bishop said.

The issue of sexual activity by a priest -- homosexual or heterosexual -- goes to the heart of the conflicting loyalties of a Roman Catholic bishop.

On the one hand, the church's canon law says a bishop must protect the integrity of the church. If a bishop has a strong indication -- not necessarily proof -- of sexual impropriety by a priest, church law says he should change the priest's assignment, remove him from his residence or order psychiatric treatment.

But the church law also requires a bishop to protect priests from unfounded allegations. The trust between bishop and priest is the twine that binds thousands of parishes into one church.

Bishops are much more likely to force a confrontation if they suspect that a priest's sexual activity involves children, according to several priests and bishops.

In the past five years, the Roman Catholic Church has endured more than 200 publicized incidents in the United States of priests accused of sexual activity with children. The incidents have cost the church $50 million to $100 million from lawsuits and counseling fees, according to the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a church lawyer who monitored such cases for the Vatican embassy.

Hickey deals sternly with sexual impropriety of any kind by priests, according to church authorities. But he takes strong action only when he has incontrovertible proof -- a knowledgeable accuser willing to face the priest, and perhaps even a confession.

With Stallings, Hickey's associates said, he had neither.

"The Archdiocese has been unable to substantiate any allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Father Stallings," Hickey's deputy Kane wrote. "We regret that those making such charges have never approached Archdiocesan officials . . . . Anonymous letters and telephone calls are an inadequate basis on which to act."

Priests who know Stallings said that he drew attention because he was open about his social life. "The appearance of celibacy at least should be maintained," one such priest said. "You can't be in a gay bar at 2 a.m. and in the pulpit at 8 a.m., and that's what George was doing."Questions of Conduct

The first concerns about Stallings's conduct filtered into the archdiocese before Hickey became its archbishop in 1980.

In late 1978 or early 1979, when Cardinal William W. Baum was archbishop, a parishioner from Stallings's parish in Southeast Washington told an archdiocesan group of black Catholics that Stallings held parties at the St. Teresa rectory and had men visit at odd hours, according to church officials.

"When interviewed by Archdiocesan officials, the source of the complaints was unable or unwilling to specify allegations regarding possible sexual misconduct," Kane wrote.

In 1982, a pastoral assistant quit his job at St. Teresa. He said in a recent interview that he quit because he had walked in on Stallings and a boy, who was "about 14," both naked in a rectory bedroom one afternoon. He said Stallings told him they had been jogging and were showering before dinner.

The man said he told an archdiocesan official he should look into "what was going on" at the rectory, but he did not describe the incident to the official.

Current and former archdiocesan officials said these and other parishioners told them over the years that they believed Stallings's social life interfered with his pastoral duties. Still, parishioners rallied in 1984 when Hickey, in a routine transfer after Stallings had been at St. Teresa for eight years, planned to move the priest to a larger parish in Prince George's County. Stallings said he didn't want to move, and Hickey allowed him to stay.

In 1985, Hickey asked Stallings twice to leave St. Teresa to pursue further studies in Rome, according to a former St. Teresa employee. Again Stallings refused.

In 1986, Stallings volunteered to leave St. Teresa for a larger parish with a school. This time Hickey said no. A church official said that by this time Hickey had received two anonymous letters suggesting homosexual activity by Stallings. Hickey's associates said he also had received the signed letter from the parishioner accusing Stallings of having a sexual relationship with a boy in her family.

"The woman declined to meet with a high church official," Kane wrote. "Other efforts to corroborate this allegation through independent channels proved fruitless."'I Looked Up to Him'

Two men have now made statements to The Post that Stallings had sex with them when they were altar boys under his supervision. Both said they never told any church officials.

One man, whose statement was reported by The Post in September, said he and Stallings had a sexual relationship in the St. Teresa rectory in the summer of 1977, when the boy was 16.

The Post agreed not to publish the name of the man, now 29. He agreed that The Post could give his name to Stallings so he could answer the allegation, but Stallings declined to hear it.

After that article appeared, Stallings said the article was "scurrilous, baseless and unmerited." In several television interviews, he declined to answer when asked if he had ever had sexual relations with boys.

A second former altar boy has since made a similar statement to The Post. He served with Stallings earlier, at Stallings's first parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, in Southeast Washington, according to parish records. The man said that he and Stallings continued a sexual relationship from 1976, when he was 11, until 1984, when he was 19.

The young man said the relationship began after Stallings "took the altar boys out to McDonald's." The man said Stallings "was a father-type figure to me. I looked up to him, being that he is a priest."

A priest who knew Stallings and the young man during the late 1970s said the relationship was sexual. The young man "would spend nights at the St. Teresa's rectory" after Stallings moved there in 1976, the priest said.

"He and George made no secret of the fact, among friends, that they had a relationship since George was at Queen of Peace," the priest said.

Now age 25, the former altar boy said he did not want his name to be published because his parents and friends did not know of the relationship, but he agreed that his name could be given to Stallings. Again, Stallings declined to hear it.

"I feel guilty about getting George in any trouble," the young man said. "I know what he did was wrong, but he was like my friend too. It's not like I'm psychologically bothered by it or anything . . . . Or it's kind of late to rectify that, because the damage has been done."An Easter Baptism

A few weeks after Derek Brown met George Stallings at Tracks in May 1987, Brown moved into Augustus Manor, he said. A third resident, Hayden V. Blanc, confirmed that Brown lived in the house.

Hired by Stallings in September 1987 as a $17,000-a-year pastoral assistant, Brown said his duties included opening the mail and helping publish the parish bulletin. He and other employees said he was out of town much of the time with Stallings, usually on revival trips for which Stallings earned speaking fees.

During midnight Mass on Easter in 1988, Stallings baptized Brown into the Roman Catholic faith with the baptismal name Benedict, or blessed one, according to parish records. Brown said Stallings waived the religious classes and confession normally required of adult initiates.

Later that year, when Stallings left St. Teresa and went to work for the archdiocese, Brown also left. He moved out of Augustus Manor and ended his relationship with Stallings the following March, after what he termed a "marital spat."

He agreed to be interviewed, he said, "not out of hate . . . . It's just something I needed to get out of my system."Incident in the Jail

While traveling much of 1987 on his revival trips, Stallings needed an assistant pastor to help direct his parish. He hired the Rev. Charles F. Stephney.

Stallings told parishioners that Stephney had been on leave from his religious society to take care of his mother, according to former parish council President Andre Glaude.

Hickey soon learned that Stephney had left the order because of allegations that he made sexual advances to teenage boys. Stallings also knew about the allegations, according to several of his associates.

In late 1981, while Stephney was a chaplain in the Cincinnati jail, authorities investigated allegations by several teenage boys that Stephney made sexual advances toward them, according to officers involved. Jail officials asked Stephney to leave. Records of the incident have been destroyed.

Stephney's superiors in the Society of the Precious Blood sent him immediately to Brooklyn for psychiatric treatment, according to his supervisor, the Rev. John E. Kalicky of Cincinnati. Stephney was assigned later to a job where he would not work with children, but he moved to Baltimore against orders, Kalicky said.

Hired by Stallings at St. Teresa in May 1987, Stephney assumed some of Stallings's duties, including working with children, according to parishioners.

Kalicky, said he visited Auxiliary Bishop Eugene A. Marino in Washington a couple of months later, and Marino told him Hickey already knew about the Cincinnati incident. A church official said Hickey sent word to Stallings in October 1987 to dismiss Stephney.

Stephney kept preaching, but Hickey did not discover that Stephney was still at St. Teresa until February 1988, the official said. Hickey again ordered Stallings to get rid of Stephney, the official said.

"Even then we got approximately one thousand telegrams in the names of St. Teresa parishioners asking us to keep Stephney," the official said. He said officials believe that Stephney then left St. Teresa.

Stephney declined to be interviewed. Now 45, he is an assistant pastor at Stallings's Imani Temple, where his duties include working with children.'We've Reached a Crossroads'

Hickey increasingly pressed Stallings throughout 1987 to return to Rome for a doctorate. At the same time, Stallings had renewed conversations from long ago with his fellow black priests about starting their own church, but he held back. In early 1988, he sent word to Hickey that he would return to Rome.

Within weeks he reversed course, telling Hickey he wanted to remain at St. Teresa and telling friends that he feared his ministry would wither if he went overseas. Again his parishioners rallied, sending 1,500 mailgrams to Hickey opposing the change.

This time, Hickey stood firm. He offered Stallings a new post of evangelism director for the archdiocese. Stallings accepted, and stepped aside from his post at St. Teresa.

The job lasted nine months. Stallings complained that he had no staff or budget. His supervisor complained that Stallings spent too much time at out-of-town revivals.

In November 1988, Hickey chose another black priest to succeed Marino as auxiliary bishop after Marino was promoted to archbishop of Atlanta. Several of Stallings's friends said he had talked of wanting to make bishop.

Stallings said he sent word to Hickey that he wanted to return to the pulpit as a parish priest.

On Feb. 6, 1989, he wrote to the pastor of a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Washington, asking permission to use his sanctuary beginning on Easter for "a newly created and emerging faith community, known as Imani Temple."

The next day, Stallings visited Hickey and told him of his plans. Hickey asked Stallings to reconsider, to talk to Marino in Atlanta and to visit an older black priest who is a psychologist.

Stallings's account of this and other meetings with Hickey over the next four months comes from a tape of his unpublished interview with Newsweek last Oct. 10.

Stallings said he met with Marino and the priest as requested, then told Hickey after Easter that he would stay in the church. Hickey was pleased, according to the unpublished interview.

On May 26, the National Catholic Reporter broke the news that Stallings had considered an independent church. Stallings was pictured on the cover with the headline, "I don't want to call it schism."

Hickey was furious. He asked him to write a retraction, Stallings said.

Stallings wrote the retraction during the next week, he said, and brought it with him -- unsigned -- to Hickey's office at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6.

Several friends of the two men said both entered their final meeting with opposite expectations. They said Stallings thought Hickey would do anything to avoid causing a priest to leave the church, but Hickey thought Stallings would do anything to remain a Roman Catholic priest. Both men turned out to be wrong, according to Stallings's account in the unpublished interview.

The two old friends met for the last time, embracing with the greeting they had learned 20 years earlier at the Vatican.

"In Italy, when people see each other they give each other a hug on both cheeks, a double kiss, a double bacio," Stallings told the Newsweek interviewer.

"And I went to give him the bacio on one side and he clammed up on me, and I didn't even attempt to do it on the other cheek, and I said I know we got problems right here."

Stallings said Hickey began with an ultimatum.

"George, I've come to a conclusion," Hickey said, according to Stallings. "You have a problem. Your problem is that you have an excessive ego . . . . I've come to realize that your excessive ambitions can be destructive to you as a priest."

Stallings said Hickey ordered him to be evaluated at the Servants of the Paraclete hospital in New Mexico.

"I said, 'Well, Your Eminence, we've reached a crossroads right now. Because I've challenged you, you think I'm crazy . . . . I'm going to have to go on and do what the Lord has been calling me to do and I've avoided.' "

Stallings said he stood to leave.

"He took both hands and grabbed me so I couldn't get loose," Stallings told Newsweek. "He said, 'George, George, George, don't, don't do this, think about it, don't, don't, don't do this, don't do this. I beg you, don't do what you're about to do.' "

"I've got this big smile on my face. I said, 'Your Eminence, I've got to go. I'm wasting your time. You're wasting my time.' I said, 'Your Eminence, peace be with you. This is it.' "

Later that afternoon, Hickey told his closest advisers what had happened. "I've been with him when priests died," said Auxiliary Bishop William G. Curlin. "This is the nearest I've seen him to tears." Devotion and Obedience

That summer, as his announcement of the Imani Temple stirred a furor in the church, George Stallings wrote notes to himself on a yellow pad, which an associate later gave to The Post.

He wrote "devotion" and "obedience" and underlined them both.

He derided Roman Catholic authorities: "Sitting in your pontifical pomposity!"

The pontifical authority in Washington, James Hickey, had said in his only public statement on Stallings that the Imani Temple "has more to do with the problems and expectations of one individual than broader questions about the adequacy of the church's ministry to the black community."

And the 13 black Roman Catholic bishops in the United States, including his former colleague Eugene Marino, issued a unanimous statement saying racism "is too serious an issue to be used as a cover for selfish concerns."

In public, Stallings laughed off these rebukes as "predictable," but his private notes were not comical.

"Re: Charges of personal concerns being met or personal vendetta: A cheap shot. A simplistic analysis."

And he made a final note: "They always find ulterior motives for my actions."

Staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.

NEXT: A new church emerges