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Montgomery County priest accused of sexually abusing minors decades ago

Alexandria police are investigating allegations that a Catholic priest now serving in Montgomery County sexually abused minors several decades ago before he was ordained, according to police and church officials.

The pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Garrett Park, Md., who has not been charged with any crime, is accused of committing the abuse before he became a priest in 1991, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington told parishioners in a letter Friday.

The archdiocese “immediately” placed him on administrative leave after learning of the alleged abuse Friday, wrote the Rev. Anthony Lickteig, the archdiocese’s vicar for clergy and secretary for ministerial leadership. He said the accused pastor’s priestly faculties — including his ability to say Mass and administer sacraments — were suspended and that he is no longer at the rectory where he had been living.

Lickteig encouraged anyone with information about the allegation to contact Alexandria police, and he said the archdiocese would cooperate fully with the law enforcement investigation.

“It is important that you be informed of the facts given the gravity of this matter and our deep commitment to the safety of our youth and the healing of those who have been harmed by abuse,” he wrote to parishioners.

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The archdiocese did not answer questions from The Washington Post about how many minors the pastor is accused of abusing, their ages, and where and when the alleged abuse occurred.

Attempts to contact the pastor through a parish email address and phone numbers listed for him in public records were unsuccessful.

The Catholic Church has faced relentless pressure since 2002 to respond more quickly and transparently to allegations of sexual misconduct, and the U.S. church has invested many millions of dollars in improving its systems. After years of tension over what constitutes effectiveness and accountability, the church’s abuse crisis again burst into the spotlight in 2018, when Washington-based Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned amid accusations of abuse and a coverup and a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report about abuse and failed leadership there led to the early resignation of Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl.

The Washington archdiocese learned of the allegation against the pastor from the Catholic Diocese of Arlington after someone reported it to that jurisdiction Friday, both dioceses said. Mary Shaffrey, a spokeswoman for the Arlington diocese, said her diocese immediately notified police and would participate in any law enforcement or archdiocesan investigation upon request.

The Washington archdiocese requires mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse and immediate removal of someone credibly accused of abuse, according to its website.

“Any employee, volunteer, clergy or religious who receives a disclosure of abuse or suspects any child abuse or maltreatment is mandated to report it to civil authorities, (and) the school or parish cooperates with civil authorities while the investigation is conducted,” noted Courtney Chase, the executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Child Protection and Safe Environment. She added: “When an allegation is made against an individual, they are immediately removed and the investigation commences. There is zero leniency when an allegation is made.”

The Archdiocese of Washington plans to communicate further with Holy Cross parishioners and members of its school community this week, said Paula Gwynn Grant, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

“When more information about the law enforcement investigation becomes available, we will be able to respond further,” she said in a statement Monday.

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Marcel Bassett, a spokesman for Alexandria police, said Monday that his agency had “just received” the allegation and was investigating it.

“We are taking the allegations seriously,” he said.

At the end of Masses at Holy Cross on Sunday, Lickteig told parishioners that he would remain in the back of the church to answer questions as he could, according to video of the service. He said he was praying for the church members, the pastor and “those who have brought forth this allegation.”

Salvador Rizzo contributed to this report.

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