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Spotlight Report

Baltimore priest shot; alleged victim is held

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 5/15/2002


The Rev. Maurice Blackwell was wounded in the shooting.


Dontee Stokes surrendered to police, then confessed to the shooting.
BALTIMORE - A man shot a Catholic priest who he said had sexually abused him nearly a decade ago, police said yesterday. It was the first time an alleged victim of sexual abuse by a priest had responded with violence since the scandal broke in January, church officials said.

The Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, 56, who has been on leave after admitting to having had sex with a teenage boy years ago, was struck once in the left hand and twice near his left hip about 6 p.m. Monday as he emerged from his mother's townhouse. He was in serious but stable condition.

''I heard three or four shots and a car speed up Reservoir [Street],'' said the priest's neighbor, Melvin McGee. ''We heard people yelling, `Father Blackwell's been shot.'''

About six hours after the shooting, 26-year-old Dontee Stokes surrendered to police and confessed to the shooting, said Baltimore police spokeswoman Ragina Cooper Averella. In 1993, Stokes accused Blackwell of molesting him.

Witnesses said that Stokes had tried to speak with the priest before pulling out a .357 Magnum pistol, firing it, and then speeding away. The pastor of a Baptist church in northwest Baltimore told the Baltimore Sun that before Stokes surrendered to police, he sought salvation during a service and church members prayed over him.

Stokes told authorities he ''doesn't know what came over him,'' according to the police report. He was to be arraigned today on charges of attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault, and handgun violations.

Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore said the shooting left him appalled.

''This is a new experience for all of us, and what I just sense is an exquisite quality of pain here, that we are moving in a period [in] which the pain also brings purification, so that we take the steps to avoid ever having this kind of situation arise again,'' Keeler said.

He spoke to reporters outside St. Mary's Seminary, where he had concluded a previously scheduled meeting with 175 priests to discuss how their parishes are responding to the abuse allegations.

As in Boston, allegations of sexual abuse have been percolating through Baltimore's historic archdiocese, the first established in the United States. In December, a third-grade teacher at a church-run school was removed after the first of what turned into a series of allegations about improperly touching students. And last week, a former nun who previously worked for the archdiocese held a press conference to say that a priest had raped her.

Keeler and his chancellor and chief spokesman, Ray Kempisty, staunchly defended the record of the archdiocese, which serves a half-million members. Since a Maryland law took effect in 1984, the Baltimore Archdiocese has immediately reported all allegations of priestly sexual abuse to authorities, they said. And in 1993, the archdiocese established an independent lay review board to assess reports of sexual abuse and recommend punishment. Since then, the panel has investigated 64 cases, Kempisty said.

One of those cases involved Blackwell and Stokes. The cardinal and the review panel split, with Keeler deciding to reinstate him and the panel calling for his removal.

Blackwell was ordained in Baltimore in 1974 and served in two parishes in the western part of the city, first at St. Bernardin and then, from 1979 until 1998, at St. Edward Parish. Parishioners credited him with rejuvenating St. Edward, but in September 1993 police told the archdiocese they were investigating a report that Blackwell had inappropriately touched a teenage parishioner, Stokes. He charged that Blackwell had touched and fondled him for three years while he attended Bible study classes.

Kempisty said Blackwell was placed on leave and was sent to a church-run residential treatment center in Hartford. He was reinstated in December 1993 after police dropped their investigation, the church determined the allegations were not credible, and Keeler interviewed Blackwell.

After Blackwell was reinstated in 1993, the lay panel recommended that he be removed from the parish, based on its review.

Yesterday, the cardinal said he had no regrets about reinstating Blackwell. ''Let me just say that they subsequently made their opinion, but they didn't have all the information available that I had,'' Keeler said of the panel.

Stokes's relatives told news organizations in Baltimore that the archdiocese had offered the family a cash settlement, which they rejected as ''hush money.'' Kempisty said he had no knowledge of such an offer.

''There is no coverup,'' Kempisty said. ''We comply with the law, and therefore it is difficult for me to envision a coverup when we've told civil authorities.''

He said police had dropped their own investigation of the charges, and, based on that, ''the victim right now is Father Blackwell.''

Blackwell served at St. Edward Parish until October 1998, when he was placed on leave a second time. Church officials said he acknowledged a sexual relationship with a teenage boy that occurred before he was ordained.

Under the terms of the leave, which continued through Monday's shooting, Blackwell could not have any involvement in church activities, but was allowed to celebrate Mass privately with his family, Kempisty said.

The Reservoir Hill neighborhood is laced with tree-lined boulevards dotted with park benches and fountains. Two doors down from the house Blackwell shares with his mother is the start of a block where neighbors said there is regular drug traffic. Yet neighbors say violent crime is rare, and Blackwell is well liked. Recently, he has been working with churches in Baltimore and Washington to encourage parishioners to adopt drug addicts, they said.

''I think the general consensus is that it was only allegations,'' said Robert Lane, a 43-year-old schoolteacher who has lived on the block for about 20 years. ''There was no proof, and then there he was, shot in broad daylight.''

Keeler said the priests who gathered at the seminary prayed for Blackwell and all who say they are victims, including Stokes.

''I am appalled that another act of violence has occurred in the city of Baltimore and that a tragedy has touched a person that I have known personally,'' Keeler said. ''We have too much violence in our world today.''

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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