A Parent’s Nightmare: 12 Predator Priests at Same Maryland Catholic Church!

by | Oct 5, 2023 | Catholic Church, Firm News

St. Mark's Maryland Catholic Church Horowitz Law

What if you learned, years later, that a dozen credibly accused abusive employees worked at the daycare where you sent your children? Or if you found out that a dozen predatory teachers taught at the elementary school, your youngsters had attended? How about if you learned that there had been a dozen child-molesting coaches on the team where your kids played? Try to put yourself in this dreadful scenario. It’s really hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Though it’s mind-blowing, it’s not theoretical. Hundreds of good parents who attended – and may still attend – St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Catonsville, Maryland, in the Baltimore Archdiocese find themselves in this frightening situation. Twelve proven, admitted, or credibly accused child molesting clerics were employed at this one parish for over a 40-year span from 1964 to 2004. Twelve. At one parish. How do we know this? It’s one of a number of startling revelations in the recently released Maryland Attorney General’s report on how vast the crimes against children are and have been in just one of the state’s three Catholic jurisdictions. (Parts of Maryland are also in the Wilmington, DE Diocese and the Washington DC Archdiocese.)

But the analogy between a school, a team, or a daycare and a Catholic parish breaks down in a noteworthy sense. Once your kids have left daycare, the school, or the sports team, you’re pretty much gone yourself. Your ties to the entity are largely severed. Few parents have an ongoing relationship with or involvement in the institutions in or under or with their kids once studied or played. To be more blunt, no mom or dad goes every Sunday to the child care center where, years earlier, they’d dropped off their toddler every day. No parent contributes every week or month to the T-ball team that Sally or Johnny played on when they were ten years old. But presumably, scores of families are still faithful members of the flock at St. Mark’s, attending and donating week after week, month after month, year after year. Unknowingly, they have had to endure abuser after abuser and were never warned in advance and only rarely told afterward of their abusers by the church hierarchy. If you broaden the search and include clerics at St. Mark’s beyond this 40-year period, the number of predator priests there grows to 14.

They include: Fr. Thomas J. Bauernfeind, Fr. Robert Lentz, Fr. Ron Belschner, Fr. Vincent Wilbur “Bill” Bechtel, Fr. Marion Helowicz, Fr. Francis Ernst (a Jesuit), Fr. David G. Smith, Fr. James Dowdy, Fr. Frederick Duke, Fr. Edward Heilman, Fr. Charles O. Rouse, Fr. Ross LaPorta, and Msgr. Henry Francis Zerhusen.

(And for Catonsville residents, it gets even worse. A Paulist, Fr. Francis Sweeney, was assigned to work at a retirement center, and Fr. Robert Duerr was assigned to be the principal of a Catholic school. Both men are credibly accused abusers, and both assignments were in Catonsville, though NOT affiliated with St. Mark’s parish.) Sadly, Baltimore church officials may have dealt St. Mark’s the worst hand. But it’s not a complete aberration.

Other parishes had six or more abusers, including:

  • St. Michael-Overlea in Baltimore: Affrica, Brinkmann, Loskarn, O’Toole, Rochacewicz, Thomas Smith
  • St. Patrick in Cumberland: Bevan, Brett, George Hopkins, Robert Hopkins, Larkin, Mountain, Wielebski
  • St. Mary in Cumberland: Bevan, Helowicz, Robert Hopkins, Michaud, Richard Smith, Spillane
  • St. Clement in Lansdowne: Girard, teacher Brotzman, Ernst, Kenney, Lentz, Maskell

Three parishes had five abusers:

  • St. Thomas More in Baltimore: Barnes, Thomas Kelly, Spillane, Loskarn, and one whose name was redacted by court order
  • Our Lady of Victory in Baltimore County: Affrica, Carney, Maskell, Ernst, Peacock
  • St. Clare Parish in Essex: Girard, Messer, Migliorini, Richard Smith, Stallings

Even those of us at Horowitz Law who have followed and fought against child molesting clergymen for decades find the scope of the abuse stunning and sobering. Why so many abusers in one church? There are likely to be several reasons on contributing factors. But listen to one of the most authoritative sources of information and perspective on this continuing scandal, Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org.

According to NBC News, McKiernan says, “It may not be a simple coincidence that so many alleged predators wound up at St. Mark. ‘Clusters’ of predatory priests have been found in certain parishes. Yes, priests who do this kind of thing do tend to congregate; they seek each other out,” McKiernan said. “But the bigger issue is the higher-ups who are aware of these priests and assign them to parishes that have had other problem priests.”

The attorney general’s report notes that one of the St. Mark abusers, Fr. Bauernfeind, was also a higher-up in the Baltimore Archdiocese, working for a number of years as assistant chancellor and vice chancellor in the archdiocesan headquarters. “In these roles, while he was abusing children himself, he was responsible for overseeing much of the work of the archdiocese and was involved in many personnel matters,” the report stated. So, Fr. Bauernfeind “was a problem priest who probably knew who the other problem priests were,” McKiernan says.

Regardless of the reason or reasons behind this awful ‘cluster,’ no one should lose sight of the single most significant takeaway from the St. Mark’s situation: Thousands of trusting, loyal, and devout families needlessly suffered for years and may feel betrayed and deceived even now because many, many abuser priests ran free for many, many years in Maryland thanks to their secretive, reckless, and heartless church supervisors. As you might expect, this sad phenomenon isn’t limited to the Baltimore Archdiocese.

In Philadelphia, for example, ten predatory priests were at one parochial school (Cardinal Dougherty), and eight were at another (Cardinal O’Hara). Roughly 20 Philly parishes had three or more abusers assigned to them. In Pittsburgh, for example, one parish had at least five child molesting clerics.

In Los Angeles, Fr. Luis Jaramillo, Fr. Fergus Lawless, and Fr. Roger Anderson were all at St. Francis of Assisi parish. We could go on and on. Again, these 12 Maryland predators span a total of 40 years. Think about that for a minute. That’s enough time that it’s possible that a parent and child were both abused there by different abusers. (This is not a far-fetched scenario. It’s happened in Australia, Boston, and a few other places.)

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention that not only Maryland parishes were subjected to abusive Maryland clerics. Some Baltimore predator priests had access to girls and boys far beyond the borders of the Baltimore Archdiocese. Two of the most notorious include

  • Fr. Lawrence Brett, who reportedly bit the penis of a boy he was abusing. He faces at least two dozen accusers (boys and girls) who spent time in California, Connecticut, New Mexico, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington DC, Mexico, and the Caribbean (where he fled when law enforcement began pursuing him).
  • Fr. Blair Raum worked in at least two local parishes (St. Ann and St. Patrick) and the national office of an anti-abortion group called Project Rachel. He likely traveled across the US with that organization, raising funds, organizing events, and speaking publicly. Its national headquarters also likely attracted teenagers and young adults as volunteers, many of whom would no doubt have considered Fr. Raum a powerful and holy man (a recipe for abuse). Fr. Raum faces at least three accusers. (He also lived at St. Thomas Aquinas and at St. Rose of Lima in Maryland.)

We at Horowitz Law feel deeply sorry for current and former St. Mark’s parishioners, and we are dedicated to helping find and bring relief to every and anyone who was violated by these Maryland clerics.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.