Baltimore priest wounded; man confesses, police say

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

BALTIMORE -- A priest was shot and seriously wounded outside his home by a man who accused him of abuse nine years ago, authorities said Tuesday in the latest tragic turn in the sex scandal engulfing the Roman Catholic Church.

Dontee Stokes, 26, surrendered Monday night and said he shot the Rev. Maurice Blackwell after the priest refused to talk to him, police spokeswoman Ragina Averella said. Stokes was charged with attempted murder, gun violations and assault.

Blackwell, 56, was in serious but stable condition at University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His family declined to talk to reporters.

In 1993, the church concluded that Stokes' claims of being molested by Blackwell as a teen-ager were not credible. However, the priest has been on involuntary leave since 1998 because of allegations leveled by another alleged victim.

"This kind of tragedy is something we've feared for some time," said Barbara Blaine of Chicago, founder of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Cardinal William Keeler said Tuesday he was "appalled that another act of violence has occurred in the city of Baltimore." He also said: "This is a new experience for all of us. What I sense is an exquisite quality of pain."

Since the sex scandal erupted in Boston early this year, the Rev. Don Rooney, 48, of the Cleveland Diocese shot himself to death after being accused of molesting a girl.

In Baltimore, police said Stokes had a .357-caliber handgun in a black duffel bag when he drove past Blackwell's home Monday evening, circled the block and came back. Police said Stokes tried several times to talk to the priest, but Blackwell showed no interest in speaking with him.

Stokes told authorities he "doesn't know what came over him" after that, according to the police report.

Police said Stokes opened fire, hitting Blackwell in his left hand and twice in his left side near his hip, police said. When police arrived, Blackwell identified Stokes as the gunman. Stokes surrendered nearly six hours later, telling officers Blackwell molested him as a teen-ager.

Church, police probe

Ray Kempisty, a spokesman for the Baltimore Archdiocese, said Stokes had reported the allegations to police in 1993, but police never charged Blackwell.

According to a 1993 police report, Stokes, then 17, told officers that Blackwell had touched and fondled him for three years while he attended Bible study classes at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church. The archdiocese conducted its own investigation and found the charges were not credible, Kempisty said.

Blackwell was returned to priestly duties. An independent board criticized the decision, but Keeler said at the time that he had met with Blackwell and was satisfied he "had recommitted himself to faithful spiritual service."

Stripped of duties

However, the archdiocese stripped Blackwell of his priestly duties four years ago after finding he had a relationship with another minor, Kempisty said. Blackwell was removed as pastor of St. Edward, where he had worked since 1979.

Church officials said Blackwell admitted to the relationship. Police investigated but again did not charge Blackwell, according to the archdiocese.

Norma Allen, a neighbor who has known Blackwell for 20 years, said the accusations against him did not reflect the outgoing and charitable man she knew.

"Never in my life would I ever imagine that would happen," she said. "They're getting really crazy when they start shooting people of faith, people of God."

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