Diocese defrocks York man accused of child sex abuse

Seacoast Online, Maine/June 15, 2011

New York, Maine - A papal court has defrocked four inactive priests, including York resident Robert J. Knapp, saying Knapp was accused of sexually abusing minors, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of Boston dated Monday, June 13.

The Holy See, or papal court, determined Knapp is "no longer in the clerical state," having sought through a voluntary process to be removed, according to the statement posted at www.BostonCatholic.org.

While not directly linking the papal court's decision to the sexual abuse allegations, the Archdiocese said Knapp, "ordained in 1965, was first accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1985. He has been absent without permission from the Archdiocese since 1988."

Knapp, born in 1939, denies the accusation.

"All I can say is, I'm innocent," he said from his York Beach home late Wednesday afternoon.

On Nov. 23, 2004, Richard J. Lennon of the Archdiocese gave him a document exonerating him of any sexual offense accusations, Knapp said. Knapp told the Portsmouth Herald he would deliver the document to the newspaper, but as of Wednesday evening, the document had not arrived.

"I've got a document clearing me, allowing me to go back to duty, but I couldn't," he said, because he had gotten married. "I asked to be removed four or five years ago."

Knapp, a former member of the York Parks & Recreation Board, said Wednesday he was surprised by the Archdiocese's announcement, having received no notification.

"I have no idea, because it's not true," he said.

There are no known criminal charges against Knapp.

Knapp was ordained in 1965 and voluntarily left the priesthood in 1988, he said. He served as a priest in Massachusetts.

On Sept. 19, 2003, Lennon informed Knapp of his suspension from the clerical state due to his civil marriage, according to the letter provided by Terry McKiernan of the watchdog group, BishopAccountability.org, which said Knapp has been accused of hundreds of incidents of sexual assault from 1979 to 1984.

"You should also be aware that the Archdiocese of Boston is facing two legal claims relative to charges of sexual misconduct by you," said Lennon in the 2003 letter. "On involves a minor male, and the other concerns an adult female."

No one at the Archdiocese of Boston could be reached late Wednesday afternoon.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley "expressed his continued prayers for all persons impacted by the painful reality of sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy," a press release said.

David Clohessy, director the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized the Archdiocese in a Boston Globe report.

"We're disappointed, but not surprised, that O'Malley failed to urge those who saw, suspected, or suffered child sex crimes by these clerics to call police," Clohessy told the Globe. "That should be O'Malley's top priority, keeping predators away from kids. It's irresponsible for Catholic officials to recruit, educate, ordain, hire, and protect child-molesting clerics, then cut them loose when public pressure becomes too great."

On Monday, the Archdiocese named four inactive priests whom the Holy See determined were no longer in the clerical state: Knapp, Robert F. Daly, John Keane, and Benjamin McMahon. Daly and McMahon were both accused of sexually abusing minors, according to the Archdiocese. Keane pleaded guilty in 2008 to one charge of indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14, as well as three charges of assault and battery on a child, according to the Archdiocese.

"As a result of the Holy See's decisions, they may no longer function in any capacity as priests, with the exception of offering absolution to the dying," the statement said. "The four men have not received any financial support from the Archdiocese in more than two decades."

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