New allegations of abuse by military clergy made

Associated Press/October 11, 2003
By Matt Kelley

Washington -- New accusations have surfaced in the past year against current and former Catholic priests who served as chaplains in the military.

The new allegations bring to more than two dozen the number of Catholic military chaplains accused of sexual abuse, according to a review of church, military, and court records.

The most recent allegations include four chaplains punished for sexual misconduct whose cases were discussed in a 1999 Navy memo. Lawsuits have been filed against two other former military priests in the past year, and three priests have been suspended by the church.

Among the latest to be accused is Navy Commander Brian Bjorklund, whose authority was restricted by the Detroit Archdiocese in July because of what it termed a substantive allegation of sexual misconduct involving a minor before he joined the Navy. Bjorklund has been suspended as a chaplain at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, Calif.

He is one of at least eight Catholic military chaplains accused of sexual misconduct before joining the military, the review found. Church and court records show that Catholic officials knew but did not tell the military about the misdeeds of at least two priests before they were commissioned as chaplains.

Victims' advocates say those cases suggest that church leaders may have knowingly endangered military members and their families.

Church officials strongly deny that. "The military chaplaincy is not a dumping ground for priests," said retired Rear Admiral Tom Connelly, vice chancellor of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

Bjorklund did not return several telephone messages left at his home near the California naval base.

In one case, officials in the Boston Archdiocese knew that priest Thomas Forry had been accused of beating his housekeeper and that he had resisted counseling before they assigned him as an Army chaplain in 1988, church documents indicate.

Church officials knew of the abuse complaints but did not tell the military, according to documents and testimony in lawsuits.

"I have every confidence that you will render fine priestly service to the people who will come under your care," Cardinal Bernard F. Law, then head of the archdiocese, wrote to Forry when announcing his military appointment in March 1988. Law resigned in December amid a public outcry over clergy sexual abuse allegations in Boston. Forry served with the 82d Airborne Division in the 1991 Gulf War before leaving the Army and returning to Massachusetts. Church officials suspended him as a priest last year after he was accused of molesting children. Forry could not be reached for comment.

Of the more than 25 military priests accused of sexual misconduct in the past three decades, at least 19 have been punished by military, civilian, or church authorities, the review found. They include priests sent to prison for raping children, found guilty of abuse by juries in civil lawsuits, or removed from their posts by the military or the church.

Other priests have avoided jail by agreeing to quit the military rather than face prosecution. In 1992, for example, Roberto DeOtero resigned from the Navy after admitting that he molested an altar boy at the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, Calif., court records show.

Two other former altar boys now are suing DeOtero and the Diocese of Hawaii, saying he molested them before he joined the Navy in 1987. DeOtero declined comment when contacted in California.

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