Priest pleads guilty in Philly abuse case

Associated Press/February 8, 2005
By Maryclaire Dale

Philadelphia -- A priest who taught at a Roman Catholic high school for boys pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually abusing a student in the late 1970s.

The Rev. James J. Behan, 61, an Oblate priest who now lives in Maryland, faces up to 25 years in jail for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and corruption of minors. He remains free on bond at an Oblate retirement home until his sentencing in May.

Behan performed oral sex on the teenager dozens of times from 1978 to 1980 when he taught at Northeast Catholic High School for Boys, prosecutor Maureen McCartney said. The victim, who was 15 when the abuse started, had thoughts of becoming a priest and spent considerable time with Behan, she said.

The sex acts took place at rectories and on overnight trips, but apparently not at the high school, she said.

"This is a person that was a priest. He taught at the same school, he took this student under his wing, and then he abused him," McCartney said.

Behan is the only priest charged in Philadelphia since a grand jury began investigating clergy abuse in 2002. The archdiocese has said that its records show 44 priests have been "credibly" accused of molesting minors since the 1950s.

Statutes of limitations have prevented prosecutors from pursuing complaints against dozens of accused priests in Pennsylvania. In Behan's case, prosecutors successfully argued that the clock stopped running in 1980 when he left the state to take a parish job in North Carolina.

Authorities in Boston used the same argument to prosecute Paul Shanley, the defrocked priest convicted by a jury Monday of repeatedly raping a young boy in the 1980s.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia issued a statement Tuesday promising to protect young people from abuse and offering prayers for the victims.

"It is always tragic to learn of the abuse of a young person," archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Farrell said. "The physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of all our students is of the utmost concern."

Behan's lawyer, Michael McGovern, did not return a phone call seeking comment.

McCartney said Behan's victim, now 42, has had trouble maintaining relationships and holding down jobs. The victim approached church authorities in North Carolina in 2002 after seeing a news item that mentioned Behan's ongoing work with children.

While Behan has been stripped of his public duties and cannot be around children, his order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, does not defrock its members, even after a criminal conviction.

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