Parishioners attending weekend Masses at Sacred Heart Church in South Richmond learned that their new pastor was removed for a past incident of sexual misconduct.
The Rev. C. Jeffries Burton, 70, was removed from his position last Wednesday after an allegation of inappropriate touching with an adolescent in 1982 was discovered during a review of his file. At that time, Burton was co-director of youth ministry for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte in North Carolina.
Any priest who has a credible allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor is removed from ministry, according to the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus' Policies on Sexual Abuse and Pastoral Conduct, which became effective in 2003.
The Jesuit organization runs Sacred Heart Church, but the parish is part of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.
No other allegations against Burton have been received, said Kate Pipkin, Maryland Province spokeswoman.
The Jesuit pastor arrived in April at the Southside church, which serves 550 families, including a large Hispanic population.
"No question it was an oversight on the part of our province," Pipkin said. "We have been looking through all the files carefully, and we're going back and looking again. It really wasn't that much information . . . but it was enough to raise a red flag about how was this resolved? When we learned more and Father Burton verified the allegation, he was removed."
Burton acknowledged that the misconduct occurred, she said.
According to a statement issued by Maryland Province, the allegation was reported in 1994 to Diocese of Charlotte officials. At the time, Burton no longer worked in North Carolina.
The Diocese of Charlotte offered counseling to the victim.
Burton had "a brief period of therapy that did not meet current treatment standards for priests accused of abuse," the statement said.
Officials of the Maryland Province, in agreement with the Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo, bishop of the Diocese of Richmond, removed Burton, who has left Virginia and will undergo counseling.
"Ultimately the parish belongs to the diocese, so we wouldn't do anything without talking to the bishop first," Pipkin said.
Asked if he could be assigned to another parish, she said probably not. "It is unlikely he will return to public ministry."
Sacred Heart parishioner Ruben Sajnin, who attends the Spanish Mass there with his family, said the issue of Burton's inappropriate touching of a minor hit home. Sajnin has a daughter, 10, and a son, 16.
"The administration should have warned everybody," said Sajnin, who found out about Burton's misconduct on Sunday after talking to other parishioners.
Sajnin said he is not sure whether his family will continue attending Sacred Heart or seek another church.
To comply with the U.S. Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Maryland Province has been reviewing files of Jesuits serving in the province, one of 10 in the United States. It encompasses Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia and West Virginia.