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Were You the Victim Of Sexual Abuse by a Priest in St. Mark Parish in Catonsville?


How Was the Safety of Children Within St. Mark Parish Disregarded?

With the release of the Maryland Attorney General’s Report on Child Sexual Abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the disturbing extent of the offenses committed by members of the clergy in Maryland has been revealed. From the information contained in the report, it is evident that the Archdiocese repeatedly failed to protect the children entrusted to their care. Sadly, many individuals needlessly suffered from abuse at the hands of priests and others within the religious institutions in and around Baltimore.

Nowhere was this systematic failure to protect children more apparent than in St. Mark Parish in Catonsville. The report states, “St. Mark Parish in Catonsville had eleven child abusers living and working there from 1964 to 2004: Lentz and Belschner in the 1960s; Helowicz, David Smith, Dowdy and Duke in the 1970s; Heilman and Rouse in the 1980s; and LaPorta, Ernst and Zerhusen in the 1990s.” To have one child abuser within a parish is a tragedy; to have eleven is stunning and inexcusable. The sheer number of child abusers in this area strongly indicates there was a culture within the parish that tolerated and covered up the abuse for an extended period of time. There are likely many victims whose stories have not yet been told.

If you or a loved one were victimized by a priest within St. Mark Parish, our religious institution sexual abuse lawyers can help you fight for the justice you deserve. We know that it can be difficult to come forward, but our compassionate lawyers have extensive experience advocating for individuals harmed by members of the church. To learn more about your legal rights, call our law firm today for a free, confidential case evaluation.

Which Priests Are Confirmed to Have Abused Individuals Within St. Mark Parish?

While eleven priests who have been confirmed to be child abusers lived or worked in St. Mark Parish between 1964-2004, just four are currently accused of harming children within the parish. However, this number could increase as more victims come forward. The four abusive priests named in the attorney general’s report include the following individuals.

Father James Dowdy

Dowdy was an associate pastor at St. Mark’s Parish from 1975-1980. A man accused Dowdy in 1993 of long-term sexual abuse between 1976-1984, beginning when the man was 16. The Archdiocese eventually agreed to pay for the man’s counseling and medication costs. While receiving therapy for his behavior, Dowdy himself admitted to several instances of sexual misconduct and sexually abusing children. The identities of these victims are unknown, but it is possible that some may have been from St. Mark’s Parish.

Father Edward Heilman

Heilman served as an associate pastor at St. Mark’s from 1983 to 1987. He and another priest, Father Ronald Mardaga, were credibly accused of attacking and raping a male victim under the age of 18 while at St. Mark’s. Mardaga was not assigned to St. Mark’s but lived and worked in a nearby parish. Heilman passed away in 1988.

Father Robert Lentz

St. Mark’s was Father Lentz’s first assignment, and he served as associate pastor there from 1964-1973. He was accused in 2002 of abusing an altar boy in the St. Mark’s rectory in 1964 when the boy was 10 or 11 years old. The Archdiocese of Baltimore settled with the victim for $35,000. At least three other male victims have accused Lentz of abuse during his time at St. Mark’s.

Father David G. Smith

Father Smith was an associate pastor at St. Mark’s between 1973-1980. In 2002, he was accused of the sexual abuse of a boy while he served there. The boy was 15 at the time the abuse began. Smith was charged in 2002 for his actions, pled guilty to “perverted practice,” and received probation.

What About the Other Seven Priests Named in the Report Who Had Connections to St. Mark Parish?

The other named priests who lived in or were assigned to St. Mark Parish over the years were accused of abusing children in other parishes. Infuriatingly, it was common practice for the Archdiocese to reassign accused priests to new parishes to avoid scandal or criminal charges. Of course, they did not warn the new parishioners of the risks posed by these individuals and publicly denied all knowledge of their abuse. As just one example, the church was made aware of the abusive acts of Father Frederick Duke in 1953 but continued to reassign him to various parishes until 1987, including a stint at St. Mark’s from 1971-1978.

Although the other seven priests are currently not facing accusations from individuals who lived within St. Mark Parish, their record of abuse in different parishes makes it probable that new victims may come forward now that this report has been made public. The active efforts of the Archdiocese to cover up previous accusations, coupled with the fact that some of these abusers acted as mentors and supervisors within the parish, means that many harmful acts could have been hidden or dismissed in the past.

What Actions Can You Take If You Were Abused by One of These Priests?

Maryland will likely pass a law in 2023 that removes the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse. This change will allow victims from St. Mark to seek justice and compensation for the horrific acts they suffered, no matter when they occurred. However, prompt action is still critical to ensure that your case meets all requirements for filing.

At Andreozzi + Foote, we understand the many challenges survivors of church-related abuse face. We are available 24/7 to help you through the legal process and answer your questions and concerns. Contact our law firm today at 866-311-8640 for a no-obligation discussion of your case.

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