Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A Catholic priest who exposed the sexual misdeeds of fellow clergy at three parishes in the Diocese of Arlington is being prosecuted by his own bishop on five ecclesiastical charges.

The Rev. James R. Haley, an Arlington priest, will appear before a church tribunal to answer charges brought against him by the Most Rev. Paul S. Loverde, bishop of Arlington. Presiding as judge will be the Most Rev. Thomas G. Doran, bishop of Rockford, Ill.

The hearing is set for Wednesday at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.

The charges against Father Haley include sexual misconduct; absolution of an accomplice in sexual sin; and the “use of instruments of social communication [the media] to injure good morals, to express insults and to excite hatred or contempt against the Church.”

He also is charged with “publicly inciting subjects to animosities or hatred against a [bishop]” and “injuring the good reputation of another.”

Sources familiar with the case say the first two charges involve an event in the mid-1990s involving a woman who made sexual advances toward the priest. When he refused her, she asked for absolution, which the priest granted.

Father Haley’s attorney, Gregory Murphy, said the priest was found not guilty of any impropriety by the former Arlington bishop, the Most Rev. John R. Keating, who died in 1998.

“They’re throwing in any issue they could find against him,” Mr. Murphy said. “So they have dug up an incident that was, right from the start, found in Father Haley’s favor.”

Stephen Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, a group defending the priest, said, “These issues were brought up several years ago and dealt with. So why is Loverde resurfacing them now?”

The bishop is exacting revenge, Mr. Brady said, for a July 2002 court deposition which Father Haley was subpoened to give about an affair between a married woman, Nancy Lambert, and the Rev. Daniel Verrecchia, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas. Father Haley was a priest at All Saints in 1999.

Mrs. Lambert later divorced her husband, Jim Lambert, and married Father Verrecchia, with whom she has had a child. Mr. Lambert sued the diocese in 2002, saying Bishop Loverde knew of Father Verrecchia’s relationship with Mrs. Lambert but did not remove him from the parish.

Although the lawsuit later was dismissed, Father Haley’s testimony supported Mr. Lambert’s contention that the diocese knew of the affair months before the priest was ordered to stop seeing Mrs. Lambert.

Father Haley also exposed misconduct by two other priests: the Rev. William J. Erbacher, who resigned as pastor of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Franconia after an investigation revealed he stole from church collection plates and maintained a stash of homosexual pornography; and the Rev. Daniel Hamilton, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Fredericksburg, Va., who resigned amid accusations that he kept a collection of homosexual porno- graphy in his rectory bedroom.

After Father Haley made public accusations against the priests, Bishop Loverde suspended him from all priestly functions and put him on a small stipend, his attorney said, reducing the cleric to a hand-to-mouth existence in different homes around the diocese.

Father Haley was in Richmond yesterday meeting with the Rev. Scott Duarte, a canon lawyer assigned to defend him in the case.

An e-mail from him to Father Duarte obtained by The Washington Times shows the priest learned of the trial only last Friday.

The Diocese of Arlington did not comment on the case.

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