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Nev. Priest Allegedly Abused 5 Boys

Clergy: Charges against Father Mark Roberts include taking pornographic photos of two of the youths.

April 23, 2002|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — A Catholic priest in nearby Henderson was charged by county prosecutors Monday with abusing five teenage boys, including taking pornographic pictures of two of them.

Father Mark Roberts, 51, faces two felony counts of using a minor in the production of pornography. He was also charged with two counts of lewdness for fondling two of the boys, and five counts of abuse and neglect of children. Each of those seven charges is a misdemeanor.

The Diocese of Las Vegas suspended the priest Jan. 30, after the allegations surfaced, said church spokeswoman Rachel Wilkie. In 1995, she said, Roberts was accused of inappropriate conduct by an adult that resulted in undisclosed treatment, but he had not been criminally investigated.

Roberts had been assigned to St. Peter the Apostle Church. He is at an unidentified location for the treatment of an undisclosed medical condition, Wilkie said.

Clark County Dist. Atty. Stewart Bell said Roberts' attorney has promised the priest will appear for arraignment next Tuesday. The attorney, George Foley Sr., could not be reached for comment.

In a written statement, Bishop Joseph Pepe said, "I want to reassure our parishioners that we will continue to reach out to those affected by these allegations to ensure that their needs are being met with pastoral sensitivity and concern."

The charges are the most recent involving dozens of priests in the United States, from Los Angeles to Boston and West Palm Beach, Fla., accused of abusing children and teenagers, and costing the church millions of dollars in settlements.

Roberts is the first priest criminally accused of misconduct in Nevada since the current nationwide church crisis surfaced in January.

The allegations against Roberts stem from incidents over a three-year period ending last year, Bell said. The alleged victims, between ages 16 and 18 at the time, sought the priest for counseling, Bell said.

"The suspect was in a counselor relationship with the victims," Bell said. "One thing led to another, to the point where there was some nudity and some fondling, and allegedly lewd pictures taken with a Polaroid camera."

A felony conviction carries a fine of up to $100,000 and could include either probation, 15 years' imprisonment or a life sentence.

The lesser charges are punishable by up to a year in county jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

"This is a difficult time for the church, a time for reflection and growth," Pepe said. "However, I believe that out of adversity comes strength. We are here and are listening to the needs of our parishioners, and we will get through this together."

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