HIV+ navy priest gets two years for sex crimes
7th December 2007 17:10
Antonio Fabrizio, Pink News
A Catholic Navy chaplain was sentenced to two years in jail on Thursday for forcible sodomy and failing to tell his sex partner that he was HIV positive.
John Thomas Matthew Lee, a priest since 1993 and a military chaplain since 1996, decided to plead guilty before a military court at Marine Corps base Quantico in Virginia.
The plea agreement, which included informing the authorities about every sex partner he ever had, meant that ten of the initial twelve-year sentence was suspended.
Lee admitted all of the 11 charges, including that he had had sex with a military officer without telling him he had AIDS, forced himself on a midshipman, and coerced a marine he was counselling to take nude pictures.
During the hearing, Lee apologised for his crimes and said he was remorseful both as a Navy officer and as a priest.
"I have brought such dishonour, I would like to apologise for all the harm I have done," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Victims' groups criticised the sentence, saying it was too light.
Prosecutors had asked a fifteen-year sentence for the Lee.
The priest, without a plea agreement, had risked a life sentence if found guilty of forcible sodomy under US military law.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national organisation of victims of sexual abuse by clergy, said he believed things were worse in the military than in other dioceses.
"For a sex offender priest, the military is very attractive because of the transience of military families and the even greater authority and trust that comes with having two titles, both a priest and an officer," he told Army Times.
The archdiocese where Lee was ordained priest was informed last June about his alleged sexual misconduct and prevented him from performing the Mass.
The Army Times reported that at least 25 priests who have served as military chaplains in the last 30 years have faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
Plea Deal Expected In Military Sex Case
Chaplain Accused Of Abusing Power
By Josh White and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 6, 2007; A01
A Navy chaplain who is HIV-positive is expected to plead guilty this morning to charges that he used his positions at the U.S. Naval Academy and Marine Corps Base Quantico to lure midshipmen and Marines into sex acts, according to military officials and sources familiar with the case.
Marine Corps officials announced yesterday that Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Matthew Lee, 42, who is a Catholic priest, is scheduled to face a court-martial at Quantico on charges that stem from several alleged incidents from 2003 to 2007. The charges include consensual and forcible sodomy for allegedly having sex with several men; indecent acts for allegedly posing for nude photographs; aggravated assault for not informing an alleged victim of his HIV status; and conduct unbecoming an officer.
It is unclear whether any of the men has been infected with HIV. But prosecutors allege that Lee, knowing he had tested positive for the virus in 2005, had sex with an Air Force lieutenant colonel in December of last year and exposed him to the virus without telling him.
In another instance, court documents also indicate that Lee fraternized with one midshipman over a two-year period after the student came to him for counseling and advice in 2004. Lee offered the underage midshipman alcohol, engaged in sex acts, asked him to take nude photographs of Lee and e-mailed him pornographic photos of naked men, according to the documents. The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.
Lee was a chaplain at the Naval Academy from September 2003 to October of last year, and investigators found that he had sex or inappropriate contact with several men, including some academy students who went to him for counseling after they were identified as homosexuals, the documents and sources indicate.
One source familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Lee would start conversations with the midshipmen and then invite them to his office, where he allegedly had them take nude pictures of him before he would initiate sex. A charge of forcible sodomy could result if Lee used his rank to have sex with subordinates.
A Naval Academy spokeswoman declined to comment on the case because it is an ongoing legal matter. Marine Corps and Navy officials also declined to comment.
Lee is also accused of using his government computer at Quantico to search for and save almost 375 pornographic images, to send people lewd pictures of himself and to solicit sexual encounters over the Internet. Lee also had inappropriate sexual contact with a Marine corporal while at Quantico, court documents indicate.
Lee faces a potential maximum life sentence without parole in the forcible sodomy charge, but his attorney, David P. Sheldon, said Lee has reached a plea agreement. Sheldon declined to discuss terms of the deal.
"Chaplain Lee will be pleading guilty before a general court-martial," Sheldon said. "He has entered into a pretrial agreement with the government that will substantially reduce his exposure to confinement. He's extremely remorseful about what happened and about his conduct, both as a chaplain and as an officer. He will take responsibility for what he has done."
Lee, a career chaplain from Phoenixville, Pa., was commissioned an officer in November 1988, according to Navy records, and served worldwide, including with the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, at Pearl Harbor and in Italy, before arriving at the Naval Academy in 2003. He was reassigned to Quantico in November of last year and was relieved of his duties in June, when an alleged victim contacted the military.
Lee was ordained in 1993 as a priest of the Washington Archdiocese, in a joint program with the archdiocese that serves Catholics in the military. The Washington Archdiocese includes the District and its Maryland suburbs.
For three years, Lee served as an associate pastor at St. Jerome parish in Hyattsville, and he then began his service with the Navy, Washington Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said. She said Lee came to the military archdiocese in June, saying he was "facing allegations of adult sexual misconduct."
Both archdioceses then withdrew Lee's credentials to operate as a priest. Gibbs said officials did not push for more details because they "didn't have any information, and it was a military investigation."
The Archdiocese for the Military Services, which oversaw Lee as a priest, issued a statement last night saying it had no prior knowledge of the allegations before Lee reported them in June.
The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a former Air Force chaplain who lives in Vienna and advocates full time for victims of sexual abuse by clergy members, said yesterday that Catholics should not be upset that church officials weren't more involved.
"My experience in 20-some years is that the church is the last outfit that does it right," Doyle said. "The proper investigation and execution of justice will happen with the military, not the church."
Doyle, who was a military chaplain for almost 20 years, said as a priest, Lee would have a different type of contact with low-ranking troops than a typical officer would. "He can do things, go places and have access to enlisted personnel no other officers can, because of rules against fraternization," he said. Officers typically "don't spend time in dorms, don't eat dinner with cadets. But he could do that."
The case comes amid a string of alleged sexual misconduct incidents at the Naval Academy, including a former star quarterback being convicted last year of conduct unbecoming an officer after he was accused and cleared of raping a female midshipman. Another ex-football player was convicted of indecent assault in April, and last month a Navy physician was sentenced to four years in prison for using a hidden camera at his home to tape midshipmen having sex.