Priest’s plea deal not a religious scandal but case of predator escaping justice
Predatory priest Mark Roberts is in line to receive the equivalent of a spanking for sexually abusing five teenage boys after he cut a pervert’s sweetheart deal Thursday in District Court.
The former pastor at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church isn’t scheduled to be sentenced until March 10, but Roberts’ plea agreement probably will spare him actual jail time. Facing felony charges that could have put him in the penitentiary, he agreed to plead guilty to a count of open and gross lewdness and four counts of child abuse and neglect.
Felony fraud doesn’t apply statutorily in this case, but Roberts surely is one. Beyond the suffering he caused the victims and their families, this coward had the audacity to shield himself with faithful St. Peter’s parishioners during his initial appearance in Henderson Justice Court. But now his charade is over.
Such acts are worse than old New York mob boss Joe Colombo surrounding himself with legitimate Italian-Americans and claiming ethnic discrimination during his criminal cases. Roberts, knowing his guilt, tricked the faithful and wrapped himself in the Catholic faith.
If that doesn’t define scoundrel, nothing does. I have listened the past couple of days to people speak of the Roberts case as yet another black eye for the Catholic Church.
Truth is, it’s not.
This criminal case is no more a religious scandal than exposing Count Dracula to sunlight is a royal scandal. By his actions, Roberts proved he wasn’t a priest worthy of the name. He was a predator, and it’s long past time the church of my youth treated its perverts like criminals instead of lost lambs in need of counseling.
To do less irreparably damages the institution of the priesthood and, in turn, the faith so many millions hold dear.
Unfortunately, the Diocese of Las Vegas hasn’t managed to work up even a little outrage over the Roberts case. Instead, Bishop Joseph Pepe through the Rogich Communications Group public relations firm says, “This is a sad day for all of us and we are praying for everyone involved.”
Absolutely true. But wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone in authority actually discuss the possibility of a zero-tolerance policy with a church-sponsored investigation in an effort to cleanse the wound created by Roberts and others like him?
It was a sad day and a missed opportunity.
This was not a close call, after all.
Roberts is on the verge of slithering away without paying much of a price for his offenses. An innocent man, especially a priest, doesn’t plead guilty to gross lewdness and child abuse unless he’s guilty of those and possibly other acts uncharged.
Roberts could have stood his ground. But he didn’t. He could have confessed his crimes and spared the families months of anguish. But he didn’t.
Instead, like all smart predators working the system, he took the best deal available.
This doesn’t mean Roberts’ life is over. Far from it. His life hasn’t ended, just his cover story. Roberts is leaving the priesthood and he’ll have to stop lying to those parishioners, but he gets to slink back into the shadows with minimal discomfort.
Sure, he must register as a sex offender and promise not to have unsupervised contact with children. But the fact is, it’s a big country and predators move with relative ease from state to state.
Real priests have difficult duty. The dedicated, and there are scores untouched by even the hint of scandal, have a largely thankless job. But every time one of their own is busted as a sexual predator, it cheapens the cloth.
That’s the shame of criminal cases such as this one. There’s another shame, and it’s equally troubling. This case lifted a sewer lid. Avoiding a trial spares the victims and their families, and that must be respected, but it also closes the lid.
It’s foolish to think this was Roberts’ first series of transgressions. His strange, ritualistic sexual activity was the action of a predator, a pedophile. That’s a criminal defect, not a lifestyle choice. That’s a wolf in disguise, not a sheep who strayed.
Who knows how many other youngsters were victimized by this predator in fraudulent cloth?
John L. Smith’s column appears Wednesdays in the Nevada Appeal. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.