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Dallas bishop suspends media priest after new abuse charges


Facing charges of sexual abuse, Fr. Ken Roberts -- a highly public youth ministry advocate, known for his frequent appearances on EWTN and a variety of other Catholic media outlets -- was suspended by the Dallas diocese Nov. 13. Bishop Charles Grahmann said Roberts had disobeyed orders to stay out of the public spotlight and to end his work with young people.

Roberts has apparently been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct for years, though only now are the charges becoming public.

The most recent accusation came from a man who had served Roberts as an altar boy in Fort Worth, Texas. Stuart Douglass told The Dallas Morning News that he suffered months of molestation from Roberts as a junior high student before showing his mother an X-rated theater where Roberts had allegedly taken him. Douglass received a $30,000 out-of-court settlement earlier this year.

“He has gotten away with this for years,” Douglass said.

The paper also reported that the Dallas diocese had paid for another complainant’s therapy in 1995.

Though a priest of the Dallas diocese since ordination in 1966, Roberts spent much of the past 25 years in suburban St. Louis, having gone to Missouri for psychiatric treatment in 1968. The St. Louis archdiocese banned Roberts from functioning there in 1994, according to the Morning News report, after accusations of sexual misconduct were lodged against him stemming from incidents approximately 15 years earlier.

Through a spokesperson, Roberts said that he denied some charges but could neither confirm nor deny others due to alcohol-related blackouts.

Grahmann’s action means that Roberts cannot say Mass, wear clerical clothes or function as a priest. According to a diocesan spokesperson, Roberts has also been told not to use the title Father.

Roberts, who had worked as an airline and cruise ship steward as a young man, described his reputation as a lothario and his later evolution into a Roman Catholic priest in his autobiography Playboy to Priest. He has since written three more books, including his most recent, Nobody Calls It Sin Anymore, all published by Our Sunday Visitor in Huntington, Ind.

Roberts operated a Web page hosted by Catholic Online, a private Internet service. At its peak, the Roberts Web page received 50,000 hits a day. Roberts also ran an “Ask Fr. Ken” message board on America Online, one of the most popular services in AOL’s “Catholic Forum.” Roberts was a frequent guest on EWTN, the 24-hour Catholic cable network.

Though Roberts lectured and wrote on a wide variety of topics, he was especially known for his work with young people. He frequently toured the nation speaking to youth groups. EWTN featured him endorsing “Life on the Rock,” their Thursday night program aimed at Catholic youth.

According to the Morning News, the Dallas diocese asked EWTN to take Roberts’ programs off the air.

As of Nov. 14, Catholic Online had pulled the plug on Roberts’ Web site. Users were redirected to the service’s home page, and keyword searches for Roberts’ name generated error messages. EWTN has also removed any mention of Roberts from its Web pages.

Catholic Online and Our Sunday Visitor told the Morning News that they had not known of the charges against Roberts. EWTN declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Roberts in his St. Louis office said she had been “deluged” with calls of support. Ann Waters said Roberts might appeal his suspension to the Vatican, but “right now he feels like a monastic life would be the best thing in the whole world.”

Waters said that Roberts denied receiving repeated orders from Grahmann and that he had always tried to comply with the bishop “promptly and faithfully.”

Lisa LeMaster, spokesperson for the Dallas diocese, said Roberts had been given until Nov. 5 to end his public appearances and Internet ministry. That deadline passed without compliance, triggering Grahmann’s public comments.

LeMaster said Grahmann has no plans to try to forcibly laicize Roberts.

The English-born Roberts had officially retired from the Dallas diocese on Sept. 1, 1995, citing health reasons. No civil or criminal charges have been filed against him.

National Catholic Reporter, December 4, 1998