Retired officer recalls investigating Richmond priest convicted of child sex abuse

RICHMOND, Va. -- Retired Prince George Police Lieutenant Bill King remembers the early 2000's well --- the time he helped convict a priest for sex crimes against a child.

The suspect was Rev. John P. Blankenship who was the chaplain at Petersburg Federal Correctional Center at the time he was indicted.

In February of 2003, he pleaded guilty to four separate counts of sodomizing a minor in Prince George County.

Rev. John Blankenship is a registered sex offender residing in the city of Richmond.

The abuse took place in 1982 at the Church of the Sacred Heart. The victim was 14 at the time.

Investigators said that Blankenship took advantage of the young teen while his mother cleaned the church.

King said Blankenship turned himself in alongside his lawyer at the police station.

"He was basically stoic because I'm sure his attorney had told him to be limited in what he said," King recalled. "There we arrested and booked him."

King said he was surprised that church officials claimed they did not know police were investigating Blankenship prior to his indictment.

"I had already been [to the Richmond Diocese] and told them who I was looking for. They gave me the information I needed on him to indict him," he explained. "When I went there to get the information and was met by Father Apuzzo, he wasn’t surprised."

In 2002, the Daily Press reported "diocesan officials say they were surprised to learn of the priest's indictment or the county's interest in the case."

"We didn't know that there was an investigation going on until this morning," the Rev. Pasquale Apuzzo, spokesman for the diocese, told reporters at the time.

Blankenship received a suspended sentence, meaning he spent no time in prison.

Yet, King said they were pleased with the plea deal since the victim - who came forward as an adult - could remain anonymous.

Retired Police Lt. Bill King investigated a priest accused of sex crimes against a child.

"For him to plead guilty to four felonies and that put him on the sex offender registry for life...we felt like we had a good day in court," King stated.

He added, "Many times you go through a 30 year career and you really don’t know whether you made a difference or not - but it probably did to that young fellow at 34 years old."

In his 39 years in ministry, Blankenship served at six churches in the Commonwealth including St. John’s Catholic Church in Highland Springs (1973 to 1977).

Blankenship is still alive and living in Richmond as a registered sex offender.

Catholic Diocese releases list of accused priests

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond released a list of 42 priests who have “a credible and substantiated allegation of sexual abuse” against a child.

The first “credible and substantiated” incident of child sex abuse was reported to the Diocese in the 1950s, according to a Catholic Diocese of Richmond spokesperson. The most recent occurred in 1993, the spokesperson continued.

Their internal investigation was launched last year after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he was looking into reports of priest abuse in the state.

On Thursday, the Diocese released the name of a 43rd priest in a statement:

The Richmond Diocese recently received information from the Order of Saint Benedict about an allegation of abuse that occurred outside the Richmond Diocese against Rev. Donald Scales, O.S.B.  The allegation was found credible by the Diocese of Charlotte Review Board. Fr. Scales served in the Diocese of Richmond.  While the Richmond Diocese is unaware of any allegations of abuse against Fr. Scales here, Bishop Knestout has added his name to the list previously published on February 13, 2019, in the interest of transparency and accountability.

The Richmond Diocese will continue to update the list when necessary and appropriate.

The Diocese of Richmond urges individuals who have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious, lay employee or volunteer of the Diocese of Richmond to report abuse directly to law enforcement, including Child Protective Services (CPS) 1-800-552-7096, and by calling the Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-833-454-9064. In a commitment to support and facilitate healing, individuals are then encouraged to contact the 24-hour confidential Victim’s Assistance Reporting number at 1-877-887-9603 or by email at vac@richmonddiocese.org

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