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Church confirms late DC police & fire chaplain ‘credibly accused’ of abusing children

Msgr. R. Joseph Dooley was revered by police & firefighters in the Nation's Capital

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After 70 years, dark secrets of Washington’s Archdiocese are finally seeing the light of day. The church officially outed 31 pedophiles Monday who were members of the clergy, writing that each was “credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors”. Scanning the list, a name immediately caught my eye. R. Joseph Dooley.

Father–and later Monsignor–Dooley was the chaplain for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington and the District of Columbia Fire Department from the 1960s through at least the mid-1980s. He also founded the International Conference of Police Chaplains in 1973 (more here) and was the chaplain for other police departments, including the United States Park Police.

Upon reading Dooley’s history it’s hard not to think of the Netflix documentary series “The Keepers”. That story centers on a Baltimore pedophile priest and the cover-up surrounding the unsolved murder of a young nun. To be very clear, there are no murder and intrigue claims like that with Msgr. Dooley, but some parallels are interesting.

The Archdiocese of Washington claims it learned of allegations against Msgr. Dooley in 1991. He was removed from the parish ministry a year later and died in 2002. Online searches show claims against Dooley didn’t become public until 2009 when victims sued. But the news coverage then never mentioned Dooley was the much loved police and fire chaplain in the Nation’s Capital for more than 20-years. Even The Washington Post missed that connection.

At least three men say they were abused by Dooley while students at DC’s St. John’s College High School in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a period when Dooley was active with the police and fire departments. Their lawsuits claimed Dooley took the boys to a trailer in Frankford, Delaware where they were sexually abused. In its release, the Washington Archdiocese does not give details on the number of allegations against Msgr. Dooley or anyone else.

Dooley was well respected, if not revered, by police officers and firefighters. Check this article by my late friend Al Lewis. Al was the The Washington Post’s legendary police reporter. These excerpts are from his story on a celebratory dinner for Msgr. Dooley’s silver anniversary as a priest in 1985:

One police officer, who had survived two gunshot wounds said, “On behalf of all those police officers and firefighters who could not be here tonight, because they didn’t recover from their injuries, I say thanks, Msgr. Dooley, for being there for us and for our families.”

For more than two decades Dooley has helped police officers and firefighters with problems ranging from alcoholism to marital difficulties and has been available frequently to offer reassurance. Many calls have taken him to hospitals to administer last rites to a police officer or a firefighter killed in the line of duty.

Known on the police radio as Cruiser 51 and in the fire department by the call number Car 22, he responds night and day where spiritual guidance is needed.

Dooley’s involvement with men and women who risk their lives as part of their jobs and his sensitivity helps to nourish a special bond between him and the police and fire community. Some consult him about personal problems because he knows their world better than their own priests.

Read entire article

Dooley was always a strong advocate for police officers and firefighters, writing letters to newspapers and delivering memorable eulogies at their funerals.

In October of 1972 Dooley wrote his own article for the official FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. That’s where I found the pictures posted on this page. You can download the entire publication here.

So, back to “The Keepers”. The Baltimore priest at the center of that story was Joseph Maskell, whose abuse of children, like Dooley’s, is alleged to have occurred in the 60s and 70s . Maskell, like Dooley, was a well-known police chaplain. He served the Baltimore County Police Department and Maryland State Police. Maskell, like Dooley, found his young prey at a Catholic high school, Archibishop Keough. It was a school for girls. The church kept quiet allegations against each man for decades, only to later use similar legal tactics regarding jurisdiction and statute of limitations to successfully fight lawsuits.

The documentary series on Joseph Maskell weaves a deep and dark cover-up surrounding child sex abuse and the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik. It intimates connections to police officers and even prosecutors. Let me reiterate, there are no similar allegations about Msgr. Dooley. But there is now real confirmation the man ministering to the Washington public safety community was–at the same time–very likely committing sex crimes against children.

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