Priest Accused of Abuse
The man came to church with an ugly charge: The priest had molested him 25 years earlier.
The man, Joseph McDonald, said he told Monsignor Reinecke that he wanted to make sure the priest never worked with children again and demanded that he retire. He said Monsignor Reinecke, pastor of St. James and chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Arlington, asked for forgiveness.
Two days later Monsignor Reinecke killed himself with a shotgun. He was 53.
Now Arlington police are trying to learn whether Monsignor Reinecke, the archdiocese's second-in-command, was a child molester and if he abused any children in recent years.
For the Reinecke family and the church, the charge has rekindled the confusion and anger that people felt after the Aug. 11 suicide.
"I don't believe it," said Ralph Reinecke, the priest's brother, who questioned why anyone would raise an old charge now. "To muck over some accusation from somebody after his death is just unconscionable."
Mr. McDonald said he confronted Monsignor Reinecke because he wanted to prevent him from abusing again. He said he hopes that going public will encourage other victims, if there are any, to come forward.
"I was embarrassed as a kid, and I'm not embarrassed now," said Mr. McDonald, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Northern Virginia.
He said the abuse occurred in 1966 or 1967 when he was 13 and an altar boy at St. Charles Catholic Church in Arlington. He said Monsignor Reinecke was a priest there and took him and another altar boy on an overnight sightseeing trip to Williamsburg, where the priest molested him in a hotel room.
The archdiocese said Monsignor Reinecke was assigned to St. Charles and to St. Mary's in Alexandria in the mid- to late 1960s. St. Charles said it can't confirm if someone was an altar boy that long ago.
One problem in confirming the story is that Mr. McDonald kept quiet about the abuse until two years ago, when he told his sister and mother. He said he told them because Monsignor Reinecke was assigned to St. James Church in Falls Church, which his sister attends. His sister, Rita O'Brien, said he told her about the abuse in May 1990. The archdiocese said Monsignor Reinecke was sent to St. James that year.
This summer, Mr. McDonald said, he heard that Monsignor Reinecke might be working with children at St. James. Mrs. O'Brien said her brother called her and said, "I have to do something. . . . I've got to approach the monsignor face to face." She said she told him that Monsignor Reinecke was saying 7:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, Aug. 9.
Mr. McDonald said he met Monsignor Reinecke after Mass on a sidewalk outside the church and told him about the abuse. He said Monsignor Reinecke was vague and nervous, saying, "You said I did these things. I suppose I could have. I could have been asleep."
"Then he said, 'If I did do these things, I'm sorry,' " Mr. McDonald said. "He said, 'I want to assure you this is not going on now.' "
Mr. McDonald said he asked the monsignor to retire and said he would take action otherwise. He said the priest asked his forgiveness and promised to call after getting back from a retreat.
The next day Monsignor Reinecke went on retreat at Holy Cross Abbey in Clarke County. He killed himself a day later.
Parishioners and church officials say Monsignor Reinecke seemed to be under stress in recent months. Mr. McDonald fears that he pushed the priest to suicide, but a note left by the priest did not mention Mr. McDonald or sexual abuse, said police familiar with the case.
The archdiocese has received no accusations about Monsignor Reinecke, but "we want to make ourselves fully available to anyone who would want to address them to us," said the Rev. Curtis Clark, a spokesman.
Mr. McDonald did not seek publicity or go to police. The Washington Times contacted him after hearing of his story. Arlington police called him about it last week, he said.
A police source said the department wants to determine if the charges are true, if there are other victims and if they need counseling.
Ralph Reinecke said he never heard such charges against his brother and is mad they're arising now.
"Some guy's making an accusation after 20-some years. He [Monsignor Reinecke] has done 27 years of good work. Unfortunately, Billy can't defend himself. That's the sad part."
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