Sunday, January 29, 2012

Archdiocese investigating priest charged with indecent exposure

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has launched its own investigation into a Towson priest arrested this month on charges of indecent exposure at an adult store.

Mark Stewart Bullock, 47, is scheduled for a March 6 court appearance in District Court in Harford County on misdemeanor charges that carry a maximum fine of $1,000 and three years in prison. Church officials have removed "all his faculties to function as a priest," said Sean Caine, archdiocese spokesman.

"The archdiocese is doing its own investigation and will be speaking to anyone who might help us understand what is happening in his life," Caine said. "We need to understand what circumstances led to this incident. In the meantime, he is not allowed to present himself as a priest."

Follow local news updates on our Baltimore Co. Desk Facebook page

Those who attend the Immaculate Conception parish in Towson called Bullock — who had entered the priesthood when he was middle-aged — a thoughtful preacher with a beautiful singing voice. He had been serving as associate pastor.

Known as "Father Stew," Bullock was ordained in 2006 with six others, the largest group of candidates in the past decade. He was 41, the oldest of the group, and had run a floral business before entering the seminary. His first assignment as an associate pastor was at St. John the Evangelist parish in Severna Park. He came to the Towson parish in July 2010.

Bullock was on a week's vacation at the time of his arrest Jan. 16 at Bush River Books & Movies, an adult store on Pulaski Highway in Abingdon. Two deputies from the Harford County Sheriff's Department were investigating complaints of indecent exposure at the store when they discovered Bullock nude from the waist down in a theater inside the business. According to charging documents, Bullock, who was seated on a couch, could be seen by patrons at the front of the building.

He was identified by his driver's license and gave his address as 200 Ware Ave., the rectory at Immaculate Conception parish. He has since relocated to a relative's home and could not be reached for comment.

Most priests' first-year assignments last only three years, but Bullock had stayed at St. John the Evangelist in Severna Park church an extra year, according to a letter the parish pastor wrote to church members upon Bullock's departure.

In the letter, the Rev. Jim Proffitt wrote that the church had "been blessed by [Bullock's] caring compassion and inspired by his preaching." Proffitt could not be reached for comment Monday.

At Immaculate Conception, Bullock was known for his preaching and singing abilities, said John Gaburick, an usher and member of the pastoral council.

"He gave very good, well-thought-out homilies," Gaburick said. "They made you think. He had a tremendous voice."

A letter from the Rev. Joseph F. Barr, pastor of Immaculate Conception, was distributed to adults who attended Mass over the weekend, starting Saturday evening, Gaburick said. The letter informed them of the arrest, the investigation and Bullock's status.

Gaburick said he was astonished upon hearing the news. Bullock was reserved and "kind of laid back," he said.

"If I mirror the feeling of our people, no one's going to say, 'I thought so,'" said Gaburick, who has attended the church since the early 1970s.

Leon Podles, who lives in Florida but attends Mass at Immaculate Conception when he visits family in Baltimore, also noted Bullock's preaching skills and singing voice.

On Christmas, Bullock delivered a sermon that contrasted the hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem" with his visit to military-occupied Bethlehem, Podles said.

"[His sermons] were well thought-out and designed to get people's attention," Podles said.

Bullock is no longer allowed to say Mass, administer sacraments, wear clerical clothing or live at the rectory, Caine said.

Church officials have ordered Bullock to undergo a psychological evaluation. His removal from the ministry is indefinite and could become permanent pending the outcome of the investigation and the results of the evaluation, officials said.

"We expect that all employees of the church, whether priests or laity, model certain behaviors," Caine said. "When that does not occur, appropriate actions must be taken. The results of our investigation will dictate what those actions are."

Caine, a member of Immaculate Conception parish and its council, said the congregation is trying to understand what has happened and is coping with a range of emotions.

"This is a strong parish and will move forward," he said.

In his letter, Barr asked anyone with information relevant to the case to contact Monsignor Jim Hannon, associate director of clergy personnel, at 410-547-5302.