As shock fades from the abrupt dismissal of the Rev. Paschal Morlino, members of the Saint Benedict Church in Baltimore are organizing to defend their pastor’s reputation and sustain their historic parish in his absence.

The week has brought a flurry of emails, phone calls and plans for meetings. The archdiocese and archabbey are believed to be investigating the source of a $200,000 settlement paid by the pastor to a man who had accused him of sexual assault and fraud. Church officials visited over the weekend and gathered records from the parish office.

Parish members, meanwhile, are compiling information that they believe will clear the name of their pastor of almost 40 years.

The popular Benedictine monk was removed last week after church officials learned that he had paid $200,000 through a private attorney to quietly settle the allegations. The Archdiocese of Baltimore removed Morlino for not disclosing the 2018 settlement payment, which they first learned about from The Banner, a spokesperson said. Church investigators have not determined if the allegations are credible.

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“The rape and fraud accusations against Fr. Paschal are highly implausible. I doubt anybody at the church believes they’re true,” parishioner Tom Basil said. “The guilt implied by his hidden settlement looks terrible, but his following bad legal advice is not the real story.”

Morlino told The Banner last week that he paid the man on advice from his attorney. Some parish leaders feel the pastor was backed into a corner.

An adult man had accused Morlino of raping him while on a cruise in September 2000 and stealing money from the paychecks the man received for fundraising, cooking, cleaning and carrying out parish errands. The man died three years ago. The Banner does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted without their consent.

The man had threatened through an attorney to sue Morlino if the pastor did not pay. Morlino denied the allegations.

“I just wanted to keep him quiet, to be rid of him, because he was just stirring up trouble,” Morlino said last week. “My conscience is clear; it’s all stuff that he made up.”

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Photo of Paschal Morlino
Father Paschal A. Morlino, O.S.B., is a Benedictine monk and priest of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He has been pastor of Saint Benedict Church in Baltimore for more than 30 years. (Handout/Facebook)

A settlement payment doesn’t prove someone committed the alleged abuse. Attorneys sometimes advise clients to settle even when they are falsely accused. Settlement can avoid a costly civil trial and the risk of putting the matter in the hands of an unpredictable jury. The burden of proof in a civil trial is lower than in a criminal trial.

Morlino has not been charged with a crime.

“Many facts in his favor have not yet come out,” wrote Basil, the parishioner. “Maybe the Archdiocese was only following the rules, but it seems cruel to have given this 85-year-old priest only hours to leave Baltimore without even saying goodbye to the destitute urban parish he’d served for over 39 years.”

Morlino’s sudden departure over the weekend stunned the parish, which learned the news from a visiting priest who read a statement from the Archdiocese at Mass. The monk was sent back to the Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Reached Tuesday by email, Morlino declined to comment.

Donald Sadler, another longtime parishioner, said he and others are frustrated with the church leaders who removed Morlino so soon after being questioned about the settlement.

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”We’re in total shock,” Sadler said.

He questioned the plausibility of claims made by Morlino’s accuser. Why would the man who Morlino allegedly victimized repeatedly have continued spending time with him, he wondered.

”I don’t believe it could happen like that — if it even happened one time,” Sadler said.

A spokeswoman for the archabbey declined to answer questions Tuesday, including whether Morlino would be allowed to return to Baltimore if officials determine the allegations are not credible and whether the order of monks is committed to keeping Saint Benedict’s open in Southwest Baltimore. The historic church near Carroll Park is owned and operated by the Benedictines.

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Charlene Sola, who volunteers in the church office, worries about the future of Saint Benedict without Morlino. Even if the pastor is cleared of wrongdoing, she said, he’s probably close to the end of his career. She wonders if Saint Benedict will remain a priority for the archabbey in Latrobe.

“We’re afraid that they’ll just say, ‘We can’t staff it. You’re on your own.’”

tim.prudente@thebaltimorebanner.com

jessica.calefati@thebaltimorebanner.com