Baltimore’s historic St. Benedict Church will close permanently following the revelation of a second allegation implicating its popular former pastor, Rev. Paschal Morlino.
Church leadership on Saturday confirmed the plan to close the parish near Carroll Park during a late-afternoon Mass, stunning the roughly 30 congregants in attendance. The church is scheduled to end administering the sacraments Nov. 15, but the archdiocese said volunteers will continue to operate community programs at the site.
Following the sacrament of the Eucharist, a member of the clergy read from a prepared statement to confirm the closure of the church and the new allegation. Multiple parishioners shook their heads as they listened. Some whispered to one another, while others sat perfectly still.
Outside the church following the announcement, parishioner Tom Phillips reflected on the news.
”I think everybody’s upset,” he said.
“It’s not right,” Elizabeth Rippetoe repeated several times. The 95-year-old has been coming to St. Benedict since the 1950s, she said.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore in October dismissed Morlino from his position leading the church amid an investigation by The Baltimore Banner. It was disclosed that Morlino paid $200,000 to quietly settle allegations of fraud and sexual assault.
“We understand that this news comes at a difficult time for the parishioners,” the archdiocese said in a statement Saturday. “The difficult decision was made based on the limited number of clergy available for this ministry.”
Officials told congregants Saturday that Catholic leadership has since learned of another abuse allegation dating to 1993 against Morlino, who until recently was celebrated as an “urban monk” of Southwest Baltimore who led St. Benedict Church for decades.
“After receiving permission to proceed from law enforcement authorities, the Archdiocese has now commenced an investigation,” the archdiocese said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
Morlino, 85, could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday. He served the parish from July 1984 to October 2023 and has since returned to his religious community, Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, while the archdiocese and Benedictines conducted further investigation.
A spokeswoman for the Archabbey did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday evening.
Morlino has not been charged with a crime. His dismissal followed a Baltimore Banner investigation that brought details of the 2018 settlement payment to the attention of archdiocese officials.
The man who accused Morlino and received the $200,000 settlement died in April 2020. The Banner does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they consent to being identified.
After the announcement, two parishioners stood near their cars in the church parking lot to discuss the news. The women, who declined to share their names, said they were heartbroken by the closure. They said they stand by their former pastor, who they haven’t spoken to since his abrupt removal.
For Rippetoe, the closure means taking the bus to attend Mass instead of walking with the help of a cane from her home on Frederick Avenue.
”Where am I going to go?” she wondered aloud. “It’s a damn shame.”
The archdiocese said an outreach team will contact parishioners about other parishes they can attend once St. Benedict shutters. Those other churches in the area include Transfiguration Catholic Community Parish, St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish, St. William of York Catholic Church, Our Lady of Victory Parish and St. Edward Church.
Baltimore Banner reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this story.