Diocese releases names of 42 men with 'credible, substantiated' accusations of assault of minors

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond released a list Wednesday of 42 former diocese priests having "credible and substantiated" accusations of sexual abuse of minors, and that list includes a former priest at a Prince George County parish.

In an open letter to the diocese membership, Bishop Barry C. Knestout said the release coincides with his promise for transparency and accountability in how the church has dealt with the allegations. Knestout said the release is being done to help the survivors and their families heal from their past abuse.

"To those who experienced abuse from clergy, I am truly, deeply sorry," Knestout wrote. "I regret that you have to bear the burden of the damage you suffered at the hands of those you trusted. I am also sorry that you must carry the memory of that experience with you. Moreover, I apologize to family members and friends of the abused, and to all members of the Catholic Church."

Knestout stated that the crisis calls for the diocese to "be immersed in three aspects of reconciliation" — acknowledgement of the abuse, regret for the victims and a commitment that it never happens again.

"In doing so, we make known — and support with actions — our commitment to repair the damage that has been done," the bishop wrote. 

Included on that list is Rev. John P. Blankenship, who served as priest at Church of the Sacred Heart in New Bohemia from 1977 to 1984. According to the web site bishopaccountability.org, Blankenship admitted to sexually abusing a boy over a six-month period in 1982. The abuse took place at the parish house, the web site said. The unidentified boy was 14 years old, and reportedly had been doing chores with his family around the parish house.

Blankenship served briefly at St. Ann's Catholic Church in southern Chesterfield County and at St. James Catholic Church in Hopewell. He was removed from the ministry by then-Bishop Walter F. Sullivan in 2002 because of his record of abuse.

Blankenship also served as a chaplain at the Federal Correctional Institution in Prince George County from 1983 until his removal from the ministry.

He pleaded guilty in 2003 to four counts of sodomy stemming from the Sacred Heart encounters, according to published reports. He faced a maximum of 20 years in prison, and was placed on indefinite probation with the possibility of the sentence being imposed upon further improper activity.

Now 81, Blankenship's last known address was in Richmond, according to the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry.

Published reports from 2003 listed the name of the victim, but The Progress-Index has chosen not to identify him.

Other priests on the list with ties to the area's Catholic community include:


Monsignor Joseph T.X. Pham, who was serving as vicar at St. John's Catholic Church in Dinwiddie County when he was removed in 2011 after admitting to sexually abusing a minor while at seminary
Rev. Frederick James Beardsley, who assisted with Mass at Fort Lee upon his retirement from the active ministry
Bishop Carroll T. Dozier, who served briefly at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Petersburg in the 1940s.

Thirteen of the priests on the list, including Beardsley and Dozier, are dead.

Bill Atkinson may be reached at 804-722-5167 or batkinson@progress-index.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BAtkinsonpi.