Beaufort News

Former Savannah priest indicted on Jasper County sexual abuse charges

A former Catholic priest has been indicted for allegedly sexually assaulting two boys at different locations in Jasper County during the late ’70s and early and late ’80s.

A Jasper County grand jury handed down nine indictments against Wayland Brown, 73, on Thursday alleging first-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct, 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said during a joint news conference Monday with the Chatham County, Ga., District Attorney’s office.

The indictments allege that during the school years of 1979, 1980, 1981, 1987 and 1988, Brown, then a priest at St. James Catholic Church and School in Savannah, took the two children, who were students at the school, to Jasper County on occasions and sexually assaulted them.

One of the victims was allegedly assaulted when he was in the fifth, sixth and seventh grade. The second was allegedly assaulted when he was in the seventh grade, Stone said.

The indictments list the locations of the alleged acts at the intersection of Stiney and Morgan roads in Hardeeville, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Ridgeland and the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.

The Solicitor’s Office became aware of the alleged acts after Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap’s office was contacted by a victim’s family, Heap said. The information sparked a 14-month investigation.

“It was a tremendous undertaking for the investigators in this,” Stone said.

Georgia law, however, has a statute of limitations for those kinds of allegations. Heap contacted Stone’s office to prosecute the case because there is no statute of limitations for the accusations in South Carolina.

Brown has been taken into custody in Baltimore, where he now lives, and will remain there until he is extradited to South Carolina, Stone said.

“We do not have a time table on that,” Stone said when asked how long the extradition process would take.

This is not the first accusation of sexual abuse presented against Brown.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah paid $4.5 million last year to settle a lawsuit filed against Brown after allegations that he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy in Jasper County multiple times between August 1987 and May 1988.

“Brown transported (the victim) by vehicle to Jasper County, South Carolina, where (he) coerced the minor into sexual touching and intercourse,” according to the suit.

The alleged victim was also a student at St. James, according to the lawsuit.

During encounters with the victim, Brown “presented himself as a priest, engaging the plaintiff in religious prayer and counseling while wearing the vestments of the church,” the suit said.

To keep the victim quiet about the abuse, Brown threatened the boy’s “family members with eternal condemnation if (he) disclosed the sexual encounters,” the suit alleged.

Court documents explain the long gap between the alleged incidents and of the filing of the lawsuit, saying the abuse caused “severe psychological trauma and memory repression.”

Those repressed memories surfaced during “psychological therapy in November 2014,” the suit says.

The lawsuit — which names Brown, the diocese, as well as past and current church leaders as defendants — alleges a host of incidents of misconduct and abuse by Brown against children stretching back nearly 50 years.

Church leaders “knew or should have known that (Brown) was a danger to the plaintiff” and “knew that Brown was not safe and fit to be a priest,” according to the suit.

Brown was removed from “active ministry” in 1988, according to a statement released last year by the Diocese of Savannah.

In 2004, a decree from the Vatican imposed laicization upon Brown. Laicization is a process used by the Catholic Church to formally defrock a member of the clergy.

In addition to the lawsuit, Brown was convicted of child molestation in Maryland in 2003 and registered as a sex offender. He served five years of a 10-year sentence for that crime, according to Maryland court records.

If convicted of the most recent accusations, Stone said that Brown could serve 20 years on the second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge and 25 years to life if convicted on the first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

Anyone who believes they were a victim of abuse, saw something suspicious or knows someone who was a victim may call a tip line at Heap’s office at 912-652-8080.

“We know that there’s a large Irish Catholic community, a lot of people attended the schools and they may have information,” Heap said. “If you’re not sure, just call, leave your name, leave your number, give us information about potential victims or witnesses. ... This was a priest who was in Savannah, he was assigned to this diocese for a long period of time. So during that time, we hope that we will get more information, more witnesses and more evidence.”

Caitlin Turner: 843-706-8184, @Cait_E_Turner