OCEAN CITY – A former Catholic priest charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse and assault on a minor in Ocean City is behind bars in Snow Hill this week after finally being extradited to Worcester County from North Carolina.
The Ocean City Police Department last year received a complaint about the sexual abuse of a minor. The alleged incidents were to have taken place in Ocean City between 1977 and 1983 and involved a former priest, later identified as Michael Lowell Barnes, 64, of Haywood County, N.C. At the time of the alleged abuse, the victim was a minor child.
Police began investigating the alleged pattern of sexual abuse on the minor dating back over 30 years and obtained an arrest warrant for Barnes. In early October, local detectives, in cooperation with the Maggie Valley, N.C. Police Department, located and arrested Barnes in North Carolina. According to police reports at the time, Barnes was taken into custody and held in a North Carolina jail on a $400,000 bond pending extradition to Worcester County to face charges related to the alleged incident.
However, several months passed and Barnes had not been extradited to Worcester. According to a source who rented an apartment to the former priest in North Carolina, Barnes had extensive health issues including a recent quadruple bypass surgery and two heart attacks late last spring and early summer. The alleged victim’s attorney, Michael Reck of Manley and Stewart, confirmed late last year Barnes’ health issues were complicating the process.
Barnes was finally extradited to Worcester County on Thursday and committed to the Worcester County Jail. At a bail review hearing last Friday, Barnes was ordered held on a $75,000 bond and was committed to the county jail, where he remains this week. Although he has not been formally indicted, Barnes faces a total of 16 counts ranging from various sex offenses, child abuse and assault. His preliminary hearing has been set for March 15.
It appears the alleged incidents in the resort were only the tip of the iceberg. Last June, Barnes’ alleged victim in the abuse pattern filed a civil suit in the Superior Court of Delaware against the former priest and the Archdiocese of Baltimore alleging a long pattern of abuse that began in 1977 when the victim was just 12 years old and continued for several years.
“It is while the plaintiff was a parishioner and student in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that the plaintiff came to be under the direction and control of Father Barnes, who used his position of authority and trust over the plaintiff to sexually harass, molest and abuse him,” the complaint reads. “
While the details involving the alleged incidents in Ocean City from 1977 to 1983 have not been made public, the civil suit filed in Delaware in June spells out a sordid and prolonged pattern of abuse carried out in Baltimore and in the Delaware resort towns. The civil suit also names the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a defendant because similar complaints against Barnes in the past had not been made public.
“The defendants had a duty to disclose to the plaintiff and parishioners, minors, parents, caretakers and others under Father Barnes’ supervision, control and apparent authority and guidance that Father Barnes in the past engaged in and/or was continuing to engage in sexually-related conduct with minors,” the complaint reads.