A Catholic priest who is also a U.S. Navy chaplain will plead guilty Thursday to charges involving sexual misconduct.
Lt. Cmdr. John Thomas Matthew Lee, 42, faces a general court martial on charges of sodomy, aggravated assault, indecent assault, fraternization and conduct unbecoming a military officer.
It is unknown which charges he will plead guilty to, but if convicted on all charges he faces life without parole. All of the sexual offenses involve men, and the priest is also HIV-positive.
“He has entered into a pretrial agreement with the government that will substantially
reduce his exposure to confinement,” said Lee’s attorney David Sheldon. “He’s extremely remorseful about what happened and about his conduct, both as a chaplain and as an officer. He will take responsibility for what he has done.”
When asked how long Father Lee has known he has had HIV, his attorney answered, “I think I’ve seen reports that say [that] since May 2005.”
Father Lee was ordained in the Archdiocese of Washington in 1993. He was assigned to a parish in Hyattsville, Maryland from 1993 to 1996, and was a chaplain at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland from 2003 to 2006.
Upon learning of the allegations against Fr. Lee from the Navy in June, both the Archdiocese of the Military and the Archdiocese of Washington immediately suspended his faculties as a priest. Father Lee was relieved of his military duties in June.
Paul Sexton, a former sonar technician who worked with Father Lee on service projects in Hong Kong, South Korea, and Hawaii, described his experience with him. “Every time we had one of these projects, we would talk,” he said. “He was a role model for a lot of us. I thought he was fantastic. He was one of those junior officers who you could talk to about anything. He was more a confidant than a political figure.”
Sexton said that during that time, he never heard or saw Lee behave inappropriately. “He was a fantastic person,” he said.
Over the past thirty years, more than 25 priests who have been in the Archdiocese for Military Service have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. The archdiocese has one of the largest member populations in the United States, and its ministry is worldwide.