Former Pastor Avoids Prison for Beating, Whipping Boys
Roberts Gets Three Years' Probation for Abuse and Neglect of a Child, Open and Gross Lewdness

By Richard Lake
Las Vegas Review-Journal [Las Vegas NV]
Downloaded May 31, 2003

A priest who inflicted sexual punishments on teenage members of a Henderson Catholic church avoided a prison term Friday.

Instead, District Judge Donald Mosley sentenced Mark Roberts to three years' probation for incidents in which he beat and whipped teenage boys who came to him for spiritual guidance.

Roberts, 52, will remain on house arrest in Las Vegas until he leaves for a treatment facility in Missouri.

Prosecutors did not oppose the probationary sentence, which was recommended by the state Department of Parole and Probation.

Roberts, who has been out on bail since his arrest last spring, read a prepared apology to the court on Friday.

"In a sick way, I convinced myself I was helping these young men," he read.

Roberts has been in treatment since February 2002, and he said he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

The former pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Boulder Highway apologized to the diocese and to the court, and said he wished he'd sought treatment sooner.

"Finally," he said, "I apologize to the young men and their families whose lives I have disrupted."

Debbie Tullgren, the mother of one of Roberts' victims, recounted how Roberts was a good friend of the family, and how she was forced to remove pictures of him from their home when they found out what he'd done.

She read a statement from her son, who was present in court but did not speak.

"My biggest loss is that God is absent from my life," her son wrote. "He raped my mind."

Roberts, who had rarely moved during the hour-long hearing, removed his glasses when Tullgren spoke, and he wiped a tear from his eyes.

In January, he accepted a deal from the Clark County District Attorney's office in which he would plead guilty to four counts of abuse and neglect of a child and one count of open and gross lewdness, all gross misdemeanors. A felony pornography charge was dropped.

Though the deal was worked out with the cooperation of his victims and their families, at least some of the victims hoped Roberts would spend time behind bars.

"Don't let this man get a slap on the wrist and make a fool out of this courthouse," one of the victims wrote in a statement Chief Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich read to the judge Friday.

In another written statement read by the prosecutor, a young man said his life had become a nightmare, and he blamed Roberts for ruining his relationship with God, which he deemed "perverted and tainted."

"Every time I drive by a church, I want to turn the wheel and drive right through it," the young man wrote.

He called Roberts a "sick and demented shell of a man," and recounted how, when he was young, he was sent to juvenile hall for stealing a baseball card. Roberts, he said, did far worse than that.

"Does that not justify being put in a cell?" he asked. "Give this sick person every day behind bars that is legally allowed."

In admitting to his crimes, Roberts, who said he'd wanted to be a priest since he was 6 years old, has said he believed he was punishing the boys for their sins.

Authorities have said he beat and whipped teenage boys who came to him for spiritual guidance, dripped hot wax on them while he forced them to stand with their arms out as if they were being crucified, and forced at least one boy to fondle his penis.

Roberts swore in court Friday that, from now on, he "will be of no threat to society whatsoever."

While on probation, he will be housed in a treatment facility in Missouri, where the $2,300-a-month cost will be picked up by the Diocese of Las Vegas instead of taxpayers.

Until he is formally accepted into the Missouri facility, the judge placed him on house arrest. He will stay at his sister's home in Las Vegas during that time, his attorney told the judge.

Also, Roberts cannot be a priest while on probation, and must stay away from children. The Diocese of Las Vegas suspended Roberts from his post in January 2002.

Bishop Joseph Pepe issued a brief written statement after Roberts' sentencing, which read in part: "In some measure, I hope this begins to bring closure."

In the statement, Pepe said the diocese's main concern is to "help those who have been affected," and that the diocese has implemented a program to help educate people about how to protect children within the church.

In court Friday, the stepfather of one of the victims wagged a finger at Roberts and looked him square in the face when given the chance to speak.

"Your little speech didn't mean nothing. Still trying to fool people," Paul Tullgren said.

Tullgren's wife, Debbie, has founded a local chapter of the national organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

She said her son thinks every day about what Roberts did to him, and that sometimes he can't bring himself to get out of bed.

"He took our son's faith, our family's faith," she told the judge.

Roberts refused comment outside court. A civil lawsuit the victims' families filed against him is still pending.


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