Tempted by Forbidden Pleasures, Archbishop Eugene Marino Meets a Sad Downfall

updated 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/20/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

A quiet, devout man with, in the words of one friend, "a desire to reach out to everyone," Eugene A. Marino seemed to be all one could ask for in a priest. His spiritual gifts were quickly recognized by the Catholic Church. By 37, the Josephite pastor from Biloxi, Miss., was vicar general of his order; by 40 he was an auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C. Then, two years ago, at 53, he was elevated to archbishop of Atlanta and became the highest-ranking black Catholic in the U.S. Archbishop Pio Laghi, Pope John Paul II's personal representative, was impressed by the turnout of 100-plus bishops at Marino's consecration: "That means the selection by the Holy Father...is the right one," Laghi said.

It now seems that Laghi's faith and Marino's career have been wrecked on the rocky issue of priestly celibacy. Church officials admitted early this month that Marino had resigned his office after an internal investigation revealed his two-year affair with Vicki Long, 27, an aspiring singer and Eucharistic minister. "It came as an unbelievable surprise to everyone," says the Rev. Peter Dora of the Atlanta archdiocese. "It just seemed out of character. He is a very religious man."

He is also apparently a man of flesh and blood who, like many priests, is in daily struggle with the testing demands of his calling. Chastity requirements have been blamed for falling enrollments at Catholic seminaries. In 1965 there were almost 50,000 seminarians in the U.S.; today there are fewer than 6,000. What's more, according to Baltimore psychotherapist and ex-monk A.W. Richard Sipe, vows of sexual abstinence have been honored largely in the breach. According to Sipe's 25-year survey of 1,000 clerics, only 50 percent were celibate at any one time; only 2 percent resisted carnality altogether.

Sipe believes that naïveté leaves clerics such as Marino susceptible to the temptations of the real world—particularly when the real world is represented by someone as comely as Vicki Long. It emerged that Long has a history of involvement with men of the cloth. Two days after the Marino disclosures, a second priest—the Rev. Michael Woods, 48, pastor of St. Jude the Apostle in suburban Sandy Springs—confessed in an open letter to his parish that he too had had an affair with her. But through her attorney, Long denied any misconduct with Woods, who served at her church in nearby Hapeville for more than a decade. "Woods is the godfather of her child and a close family friend," says the lawyer, Anthony Fontana. "She's never had anything to do with him sexually."

In a bizarre twist, that child, 4-year-old LaDonna, figures in yet another of Long's alleged sexual relationships with priests. In 1987 Long filed a paternity suit against the Rev. Donal Keohane, formerly of the diocese of Savannah, naming him as LaDonna's father. Although a 1988 court-ordered blood test seemed to clear Keohane, the church had already reportedly promised to pay Long compensation. The two sides are still locked in litigation over the matter.

In the present instance, Long says that it was Marino who seduced her and even committed himself to marriage. She says, through her attorney, that she approached Marino because he expressed a desire to help victims of sexual abuse. "That's when the archbishop reached in to take control of her life," says Fontana, "and to establish a sexual relationship with her."

Last week Long alleged that the entire cycle began when she was molested by a nun at age 19. With all parties in seclusion, it may never be clear who was taking advantage of whom. Marino is said to be receiving counseling and medical care out of state, possibly in New York. The woman at the center of the storm drove off from her house the other day and led pursuing reporters on a wild-goose chase through Atlanta. Fontana said she did it so that LaDonna could play in a neighbor's yard without being bothered. Critic Sipe believes the church has long tried to suppress such cases and warns that unless the church alters its stance on celibacy, it will face scandal after scandal. "It's only begun," says Sipe. "They don't know what problems they're going to have."

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