Church Denies Cover-Up on Archbishop : Religion: Officials confirm that Marino's resignation was prompted by a relationship with a woman. But they refuse to characterize it as sexual.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roman Catholic church officials formally announced Thursday that Archbishop Eugene Marino resigned his post last month because of "an intimate relationship with a woman," but they declined to describe the relationship as sexual and defended earlier, less specific explanations for Marino's departure.

James P. Lyke, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said there was nothing wrong with Marino's explanation for resigning at the time, which cited unnamed "personal reasons" and a need for "an extended period of spiritual renewal, psychological therapy and medical supervision."

"That was true," Lyke told a news conference. "What was not announced, however, was the personal reasons involved an intimate relationship with a woman, entered into shortly after his arrival in Atlanta in May, 1988, and sustained during the next two years."

The new explanation, which was first reported by an Atlanta television station, has incensed many Catholics and dismayed others who felt that the church had withheld the information. But Lyke said: "I don't think there was a cover-up."

In mid-April, an "anonymous source" told church authorities about Marino's relationship with Vicki R. Long, a 27-year-old lay minister in an Atlanta-area Catholic church, Lyke said, asserting that officials then launched an investigation into the matter. On May 3, Marino told church officials about the relationship and voluntarily relinquished his duties, Lyke said. He wrote a letter June 1, asking Pope John Paul II to accept his resignation. It was accepted July 2 and announced on the 10th.

Marino reportedly gave Long, a single mother and onetime singer, $1,500 a month of his own money. Lyke said that the church itself provided her a "charity" contribution for "personal medical expenses," but he refused to say how much or for how long she has gotten this money.

Long has filed a paternity suit alleging that her daughter, born May 17, 1986, was fathered by a priest--not Marino--but blood tests concluded that the priest did not father the child. Lyke refused to comment on this case, saying it was handled in the Archdiocese of Savannah.

Lyke at one point during the news conference refused to acknowledge that Marino and Long actually engaged in sex.

"We know that he had a relationship with a woman," Lyke said.

Asked if that meant a sexual relationship, Lyke said: " You are talking about a sexual relationship."

"Was it a sexual relationship?" a reporter asked.

"I cannot comment on that," Lyke said. "You assume that as a result of a two-year relationship, XYZ happened. I cannot assume that, and I cannot speak for the archbishop."

Lyke refused to confirm or deny further details of the relationship, saying: "The word 'intimate' can have a wide range of meanings, which may or may not include what you're talking about."

In any case, the archbishop's relationship and his resulting resignation have renewed calls for removal of celibacy vows for priests.

"I think they're outdated," said Frank J. Beltran, an Atlanta attorney and active member of the Catholic church. "The majority of American Catholics would agree."

And, the new explanation has summoned a second round of expressions of sympathy nationwide for Marino, whose whereabouts remain undisclosed. Much of the outpouring of feelings centered--as they did last month--on the fact that Marino was the first black American archbishop, an appointment that had been filled with promise and hopes for improving minorities' views of the Catholic church.

In Baltimore, John Ricard, an auxiliary bishop and friend of Marino, said he was "very saddened by this personally, for Archbishop Marino and for the church."

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