GARRETT PARK, Md. — A prominent Montgomery County priest has been suspended following allegations he sexually abused children years ago, before he became a priest.
Father Robert Buchmeier -- pastor of the Holy Cross Parish in Garrett Park -- was stripped of his priestly faculties and removed from the rectory, while police and church officials investigate.
Parishioners got word of the allegations against their pastor over the weekend. In a letter to the parish, the Washington Archdiocese Vicar for Clergy, Very Reverend Anthony Lickteig, wrote that pastor Buchmeier had been accused of sexual abuse of minors. The allegations date back decades before he was ordained as a priest, and occurred in the Arlington diocese.
"It deeply saddens us to have to share some difficult information, however, we believe it is important to make the community aware of a matter involving child protection concerns," Lickteig wrote.
Buchmeier also served as pastor of the Holy Cross School, which includes students from Pre-K through eighth grade. He did not respond to messages from WUSA9.
Marcel Bassett, a spokesman for Alexandria Police, said the department is aware of the allegations, but that it's very early in the investigation, and thus far there are no criminal charges against Buchmeier.
Before Holy Cross, Buchmeier was a pastor at St. Nicholas in Laurel from 1998 to 2005, St. Columba in Oxon Hill from 2005-2011, and Sacred Heart in La Plata from 2011 to 2015, when he joined Holy Cross as pastor.
"He's been in a dozen parishes -- that's a bit of a red flag," said David Lorenz, Maryland coordinator for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests."
Lorenz is a survivor of priest abuse.
"I would ask anybody who had any kids who might have been exposed to him to talk to your kids," Lorenz said. "That's how I came forward."
Experts say it often takes decades for victims of childhood sexual abuse to muster the courage to report.
"Typically a victim doesn't come forward until they're 45 or so," said Mitchell Garabedian, who has successfully sued church dioceses for 30 years over cases of child abuse. "Men in their eighties, women in their eighties, contact me frequently to say they were abused decades and decades ago."
Victims advocates say the church should be vocal in getting the word out about Buchmeier, and asking anyone hurt by him to reach out to police.