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A retired Episcopal priest, whose last assignment was as the vicar at a church in northern Harford County, pleaded guilty last week to sexually abusing two young girls in Cecil County.

The Rev. Donald W. Belcher, 82, entered an Alford plea on two counts of sexual abuse of minors in Cecil County Circuit Court. An Alford plea allows a defendant to maintain his innocence while acknowledging that the state has enough evidence to convict him.

Belcher was released on $100,000 bond and is awaiting a June 28 sentencing, in which he could receive 25 years on each count, to be served consecutively, said Kevin Urick, assistant state's attorney for Cecil County.

Belcher was indicted by a grand jury on charges of molesting a 15-year-old girl in 2006 and an 8-year-old girl in September of last year in the Cecil town of North East. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped two other sex offense charges, officials said.

The abuse was not related to Belcher's pastoral duties, investigators and church officials said. No information was available on the victims.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland prohibited Belcher from exercising any priestly functions in January. With the conviction, the diocese will pursue deposing Belcher to permanently exclude him from the Episcopal priesthood.

"We continue to pray for the two young victims and their family, and Belcher and his family," said the Rev. Scott Slater, canon to the ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Belcher served as vicar at Holy Cross Church in Street for six years until 2007, when he retired and moved to northwestern Montana, where he owns a bar. He was arrested in Yaak, Mont., in December and extradited to Maryland in January.

Belcher was ordained a priest in Montana and served several parishes in that state before his assignment began in Maryland in 2001.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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