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Minister discusses allegations, plans to leave church

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2002

TAMPA -- The Rev. Kevin Donlon told about 200 parishioners of St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Sunday that he had resigned and was leaving the Episcopal Church to start a new parish.

TAMPA -- The Rev. Kevin Donlon told about 200 parishioners of St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Sunday that he had resigned and was leaving the Episcopal Church to start a new parish.

He also used the occasion to talk about the allegations that had led to his suspension 11 weeks ago from St. Mary's.

Until Sunday, the charges had not been made public. Only Donlon, the regional bishop who suspended him, the eight church members who complained about him and members of the church governing body had seen the 26-page complaint.

Donlon and his supporters said the allegations included: an inappropriate supervisory relationship with a former staff member, the unauthorized disclosure of privileged communications, abusive conduct toward staff members, a conflict with the church-affiliated school's headmaster and inappropriate interaction with members of the parish community.

Donlon denied the allegations.

He said the relationship involved a female parishioner he mentored who is pursuing a career in the priesthood. The woman, along with Donlon's wife and his parents, submitted affidavits to the bishop saying the relationship was not sexual or inappropriate, he said.

"Many of the allegations are made completely without personal knowledge and are based on innuendo and inference," Donlon wrote in a letter he gave to parishioners Sunday. "Please remember also that numerous current and former St. Mary's parishioners and employees -- who were named in the allegations without their knowledge or consent -- later learned of the allegations and provided detailed affidavits refuting them."

Donlon said Bishop John Lipscomb had the authority to lift the suspension and refused to do so.

"There's been enough pain in the congregation," Donlon said. "There's been enough personal loss in my own life, and it had to come to closure."

Jim DeLa, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, said Lipscomb would probably comment today.

"It's a sad situation when a priest feels that he needs to take extreme measures like this," DeLa said.

Donlon, 45, had been at St. Mary's since 1996. Under his tenure, the congregation grew to 600 members and undertook a $10-million project, building a new church and a school in South Tampa. Both opened in January. His suspension caused a rift in the church, and many vocally supported him.

The meeting Sunday, held at the Tampa Woman's Club off Bayshore Boulevard, was attended by parishioners invited by other members. They were unaware of Donlon's plans until he revealed them.

Donlon criticized the church disciplinary process that gave the bishop the power to suspend him on charges Donlon characterized as unsubstantiated.

"The words of Jesus have not been heeded," Donlon told them. "They have been tossed out. The system is fatally and unequivocally flawed. I will not submit to the authority of the bishop and admit to things I did not do."

Ending the matter meant resigning from the Episcopal Church and becoming affiliated with the Anglican Mission in America, a group of more than 40 parishes throughout the U.S.

Donlon's new church, called the Church of the Resurrection, will adhere to the same creeds and articles of faith used by the Episcopal Church, he said.

The new church's first meeting will be next Sunday in the meeting room of the Tampa Woman's Club on Bayshore Boulevard.

"I wish the best for Father Donlon," said Marilyn Healy, one of the St. Mary's parishioners who complained to the bishop about Donlon. "This hasn't been a good situation for anybody concerned.

"We would hope that he does not harbor any anger or resentment in his heart, because we do not."

Most of the people at Sunday's meeting seemed excited and hopeful about the new parish.

"This is a very, very positive move," said Ann Darden of Tampa. Darden has been with St. Mary's for three years, but intends to follow Donlon to the new church.

"This place is going to be packed."

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