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Woman says Lutz priest fondled her

The Rev. Robert F. Morris of St. Mary's Catholic Church denies sex misconduct.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2002

The Rev. Robert F. Morris of St. Mary's Catholic Church denies sex misconduct.

TAMPA -- An attorney for one of the women who has accused a Lutz priest of improper conduct said Thursday that the priest fondled his client when she was 13.

"Using her quote: "He felt me up all over,' " said John Trevena, the attorney for Bridget Watkins Kolodziej, one of two women who have accused the Rev. Robert F. Morris of St. Mary's Catholic Church of abuse in 1988.

Morris, who has been suspended by the St. Petersburg Diocese pending an investigation, has denied the allegations. He said he hopes to be reinstated.

Trevena said his client is upset that Morris is "trying to cast himself as the victim."

"She's just horrified," he said. "She felt like a victim twice."

Trevena said Kolodziej, now 27, was active in the youth group of Clearwater's St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in the summer of 1988 when she met Morris.

Morris, then a seminary student, took her to his room in the rectory one weekend, kissed her and "fondled her buttocks, her breasts, her thighs," Trevena said.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg removed Morris, 45, from his parish April 25. The move is part of diocesan policy as it investigates the allegation and another from Nancy Ramsey-Tosh, now a university professor in California.

Ramsey-Tosh has alleged in a separate case that Morris made lewd phone calls to her when she was a church secretary at St. Catherine's, Trevena said.

Morris received standing ovations from supportive parishioners last weekend when he read a letter informing them of the investigation and his removal. He told parishioners he had been accused of kissing a minor and of making an obscene phone call.

Morris said he first learned of the allegations in 1989 and reported them to church authorities more than a decade ago.

"The matter was found not to be credible," Morris said last week. "There was no formal complaint."

A spokeswoman for the diocese said they cannot say when the investigation will be concluded.

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