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    Diocese: Details erode charges

    Specifics provided by women alleging sexual improprieties by a Lutz priest don't match facts, a diocese lawyer says.

    By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 11, 2002


    LUTZ -- The two women who accused a Lutz priest of sexual improprieties offered specific details to support their charges, but many of the details undermined their credibility, says the attorney for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

    For example, a woman who accused the Rev. Bob Morris of making an obscene telephone call to her said it occurred late at night on Memorial Day 1989.

    That night, Morris was watching a friend being ordained a deacon 250 miles away, said Joseph DiVito, general counsel for the diocese. The event lasted late into the evening, and Morris never broke away to make a phone call, he said.

    The woman's friend, who accused Morris of fondling her in 1988, said it occurred in Morris' upstairs living quarters, where a big window overlooks a parking lot.

    The diocese says the parking lot cannot be seen from that room.

    The women stand by their stories.

    "I remember it vividly," said Bridget Kolodziej, who filed the fondling complaint. "I wish I didn't, but I remember it vividly."

    DiVito said inconsistencies such as the window detail led the church to conclude that the accusations aren't true. On Wednesday, Bishop Robert Lynch reinstated Morris as pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Lutz, ending a two-week suspension.

    But it didn't end the controversy.

    On Thursday, Morris sat at a conference table at his church while doing seven consecutive media interviews. He said it was better to grant the interviews at once than be hounded until he did them later.

    "I'm the type of person that would just like to come back . . . without a lot of attention and fanfare," he said.

    Morris would not discuss details of the women's stories, which date to his years of seminary. But the diocese, battered in the nationwide scandal over the sexual misconduct of priests, shared many of its findings.

    These are the most important points leading to Morris' reinstatement:

    * * *

    Diocese: Our fact-finding team arranged a polygraph test, and Morris passed it. John Trevena, Kolodziej's attorney: They won't say what questions were asked and what results emerged. The diocese should share this.

    Bishop Lynch: In the 11 years since Morris became a priest, "there has been no complaint of any type." Trevena: That's true of other priests, who nevertheless resigned when old sexual misbehavior came to light.

    Diocese: Nancy Ramsey Tosh, then a 29-year-old church secretary, said Morris placed an obscene telephone call from his seminary in Boynton Beach. But the seminary had closed several weeks earlier for the summer. Tosh: I only suggested that if the call came from the seminary, it could be proven through telephone bills. "I had no idea where he was calling from," she said. "I'm very angry that DiVito has twisted my words and lied."

    Diocese: Why would anyone endure an obscene phone call for two to three hours, as Tosh claims? Tosh: The call didn't become offensive until the final minutes.

    Diocese: Tosh's supervisor at the time denies that Tosh told him of the phone call, as she contends. Tosh: "I assume he simply does not remember."

    Diocese: Although Tosh says she left the church because she was ordered to stop talking about the Morris accusation, she participated in a "joyous farewell party" that suggests she left happily. Tosh: She had been happy among her co-workers. "I loved them."

    Diocese: When Kolodziej, who was 13 at the time, told Tosh of her encounter with Morris, why didn't Tosh follow Florida law and alert authorities to possible child abuse? Tosh: Kolodziej only said at the time that Morris kissed her and said inappropriate things. That wasn't child abuse. Kolodziej: I also told Tosh of the fondling details, but told her I would deny it if she told anybody. Robert Stephens, a priest and friend of Tosh: Tosh told me, but Kolodziej adamantly denied it when I investigated.

    Diocese: Our 10-member fact-finding team consists of respected professionals, dedicated to protecting the youth of the diocese. They have children and grandchildren of their own. Trevena: This team is chaired by DiVito, whose obligation as attorney is to protect the church from adverse consequences. That's a conflict.

    -- Bill Coats can be reached at 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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