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    Ex-altar boy accuses priest of rape

    The accuser says he was sexually abused by a priest in the late 1970s at a Tarpon Springs church.

    By MIKE BRASSFIELD
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 18, 2002


    Pinellas County sheriff's detectives are investigating a complaint from a former altar boy who says he was sexually abused by a priest in the late 1970s at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Tarpon Springs.

    The former altar boy, now 34 years old, filed a report with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office this week. He says former priest Gerry Appleby repeatedly raped him and his twin brother when the boys were 11.

    Appleby moved from Tarpon Springs to Texas in 1979 and was defrocked in 1995, according to officials with the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. They would not discuss why Appleby was removed from the priesthood.

    Appleby has not been charged with a crime.

    "We just started working on it, talking to the victim and so forth," said Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "We're looking into other possible victims as well. But it's very early in the investigation."

    Appleby's accuser lives in Pasco County and wants to remain anonymous. Police would not reveal the man's name.

    Appleby, who still lives in Texas, could not be reached for comment Friday.

    Catholic officials are facing questions about why Appleby was transferred in 1979 to Texas, where he later faced more allegations of sexually abusing minors.

    The Diocese of St. Petersburg says Appleby was never a priest of the diocese, but instead belonged to a separate religious order -- the Missionaries of Holy Families, based in San Antonio, Texas.

    "The Diocese of St. Petersburg has never 'transferred' Father Appleby and cannot do so, since that is the responsibility of his order," the diocese said in a statement Friday.

    Phone calls to the Missionaries of Holy Families were referred to the Rev. Joe Roelke, the head of that religious order in the United States. Roelke could not be reached for comment.

    The Diocese of St. Petersburg also said the following:

    Appleby left the diocese in 1979 after working in this area for 15 to 20 months.

    The diocese received no complaints of sexual misconduct involving Appleby until 1994, when Appleby's accuser complained to the diocese.

    Appleby's religious order, the Missionaries of Holy Families, paid Appleby's accuser $4,800 for therapy in 1995. At that time, the religious order said Appleby had been removed from active ministry in 1990 and had been formally dismissed from the priesthood by the Vatican in March 1995.

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