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Retired priest defrocked amid abuse allegations

Episcopal priest Richard Pollard renounces his orders after learning of two men who say he abused them.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 12, 2002


Episcopal priest Richard Pollard renounces his orders after learning of two men who say he abused them.

TARPON SPRINGS -- A retired priest who once led All Saints Episcopal Church has been defrocked because of accusations from two men that he sexually abused them when they were teenagers in the 1970s.

The Rev. Richard Arthur Pollard, 73, and his wife learned of the allegations when they met with Bishop John B. Lipscomb on Friday, and Pollard renounced his orders Saturday, said Jim DeLa, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida.

"He turned in his collar, so to speak," DeLa said.

If he had not done so, Pollard would have faced an investigation and potential punishments ranging from a written reprimand to removal from the priesthood, DeLa said. Because of Pollard's decision, the diocese will not investigate the allegations, he said.

"We're determined to heal this congregation as best we can," DeLa said. "And of course, we're offering counseling to (the alleged victims)."

Pollard did not admit to wrongdoing when he renounced his orders, DeLa said. The priest retired from All Saints in 1992, after serving there since 1974. Before that, he was the associate rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Tampa from 1969 to 1974, and was vicar of St. Elizabeth's Episcopal Church in Zephyrhills from 1964 to 1969.

The Diocese of Southwest Florida stretches from Brooksville on the north to Marco Island on the south and extends as far east as Plant City and Arcadia. Its 79 congregations total 39,000 baptized people, according to the diocese.

Pollard did not return a reporter's telephone calls Tuesday and did not answer the door at his home in the Gulf Harbors subdivision in New Port Richey.

Elsie Brown, a parishioner at All Saints since 1955, was surprised by the allegations against Pollard.

"That just breaks my heart," said Brown, 85. "This goes back into the '70s. . . . I wish they would just let sleeping dogs lie."

The diocese learned of the allegations in the past few weeks, DeLa said. He would not release information about the accusers -- including whether they were parishioners at All Saints, their age at the time of the alleged abuse or details of their allegations -- for fear of identifying them.

They have decided not to press criminal charges against Pollard, DeLa said. He did not know their reaction to Pollard's defrocking, which is known in the church as being deposed from the ministry, DeLa said.

The allegations against Pollard have come to light amid a growing number of sexual abuse charges against priests, many of them from the Catholic Church. The larger number of allegations against Catholic priests rather than Episcopalian priests can be explained by the difference in church membership between two denominations, said Philip Goff, director of Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

A 2001 study by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York found that nearly 51-million people in the United States identify themselves as Catholics, and about 3.5-million people said they are Episcopalians.

"It's sheer numbers," Goff said. "People think that crime is so bad in Los Angeles. Well, Los Angeles is as big as some states."

The diocese posted a news release about the allegations and Pollard's renunciation of his orders on Monday.

All Saints is a 110-year-old church that was in downtown Tarpon Springs for many years until moving to Keystone Road in East Lake in 1979. The church has more than 500 members, DeLa said.

Under Pollard's leadership, the church moved its original building to the new property, expanded to other buildings on the Keystone location, continued its involvement in a group for widowed people and worked with the Shepherd Center in Tarpon Springs, which provides food and clothing for the needy.

Bishop Lipscomb, DeLa and members of the pastoral response team met with about 60 people at All Saints to discuss the issue in a closed-door meeting Monday night. Lipscomb has sent a letter to clergy members in the diocese telling them of the allegations.

DeLa does not know of any other allegations against Pollard, he said. The diocese has not had any other sexual abuse allegations involving minors, he said.

-- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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