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Rape report to remain a secret

By STEPHEN NOHLGREN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003

Catholic leaders know of one abusive priest they have yet to make public.

He raped a 16-year-old parishioner decades ago in Pinellas County. She went home, had dinner and told no one until three years ago.

When church leaders think abuse has occurred, they usually send letters to the priest's former parishes, inviting other potential victims to get counseling and support.

In this case, though, the woman didn't want news of her rape spread around the church where it happened. She just wanted the priest removed from the ministry.

The priest admitted the rape when the woman confronted him as an adult. She brought along a trusted friend, also a priest, who witnessed the admission. So church leaders believed her.

But they couldn't search for other potential victims without alienating her.

"Our policy is we do make an announcement whenever we think there is a risk of additional victims," says diocese attorney Joseph DiVito. "As with any policy, there are exceptions and this is one of them."

The woman and church leaders separately told the Times she probably was the priest's only victim in this diocese. Unusual circumstances support their position -- circumstances that also would tend to identify the woman if the priest were named.

Back then, St. Petersburg was part of the St. Augustine diocese. Soon after the rape, the priest moved far from the Tampa Bay area. When the woman revealed her secret three years ago, the priest was working in the Orlando diocese. He was immediately removed and the Orlando diocese paid the woman a financial settlement. The priest now lives out of the country.

Like St. Petersburg, the Orlando diocese never mentioned the rape allegation in parishes where the priest had served.

The priest denied the allegations to his superiors, "but based its own investigation, the Diocese of Orlando asked (the priest) to leave," says spokeswoman Carol Brinati. "The incident occurred 30 years ago and took place in Pinellas County. We do not know if the woman reported the incident to law enforcement."

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