Diocese of St. Petersburg Sexual Abuse Lawyer

September 13, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
When victims began making public accusations against Catholic priests, even non-Catholics reacted with shock and disbelief. The abuse survivors have been telling their stories for several decades now and the horrible truths are still unfolding. Priests allegedly sexual abusing children in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and dioceses across the country. Some victims have yet to report their personal experiences. Others have received settlements for their longstanding emotional and psychological injuries. A Pennsylvania grand jury investigation triggered a new wave of activity when they published their report in August 2018. The 1,356-page document contained supporting evidence from six Pennsylvania dioceses with churches in 54 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. The grand jury concluded that Catholic priests molested over 1,000 children in the state. Many of the alleged offenders had ties to other dioceses. As a result of their findings and the high number of victims documented, other states have renewed their investigative efforts. In Florida, the Attorney General has invited anyone with knowledge about past abuses to tell what they know. This allows survivors to share their stories and receive compensation for their injuries. To learn more, contact our Diocese of St. Petersburg Sexual Abuse Lawyers today.

Abuse Victims Deserve Fair Compensation

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers, we believe that responsible parties must pay for the damages they cause. If you are a survivor of Catholic priest abuse, we realize that you've already had a long and difficult journey. Our personal injury attorneys recognize that cases such as yours involve highly sensitive situations. We have experience working with sensitive issues and protecting our clients' privacy. We've made the process as uncomplicated as possible. We believe that you have the right to recover damage no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Our personal injury attorneys understand the complex challenges of proving decades-old allegations. We've used our experience and the resources to produce the best outcomes for our clients.

Our Firm's Results

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers have recovered millions of dollars for our clients. We've resolved personal injury cases by implementing the most beneficial resolution methods for our injured clients. Our attorneys have negotiated cases directly with responsible parties and their insurers. We've resolved claims through alternative dispute resolution. When litigation was our best recourse for damage recovery, we've presented our clients' evidence in court. Our results illustrate our firm's commitment to producing the best outcomes for our clients, though each case is unique and past results are no guarantee of future outcomes in any particular case.

The Priest Abuse Scandal

It's now common knowledge that adults across the country have alleged that priests abused them when they were children. Evidence that the church has deemed credible shows that abusive practices went on for years uninterrupted. Priests allegedly groped, raped, sodomized, photographed and committed other criminal acts with girls but mostly with boys. Their targets included adolescents, teenagers, and children as young as four-years-old. Their victims also included adult seminary students.

A Longstanding, Nationwide Problem

Documents, narratives, and other investigative evidence show that the problem was widespread and continued unabated for decades. That's primarily because cardinals, bishops, and others with the ability to intervene allegedly chose to protect the Catholic Church instead. In doing so, they sacrificed innocent children while protecting their priests. Decades have passed since the first brave survivors publicly accused priests of sexual abuse. As some of the abused children and their families had previously reported the claims to the church, the public accusations were sometimes the second or third notices of the incidents. Years passed before many victims found the courage to come forward to tell their stories. They mostly had only memories of what happened. This made it easier for church authorities to continue denying responsibility while rejecting victims' claims.

Church Records Produce Credible Evidence

Despite their denials of culpability, the church documented many abuse events not long after they occurred. When families reported a problem, church bishops and other church leaders allegedly counseled families to remain quiet. In the meantime, they collected and filed away priests' personal letters and documents. They removed priests from duty and sent them for counseling. They transferred priests to other dioceses and documented the process. Years later, these clandestine efforts made it possible to validate some victims' claims.

Diocese of St. Petersburg Cases

Victim accounts of abuse have described disheartening scenarios where priests abused their authority. As the problem was widespread, it should come as no surprise that some of the alleged incidents occurred within the Diocese of St. Petersburg. More recently, the Catholic Church has adopted a spirit of cooperation. The Diocese of Petersburg website lists 16 names of priests and lay employees they consider “Credibly Accused Individuals.“ As the diocese's list explains, they didn't include the names of credibly accused, “...priests of other dioceses and priests of religious communities..” The website BishopAccountability.org provides a complete list which includes seven additional names that aren't on the St. Petersburg list. They were involved in incidents in the diocese but not claimed as diocese priests.
  • Jorge Acosta, a Salesian Order priest: Acosta admitted having sexual relations with three students in 1983. Two men filed suits because of his actions.
  • Richard J. Allen, priest: A victim accused Allen of abuse when the child was 12 or 13. The church suspended his privileges in 2002. Victims received a portion of the settlement funds outlined in Bishop's letter. No criminal charges.
  • Russell Gerald Applebee, deceased, priest, Missionaries of the Holy Family: Victims accused Applebee in 1994. He left St. Petersburg in 1979. The order paid the victim's therapy fees. Applebee was convicted of abuse charges in Texas and Florida.
  • Norman G. Balthazar, priest: The church settled with a man who claimed Balthazar abused him at Christ the King Church in the 80s. There were additional abuse accusations from 1971. He was criminally charged in 1991 for soliciting a minor in Tampa. The charges were dismissed.
  • Mathew Berko, deceased, priest: Berko abused a girl at the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of St. Josaphat of Parma, in Toronto, Canada. He also had molestation charges filed against him in Connecticut in 1985. He was a pastor at Ukranian Catholic Church in the Diocese of St. Petersburg until removed in 2002.
  • Polienato Bernabe, priest: Bernabe worked in the St. Petersburg diocese from 1975 to 1989. He was accused of repeated rapes (1978 to 1986) of a child beginning when the child was eight years old. He was a Palm Beach Diocese priest, 1992 to 1994 and an Army Chaplain in Ogdensburg NY, 1989-91. Diocese of St. Petersburg settled with a woman victim in 2003. Bernabe eventually left the country.
  • William Michael Burke, Salesian Order priest: Alleged abuses 1986 to 1987 while a Brother. Ordained in 1993. Worked in a New York religious center until 2002.
  • John Casula, Salesian Order priest: Casula worked at Mary Help of Christians boarding school in Tampa. A lawsuit alleges he abused a boy age 12 to 14 years old. Ten students alleged abuses at school by others. The school eventually closed.
  • Innocente Clementi, deceased, Salesian Order priest: Boys at Mary Help of Christians school accused Clementi of abuse. The church settled their cases.
  • Ramon Hernandez, Cuban priest: Hernandez relocated to the United States in 1980. In 2006 accused of abuses in 1999 at St. Rita's. No criminal charges. Disappeared while diocese was reviewing his case.
  • Thomas J. Hidding, deceased: Accused of molesting a student at Jesuit High School in Tampa between 1980 and 1982 when he was a Jesuit brother. Accusation deemed “credible.” Relocated to Dallas, Texas High School, 1982 to 1983.
  • James C. Laram priest: A 14-year-old girl accused Lara of abusing her in 1987. Her mother was the church music director. The parents accused Lara of hitting the mother and slandering both parents. Suit resolved in 1990. Lara continued working until retirement in 1999.
  • William A. Lau, priest: A victim accused Lau of a sexual act when he was a teenager in 1996.
  • Ronald J. Luka, priest: Three boys accused him of abuse while at a Fort Lauderdale Catholic school. Other students alleged abuses over a 20 year period from his time in New York. The church settled at least one suit.
  • Nicholas Mcloughlin, priest of Diocese of Venice, formerly of St. Petersburg: The diocese suspended Mcloughlin in 2018 due to alleged 1970s incidents with a minor. He was also accused of covering up his brother's (Ed Mcloughlin) abuses which allegedly occurred while he was a priest from 1980 to 1990.
  • Terrence O'Donnell, Salesian Order priest: Three boys accused O'Donnel of abuses at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School in Tampa. He relocated to the Boston Boys and Girls Club. The Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitation investigated him but filed no criminal charges.
  • Thomas Mulryan, Brother Congregation of Holy Cross: Three boys accused Mulryan of abuse during the 1960s while at a school in Rome. He also worked at Catholic schools in Massachusetts and New York and at Jesuit High School in Tampa in 1988. He denied previous allegations. There were no known allegations during assignments in the United States. He retired in 1995.
  • Hubert J. Reason, deceased: “Credible accusations” made in 2002 from boys in Tampa. They alleged abuse and also alleged that Reason gave them alcohol and money. The diocese settled three claims in 2005.
  • Michael Rhodes, priest: Two minor boys accused Rhodes of abuse in the 1970s. He left the church in 1993.
  • Norman Rogge, deceased, Jesuit priest: Criminal charges: Contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 1967; Sexual battery, 1985 (14-year-old victim). Rogge also worked in Texas, California, Kansas, Alabama, and Louisiana.
  • Robert Schaeufele, priest: Schaeufele was convicted of abuse charges in 2003 and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The church documented 22 or more known victims. The diocese settled cases with 12 men.
  • Jeremiah Spillane, priest, Legion of Christ: Spillane was a Chaplain at a Catholic High School in the Diocese of Venice. He was convicted in 1997 of internet solicitation of a minor boy. He admitted to prior abuses in Mexico.
  • Ignatius Tuoc, priest, Vietnamese diocese: A female parishioner accused Tuoc of abusing her when she was a minor in the 1990s.

“Priest Shuffling” Enabled Abusers to Continue Their Bad Acts

Unless you've kept track of alleged priest abuses, you might not know the term “priest shuffling.” It came into use over past decades of Catholic priest accusations, investigations, lawsuits, and settlements. Instead of punishing priests for their wrongdoings, the church allegedly forgave these priests and sometimes referred them for counseling. Often, they may have returned to the same parish, but sometimes a bishop arranged a new assignment and they were shuffled off to a new diocese in a new city or state. Once a priest was in a new location with no known history or notice of prior bad acts, some continued their allegedly abusive behaviors. The priest shuffling dynamic is why some priests appear on multiple dioceses' lists of priests with credible accusations against them.

Injuries Caused by Childhood Sexual Abuse

If you eliminate the religious connection of priest abuse cases, you'll find that they're remarkably similar to other cases of alleged sexual abuse. Victims suffer psychological and emotional damage. The reactions are more profound when the abuse takes place over extended periods. The Child Welfare fact sheet “Long Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect“ and the NCBI-published article “Child Sexual Abuse” outline the physical, psychological, and behavior problems many abuse survivors encounter.
  • Unhealthy sex practices
  • Social and health issues
  • Potential for continuing the cycle of abuse
  • Physical problems caused by toxic stress
  • Memory repression
  • Depression
  • Chronic stress
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, guilt, shame, and aggression
  • Alcohol and drug use

Who Is Responsible for Priest Abuse-Related Injuries?

Upon examining the allegations, patterns begin to emerge. Adult priests allegedly committed acts to or with minors of all ages. The acts were criminal as minors are held to a different standard in matters involving consensual sex. When adults were the alleged target, they were usually under pressure from supervisory priests or bishops. The children were encouraged by their faith to see priests as spiritual leaders. They may have considered the acts in which they allegedly participated as acts of obedience or faith. The church allegedly urged families to remain silent about their complaints. The church never punished the priests until years later. Several parties are legally responsible for establishing these ongoing patterns of abuse:
  • Allegedly abusive priests: As the criminal prosecutions suggest, priests are personally responsible for their actions. They continued their abuse after families reported them to church authorities. They continued them after counseling and after they were shuffled to a new assignment.
  • Diocese bishops and church leaders: Bishops and supervisory clergy failed to protect children within the church, even after initial allegations arose. They took no disciplinary actions and failed to report alleged abuses as criminal acts. Some bishops arranged new assignments at different locations.
  • The Catholic Church: As the priests' and bishops' ultimate “employer,” the church retained responsibility for their actions. They failed to supervise and monitor them. When victims reported initial acts of abuse, the church failed to take the appropriate actions.

What Damages Can a Priest Abuse Victim Recover?

When a plaintiff proves they were injured, their settlements may include economic, general, and punitive damages. Economic damages include expenses incurred as a result of an injury.
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Household services
  • Medical and therapy bills
  • Medical transportation expenses
  • Prescription medications
  • Private nursing costs
  • Wage losses
General damages consider an injured person's subjective concerns and how they affect their life emotionally, socially, and personally. General damages may include:
  • Mental and emotional anguish
  • Pain and suffering
  • Functional impairments and disabilities
  • Inability to perform spousal and family services
Florida courts also have the option of awarding punitive damages when the plaintiff demonstrates with clear and convincing evidence that a defendant committed “intentional misconduct or gross negligence….”

Can the Catholic Church Avoid Responsibility for Abuse Injuries?

Denial has often been the primary defense strategy for priest abuse cases. Accused priests have denied that the alleged acts took place. Despite reports and documentation in their files, the Catholic Church and its involved dioceses have frequently supported their priests' refusals to accept responsibility. Once allegedly abused victims began to tell their stories publicly, the Diocese of St. Petersburg agreed to settle some cases. When they forced injured victims to file suit for damages, Florida's statute of limitations often barred their recovery. Given the magnitude of the issues, the Florida Legislature revised §95.11, the statute of limitations codes. The changes allow abuse victims additional time to discover the cause of their injuries and present their claims. The statute of limitations now expires four years after the “...time of discovery by the injured party of both the injury and the causal relationship between the injury and the abuse…” As this change doesn't apply to claims for the church's vicarious liability, the institution, it's bishops and other supervisory entities may still avoid liability. Our personal injury attorneys have the legal experience to deal with complex legal defenses. We've always relied on the strength of our evidence and on our case analysis to produce winning courtroom strategies.

Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA

If you or a family member sustained harm due to an abusive relationship with a priest, you must take steps to protect your legal rights. Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers at 833-552-7274, visit our live chat link, or complete our confidential contact form at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA online. We'll arrange a private consultation to discuss your case. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 833-552-7274 Online Contact Form


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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