Diocese of Venice Sexual Abuse Lawyer

September 13, 2019 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
It's heartbreaking when respected leaders commit heinous acts against you or those you love. When the alleged abusers are responsible for your family's spiritual and moral leadership, it's impossible to measure the emotional and psychological consequences. For decades, the Catholic Church discounted or dismissed reported abusive acts committed against children. The allegations involved priests in the Diocese of Venice, other Florida dioceses, and in Catholic parishes across the country. As sexual abuse allegations came to light over the past few decades, the Catholic Church finally acknowledged the problem. They've since shared longstanding investigative records and acknowledged some of the abusive acts as crimes. They have defended some cases and settled decades-old claims with forgotten and overlooked victims. When an August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report documented over 1,000 alleged victims, it placed the Catholic Church under renewed scrutiny. As other states restored their investigative efforts, the media reported a new US Department of Justice investigation into the Pennsylvania incidents. Florida's Attorney General has invited all victims and informers to provide information about their experiences. This gives overlooked victims in the Diocese of Venice an opportunity to tell their stories and seek damages for their injuries.

Injured Parties Deserve Fair Compensation

At Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, we believe that any person who is injured by another deserves compensation for their damages. We understand that presenting and proving decades-old abuse allegations can prove challenging. Our attorneys understand the legal issues, damages, and potential defenses. We've had no problem presenting evidence against powerful organizations such as the Catholic Church. Our personal injury attorneys have always done whatever is necessary to recover damages for our clients' injuries.

Our Firm's Results

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Lawyers and its legal affiliates handle cases for injured people only. We have recovered millions of dollars in damages for our clients. We've negotiated with cooperative adversaries and resolved cases through mediation. When necessary, we've presented our clients' evidence before a judge and jury. Our track record of case results demonstrates our firm's commitment to our clients' legal victories.

The Priest Abuse Scandal

A few decades ago, Catholics considered it unthinkable that a priest would sexually abuse a child. Despite a history of documented victim reports, the Catholic Church dismissed abuse allegations and supported allegedly guilty priests. Still, the scandal never went away. Injured victims continued to tell their stories. Some made informal allegations based on long ago wrongdoings. Others filed lawsuits. The Catholic Church had no recourse but to acknowledge a decades-long stream of buried and long-forgotten incidents. To date, the nonprofit monitoring site BishopAccountability.org has documented 15,235 victims who have made public allegations. One of the site's resources estimates that a much higher number of victims were abused but didn't report the incidents.

Acts of Abuse

Nationwide, priests working as teachers, clergy, counselors, and in other roles allegedly abused children during church-related and non-church activities. In many instances, the church documented the allegations but failed to report them as crimes or take other actions. There is no consistency in the patterns of abusive acts allegedly committed against children while under a priest's authority or control. Offending priests allegedly committed acts of sodomy and inappropriate touching. They allegedly photographed children in the nude, held naked rituals with wine and communion wafers, and committed other perverse and abusive acts. As the children were all underage at the time, none of the alleged acts could be deemed consensual.

Continuing Allegations

Florida's Attorney General recently initiated a statewide investigation into Catholic Church abuse cases. The Attorney General is seeking information from anyone with information. Abuse victims and informants may report via an online form. Since Pennsylvania published its grand jury report, dioceses across the country have generated public lists of accused priests. An NBC2 investigator explained that they requested updates from all Florida dioceses, yet only received a response from the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Other Florida dioceses will not release their updated lists until the state concludes its investigation.

Alleged Abusers in the Diocese of Venice

At present, local victims have publicly accused nine priests of abusive acts in the Diocese of Venice.
  • Thomas M. Anblim, deceased: St. Francis Xavier Pastor from 1966 to 2004. An accuser filed a lawsuit in 2010.
  • Donald Baier: The church revoked Baier's ministerial rights after receiving an anonymous letter with documentation of abusive acts. The victims never came forward.
  • Carl Bartholomew: A mother alleged that Bartholomew molested her teenage son. The diocese did not investigate due to his order affiliation.
  • George Brennan, deceased: An altar boy accused Brennan of abuse at Incarnation Catholic Church. The accuser filed a civil suit in 2005. The Diocese of Venice responded that Brennan was never assigned to Incarnation Church. Brennan pleaded “no contest” to an exposure charge in an unrelated incident.
  • Charles Michael Cikovic: On September 28, 1993, the Sun-Sentinel reported that Cikovic pleaded guilty and was imprisoned for lewd and lascivious behavior and assault and sexual battery involving a 13-year-old girl. The church settled the victim's civil suit.
  • Neil Flemming: A victim alleged that Neil Flemming and his brother James Flemming abused him thirty years before his 2002 report. His case was among other cases that were settled with the Archdiocese of Miami.
  • Jean Ronald Joseph: In 2008, a victim alleged that Joseph abused him in 1993. The church settled the case in 2013 after someone gave the plaintiff documentation revealing that the church had prior knowledge of the abuse. Joseph was laicized in 2013.
  • Edward McLoughlin: A victim sued the diocese in 1997 for alleged abuses at St. Charles Borromeo Church in the 1980s. The church settled his case in 1999 and McLoughlin was released from the priesthood in 2000. The victim also alleged that Edward's brother, Father Nick McLoughlin, helped cover up the abuse. In November 2018, The Ledger reported that the church placed Nick on administrative after allegations that he also abused young victims.
  • William Romero: Victims accused Romero of abuses over three decades. During that time, he had assignments in several southwest Florida churches. The church settled several victim's cases in 2004 and 2005.

How “Priest Shuffling” Enabled Abusers

In an interview with the Atlantic, Cardinal Seán O'Malley shared his thoughts about the ongoing priest abuse scandal. O'Malley is the Archbishop of Boston and one of Pope Francis's advisors. He's also on a special Catholic committee to protect minors. In his conversation with journalist, Emma Green, he talked about the church's efforts to reform the way adults interact with children. O'Malley acknowledged the church's principle of “forgiveness.” While the concept is admirable, forgiveness contributed to the tradition now known as “priest shuffling.” For decades, when a child or their guardian reported abuse to the church, supervisory clergy sometimes removed the priest from his assignment. Then the church simply forgave the offender. Often they arranged a new assignment in a new parish and sometimes a new state. This shuffling dynamic was starkly illustrated by the Diocese of Venice's statement issued on August 16, 2018. The statement followed the Pennsylvania Grand Jury's report that documented six Pennsylvania priests with ties to the Diocese of Venice.

Rev. Robert Brague

One example is Rev. Robert Brague, a priest in the Scranton Diocese. In March and June 1988, a Pennsylvania bishop received anonymous reports that Brague was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a teenage high school student. In a September 6, 1988, letter, the victim's sister alleged that the victim was pregnant by Brague and that he was having sexual relationships with other girls. The alleged victim gave birth on August 25, 1989. Later that year, the Bishop arranged a position for Brague in the Diocese of Venice. He served as Parochial Vicar at St. Ann's Parish in Naples from 1990 until 1991. From there, he transferred to the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Palmetto where he remained from 1991 to 1997. When the child was six, the diocese paid his tuition at St. Agnes School in Towanda.

More Shuffled Priests

The Pennsylvania report also identified Rev. Father Thomas M. O'Donnell, Rev. Father Sean Kerins, Rev. Father Robert E. Spangenberg, Rev. Father Raymond R. Rhoden. and Rev. Father Timothy Sperber. All were Pennsylvania clergy who eventually relocated to the Diocese of Venice area. The diocese's August 16 statement explained that all of the additionally named priests were simply living and/or retired in the area. Only Spangenberg fulfilled duties as a Diocese of Venice priest from 1989 to 1990. The diocese's statement didn't acknowledge any pending investigations against any of these relocated priests.

What Injuries Do Victims of Childhood Abuse Claim

The adult victims claim psychological and emotional damage as a result of their alleged experiences. A Child Welfare fact sheet “Long Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect” and the NCBI-published article “Child Sexual Abuse” discuss the physical, psychological, and behavior issues associated with adults who've survived childhood sexual abuse. They may include:
  • Anxiety
  • Anger, guilt, shame, and aggression
  • Depression
  • Memory repression
  • Chronic stress
  • Unhealthy sex practices
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Physical problems caused by toxic stress
  • Potential for continuing the cycle of abuse
  • Social and health issues

Who Is Responsible for Priest Abuse-Related Injuries?

In many instances, allegedly abused victims were simply doing what their faith dictated. They were following Catholic doctrine and teachings which view priests as divine or “another Christ.” The priests allegedly took advantage of that trust. The children were also minors and legally incapable of consenting to sexual acts. The cases involve several layers of responsibility.
  • Allegedly abusive priests: Priests are personally responsible for their actions as they were involved in behaviors not sanctioned by the church. Catholic Church records and victim versions have provided documentation of priests with long histories of sexual abuse. Their acts continued as they were forgiven and “shuffled” from one assignment to another.
  • Bishops and supervisory clergy: Bishops and supervisory clergy allowed the alleged abuse to continue. Investigations reveal a cycle of reports to the church followed by private denials with limited or no followup. Often, supervisory clergy assisted accused priests in transitioning to new duties in a new parish or a new state. Some priests allegedly committed additional acts at their new locations.
  • The Catholic Church: The church is ultimately responsible for its clergy's actions. The church established an environment that placed adults and children in close proximity without implementing protective safeguards. After early reports of abuse came to light, the church failed to monitor and properly supervise activities within its control. The Catholic Church also allowed “priest shuffling,” which placed alleged offenders in new environments with new potential victims.

What Damages Can a Priest Abuse Victim Recover?

Injured plaintiffs may recover economic, general, and punitive damages. Settlements base economic damages on current and projected out-of-pocket expenses related to an injury.
  • Wage losses
  • Diminished earning capacity
  • Medical and therapy bills
  • Prescription medications
  • Household services
  • Private nursing costs
  • Medical transportation expenses
Psychological and emotional problems and other subjective issues establish a person's economic damages. A settlement considers how an event affects the injured person's personal, social, and emotional life. Damages may include:
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional anguish
  • Inability to perform spousal and family services
  • Functional impairments and disabilities
A Florida court may award punitive damages based on Florida Statute §768.72. A plaintiff must show clear and convincing evidence that a plaintiff committed “...intentional misconduct or gross negligence…”

We Can Help When the Church Denies Responsibility

The abusive priest scandal has continued for over two decades with no foreseeable end. The church dealt with early allegations by documenting events and denying that abuse occurred. Many accused priests escaped punishment by distancing themselves from the allegations and transferring to other parishes. Persistence has paid off for adult victims who alleged they were abused as children. Over the past two decades, the church has acknowledged many cases. The Catholic Church has issued 5,679 settlements totaling more than $3 billion. The Catholic Church is vicariously liable for failure to monitor clergy and investigate victim reports. Unfortunately, the church may escape some responsibility due to available statute of limitations defenses. The Florida Legislature revised §95.11, the statute of limitations codes that would have barred plaintiffs because of the lengthy reporting delays. Changes modified the statute to expire 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…” This revision doesn't necessarily extend the statute of limitations for claims based on supervision, employment, or other vicarious liability issues. Our personal injury attorneys understand that this is a complication. We've relied on our experience and resources to defeat defense strategies and provide the best outcome for our clients.

Contact Our Clergy Abuse Attorneys for Help

If you or a family member sustained an injury due to an abusive relationship or sexually abusive relationship with a priest, we want to help you. Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA at 833-552-7274, visit our confidential live chat link, or complete our contact form. 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 successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic 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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