Official on Leave over Allegations
By Michael Barber and Aimee Juarez
January 27, 2005
An assistant middle school principal was placed on paid administrative leave Wednesday after accusations surfaced that he sexually abused at least two minors more than 30 years ago when he was a Catholic seminarian.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, faxed a letter to Manatee County School Superintendent Roger Dearing on Wednesday contending Joseph Gilpin, an assistant principal at Haile Middle School, molested a boy while affiliated with the Catholic church between 1965 and 1968.
Clohessy wrote that he was contacted last week by another man who said he also was sexually abused by Gilpin between 1968 and 1970.
Gilpin has previously denied the accusations, according to a Boston Globe report published Jan. 31, 2002. Gilpin, a teacher and administrator in Manatee County schools since 1971, did not respond to repeated attempts by The Herald to contact him Wednesday.
School board member Barbara Harvey was stunned by the accusations.
"I do not believe anything negative about him," Harvey said when contacted at home. "I have known him for at least 20 years and I have found him to be very competent and trustworthy. I am deeply shocked at any allegations of this nature."
Dearing received the fax concerning Gilpin at 4:20 p.m., according to the time listed on the fax. Dearing said he was immediately informed of the fax by his secretary and dispatched Louis Robinson, the district's director of middle schools, to tell Gilpin he was being placed on paid administrative leave.
Robinson informed Gilpin of the school district's intentions at 4:45 p.m., according to Dearing. The district will hire a private investigator to look into the allegations made in Clohessy's letter.
"The main thing we are doing is taking a precautionary measure because the safety of the children is always the top priority," Dearing said.
Dearing contacted Clohessy by phone at 5 p.m. to inform him that Gilpin was placed on administrative leave.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Clohessy said.
Dearing cut Clohessy off.
"Don't thank me," Dearing said. "I believe in innocent until proven guilty, but I'm doing what I think is in the best interest of the students."
The Rev. Canon Dennis Kezar of Christ Episcopal Church in Bradenton said Gilpin and his wife, Kathlyn, have been active members of his church for years. Gilpin serves on the church's vestry, a leadership position within the parish.
"Joe came to me when these allegations first surfaced a couple of years ago and asked me if it would embarrass me or if it would embarrass the church," Kezar said. "I said, 'Absolutely not.' I believe in innocent until proven guilty."
Kezar said Gilpin told him he left the seminary because he realized his vocation lay in education, instead of the priesthood.
"Both Joe and Kathy have been very active in our parish in working with our youth," Kezar said. "I think he's one of the finest caregivers our youth have and he's gone way beyond his duties in the personal care he gives to our young people. He has served without fault here for a long, long time."
Suit filed in 2001
According to reports from the Boston Globe, a lawsuit filed against Gilpin in January 2001 alleged Gilpin molested a boy at several locations, including a Catholic camp and the boy's home, between 1965 and 1968.
The boy was between 9 and 12 when the molestation allegedly took place, according to SNAP.
Clohessy said he was contacted last week by a man who accused Gilpin of molesting him between 1968 and 1970 while he was a student at St. Mary's School in Biddeford, Maine. The man said he has been offered a monetary settlement by the Diocese of Portland (Maine), according to Clohessy. Clohessy would not identify the man by name.
The man contacted SNAP because he found and recognized Gilpin's photo on Haile Middle's Web site. Neither SNAP nor the accuser were aware of Gilpin's lengthy career working with teenagers and children in Manatee County, Clohessy told The Herald by telephone Wednesday night.
"He's very worried, and we are, too," Clohessy said.
In a news release, Clohessy said, "This man reporting the abuse to us is very credible and he's worried that other kids are at risk now."
According to the organization's Web site, SNAP is a "volunteer self-help organization of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters" which seeks to end the cycle of abuse by "holding individual perpetrators responsible and the church accountable."
A 30-year career
According to Gilpin's biography on the Haile Middle Web site, he attended and earned his master's degree at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana. Gilpin began his career as a teacher more than 30 years ago, according to the biography.
He married his wife Kathlyn, who also was a teacher, in 1975. Herald archives show the two worked at Bayshore High in the late 1970s and that Kathlyn continued to teach there when her husband took another job in the district.
Gilpin's photo disappeared from the Haile Web site Wednesday, according to Clohessy. A check by The Herald on Wednesday afternoon found Gilpin's name on the site, but no photo.
"How did that happen?" Dearing asked district spokeswoman Margi Nanney after learning of the apparent change. "Who would have taken his name and picture off? That doesn't look good."
Nanney said she was unaware of the circumstances surrounding a change in the Web site.
In April 1977, The Herald named Joseph Gilpin and his wife "Carrier of the Month" for their success on the Ironwood and Wildwood newspaper delivery routes, according to Herald archives.
Joseph Gilpin taught Latin, French, world geography and religion at Bayshore in 1978. In 1981, he was named Florida's Latin Teacher of the Year by the Florida Foreign Language Association, according to Herald archives.
He served as an assistant principal at Bayshore High and Johnson Middle School, archives show, before becoming an assistant principal at Haile Middle.
Records on hold
The district would not release Gilpin's thick personnel file Wednesday because certain portions of the file dealing with medical information and other sensitive areas need to be redacted, according to Nanney.
Dearing said an initial check of the files Wednesday indicated Gilpin was born in Massachusetts, but information identifying where he worked prior to coming to the Manatee County school system could not be immediately located in the file.
When Gilpin applied for a position with the school district in 1971, he listed a Sarasota address, according to Dearing.
Clohessy said he appreciated the school district's swift response.
"We're grateful the school system moved quickly," Clohessy said. "It's a much quicker response than we'd ever get from a church official."
A message left for the Boston Archdiocese was not returned Wednesday evening. Boston Archdiocesan Counsel Wilson D. Rogers Jr. could not be reached for comment.
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