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  Priest Won't Face Criminal Charges

By Susan Jacobson
Sentinel [Lakeland FL]
June 25, 2003

Prosecutors will not charge a Roman Catholic priest with lewd conduct on a 12-year-old Lakeland parishioner because they decided there was insufficient evidence to make a case.

The Rev. Peter Uniowski, who was ordained in Orlando in 1975, remains on administrative leave from St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Lakeland, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Orlando said Tuesday. The diocese's abuse-response team plans to meet soon to discuss the prosecutors' decision and to make a recommendation on Uniowski's fate to Bishop Norbert Dorsey, spokeswoman Carol Brinati said.

Uniowski was suspended from his job March 14 after the 12-year-old girl alleged he visited her at home several times a week and touched her inappropriately, a report from the 10th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office shows. The office handles cases in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.

"It's very good news for us as a diocese that he's not going to be charged criminally," Brinati said. "We are of course praying for that particular family as well as for all victims who have been involved in these kinds of situations. It's very difficult for them regardless of whether the person is charged criminally."

The girl claimed Uniowski made her sit on his lap facing him and that he kissed her neck, the report states. He also repeatedly asked her to kiss him, but she said no, according to the report. Once, the girl was in bed and Uniowski lay down next to her and kissed her on the lips, she told a worker with the Child Protection Team in Bartow. The child's older sister told investigators she once saw the girl sitting in Uniowski's lap on their porch in the dark.

"The child stated that something bad would happen every time Father Peter came to her house," the report reads.

A prosecutor decided the allegations could not be corroborated and therefore the priest could not be charged. Uniowski denied kissing the girl or lying in her bed, although he admitted visiting her family frequently.

"The evidence in this case amounts to the child's word against the suspect's word," wrote Assistant State Attorney J. Kevin Abdoney, chief of the circuit's child-abuse division.Abdoney's investigation found Uniowski had sexual affairs with adult women that "have caused tremendous hardship upon their families." Such affairs would violate church doctrine, but they are not criminal.

The 12-year-old's mother told investigators Uniowski sat next to her, rubbed her back and tried to kiss her at the perpetual adoration, a prayer at church in the presence of the sacrament. The mother said she reported the behavior to another priest, who told her to forgive "Father Peter," according to the state attorney's report.

Uniowski did not respond to a message seeking comment that Brinati said had been relayed to him. He told investigators the child must have misinterpreted his actions and is "confused or lying," the report says.

The state attorney's report found Uniowski engaged in "suspicious behavior" by coming over to the girl's family's house uninvited, helping himself to a piece of fruit, watching TV, looking in all the bedrooms and taking the dog outside. Another parishioner also told investigators Uniowski would let himself into her family's home unannounced and eventually engaged her in an affair, the report states.

A temporary administrator, the Rev. Stephen Baumann, has been assigned to St. John Neumann since shortly after Uniowski was removed, Brinati said.

Uniowski previously served in parishes in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Titusville and Fort Pierce before being named founding pastor of St. John Neumann in 1988.



 
 

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