Bishop Outlines Abuse
Letter From Area Diocese Apologizes to Victims

By Jenny LaCoste
Pensacola News Journal [Florida]
December 2, 2003

More than 65,000 Catholics from Pensacola to Tallahassee are receiving letters this week from Bishop John Ricard assuring them the diocese is doing all it can to protect children from sexual abuse.

The letter, mailed last week to parishioners in the 18 counties Ricard supervises, offers apologies to anyone who has ever been abused by a clergy member and promises to uphold the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year.

"I apologize for the Church's failure to act in the past as promptly as it should have," Ricard said in the letter. "Children need and deserve a safe and caring environment."

The letter also outlined how many priests in the diocese have been removed because of allegations of sexual abuse.

In the past 28 years, six of 420 priests in the diocese have been removed from service. None of those priests now serve in ministry, Ricard said. Two other priests who were accused of abuse are now dead. The diocese has offered support to 17 victims in that time frame, spending $456,761 on settlements, counseling, medical costs and legal fees.

Monsignor Michael Mooney, spokesman for the diocese and pastor at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, said the diocese does not release the names of priests or victims, unless the information already has become public. He would not specify where or when the priests were serving at the time they were removed.

"We're talking about reports since the foundation of the diocese in 1975, so over a long period of time," he said. "That's 1.92 percent of the priests that have served here in the past 28 years. One victim is too many, but we want to get that number out there."

The most recent report of sexual abuse in the local diocese came less than three months ago when Monsignor Richard Bowles of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Pensacola admitted to molesting a boy 34 years ago in St. Augustine.

Someone who knew the victim contacted church leaders with the information, prompting an investigation by the diocese's independent review board. Bowles admitted the incident and resigned.

Charter elements

Elements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People include:

Fingerprinting and criminal background checks for clergy, employees and volunteers who have contact with children.

Mandatory reporting of child abuse or neglect to civil authorities and the diocese.

Safety education for children and young people in schools and religious education programs in parishes.

Review by an independent board when an abuse allegation is made.

Permanent removal from ministry of a clergy member who has abused a minor.


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