Tampa Man Says Priest Molested Him As a Child

By Richard Dymond
Bradenton Herald [Manatee FL]
March 2, 2005

MANATEE - A 49-year-old Tampa man who claims a priest sexually abused him when he was an altar boy at a Sarasota church is suing the Catholic Diocese of Venice.

James Woods' civil suit, which also names dioceses in St. Petersburg and St. Augustine, claims that The Rev. Jose Mena, who is now retired and living in Jacksonville, sexually abused him in 1965 at Incarnation Catholic Church on Bee Ridge Road.

Filed in Hillsborough County, the suit states that Mena was involved in the youth ministry at Incarnation and sexually abused Woods on numerous occasions during the 1965-66 school year while Woods was in the fifth grade at Incarnation Catholic School and an altar boy at Incarnation Catholic Church.

The alleged abuse occurred on the premises of Incarnation, the suit states.

A call to Mena was not returned Tuesday.

Woods has suffered depression, dysfunctional relationships and mood disorders, said Jeffrey Herman, a partner in the Miami law firm of Herman & Mermelstein, P.A., which filed the lawsuit this week.

"For James, this case has been particularly harmful because he has never been able to connect the dots," Herman said. "He had a repressed memory and has gone through life with problems that he could not effectively deal with."

The scandal of priests accused of molesting youngsters recently triggered memories that had not surfaced for decades for Woods, Herman said.

"His motivation came when he recovered his memories and decided to come forward and take action," Woods said.

The Diocese of Venice has not replied as yet to the suit, Herman said.

"We have gotten no substantive response," Herman said.

The Diocese of Venice has not yet seen the lawsuit and so can't comment, Gail M. McGrath, a diocese spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

"It is terrible for any child to be sexually abused and it is even more horrific when the abuser is a person of trust, such as a priest," McGrath wrote. "Our prayers are with the alleged victim/survivor and his family."

At the time the abuse was alleged to have occurred 40 years ago, Sarasota was part of the Diocese of St. Augustine, McGrath wrote. Subsequently, the church was part of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The Diocese of Venice was not formed until 1984. The 10-county Diocese of Venice includes Manatee and Sarasota counties.

"So we have no knowledge or records regarding this matter," McGrath added.

Many of these cases are settled before they get to a courtroom, Herman said.

"We have seen an attempt to resolve most of the cases. The law has evolved favorably for plaintiffs. The courts are applying equitable claims of law to protect victims," Herman said.

The suit claims that the dioceses had knowledge of Mena's history of sexual abuse and swiftly transferred him from Sarasota.

"We will take depositions and get documents," Herman said. "I feel we will be able to prove the facts of this case."


Victim outreach

The Diocese of Venice has scheduled an outreach to victims of sexual abuse 7 p.m. March 29 at Epiphany Cathedral, Venice.

Bishop John Nevins will lead evening prayer, offering healing and reconciliation to all victims/survivors of sexual abuse, whether or not perpetrated by a representative of the Church, and their families.

Victims/survivors, their families and members of the community are invited to attend.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.