St. Mary Parishioners Shocked at Pastor's Removal DOCUMENTS
By Julie Hatfield
September 3, 2013
|Pastor Michael Cherup has been removed from his duties pending an allegation of abuse in 1993. |
[statement from the diocese]
[statement from Msgr. Cherup that appeared in the parish bulletin]
FORT WALTON BEACH — Parishioners at St. Mary Catholic Church continue to be shocked and saddened at the removal of their pastor following a single allegation of sexual abuse of a minor 20 years ago.
Church members say they are “heartbroken” and “hurting,” and that they saw nothing in Monsignor Michael Cherup’s behavior to warrant an accusation.
“I do not believe Father Mike is capable of this, based on what I have witnessed with him over the last five years,” said Katie Canna, a mother of four whose teens have been involved with the youth group and whose younger children attended St. Mary School.
“Father Mike has always shown excessive regard for propriety, modesty and morality … . This is a man who would not want to harm any child or anyone in any way.”
Cherup denied any misconduct in a letter printed in the church bulletin.
“I was floored when I heard of this allegation,” he wrote. “I am not guilty of this charge.
“I have, during my 32 years of priestly service, never on any occasion committed physical or sexual abuse of any person. … I ask that you pray for everyone who is involved in this matter.”
The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee removed Cherup last Thursday from active ministry and as an eighth-grade religion teacher.
The allegation was made July 19 regarding an incident that allegedly occurred in August 1993 when the victim was 15, according to a statement from the diocese released over the weekend. An initial internal investigation determined it was “a credible allegation.”
The six-week delay in removing Cherup was too long, according to a spokesman for a national abuse survivors network.
“Shame on Bishop (Gregory) Parkes for keeping a serious child sex abuse allegation against a priest secret for more than a month,” says David Clohessy, director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “America’s Catholic officials have pledged to act quickly and responsibly in pedophile priest cases. Bishop Parkes has broken this promise.”
When asked to comment on the delay, Peggy DeKeyser, director of communications for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, referred back to the diocese’s statement.
“Because this is an open investigation … very respectfully, there’s nothing that I would add,” she said. “Our hope is that as it is investigated that the truth will be found, and the investigation is now in the hands of the state attorney’s office.”
State Attorney Bill Eddins said Monday the diocese had contacted his office but the alleged victim had not, and that unless the victim does no further action can be taken.
Eddins described the reported misconduct as being lewd and lascivious in nature, like “groping.”
St. Mary Catholic Church is the largest Catholic church in Okaloosa County. DeKeyser said diocese officials will discuss in the coming days who might replace Cherup and how they will handle things in the interim.
“These situations are always very sad, and we encourage prayers for healing for all involved,” DeKeyser said.