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  Catholic Order Investigating Priest
Before Coming to Sarasota, the Rev. Jeremiah Michael Spillane Worked at Legionaries of Christ Schools in Mexico, Spain and Italy

By Juli Cragg
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
February 22, 1997

A Sarasota priest charged with a sex crime is being investigated by his Catholic order at schools in which he had served in Mexico and overseas, a spokesman for the order said Friday.

Before joining the staff of Sarasota's Church of the Incarnation 16 months ago, the Rev. Jeremiah Michael Spillane worked for 21 years at Legionaries of Christ schools in Mexico, Spain and Italy.

The Rev. Owen Kearns, at the Legionaries' U.S. headquarters in Orange, Conn. , said the order of priests knew of no complaints against Spillane before his arrest last week in Clearwater,

"Never. Nothing ever," Kearns said. "I think that's really a question that's being looked into right now."

Spillane was arrested Feb. 10 and charged with attempting to commit a lewd or lascivious act with a minor. A police detective, posing as a 13-year-old boy, had corresponded by computer for about three weeks with Spillane.

The 43-year-old priest was arrested when he arrived for what was supposed to have been a sexual encounter with the boy. Police said Spillane made a full admission. He was released on bail.

Spillane has been placed on administrative leave by Bishop John Nevins, head of the Catholic Diocese of Venice, which includes Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties.

Kearns said the Legionaries have tried to speak with Spillane since the arrest but without success. He said the order in the United States is mostly unfamiliar with Spillane because he had worked outside the country.

"But his reputation has been good," Kearns said. The charge "was really a shock and a surprise."

Spillane was ordained for the Legionaries in 1986 in Rome. But Kearns said Spillane had asked to be released from his vows to the Legionaries so he could work only for the diocese.

"He has his own reasons," Kearns said. "Basically, he thinks that God is calling him to be in the diocese." Kearns said Spillane also wanted to be near relatives who live in Sarasota.

Spillane doesn't report to anyone in the Legionaries because he started the process of leaving the order two years ago, Kearns said.

Diocese officials disagree. The bishop has limited authority over Spillane. The responsibility for Spillane as a priest belongs with the Legionaries, said the Rev. Bob Cannon, the bishop's canon lawyer.

Cannon said incardination, the formal process of being accepted as a diocesan priest from another diocese or religious community, takes five years in the Diocese of Venice.

"And, typically, that person has a couple of assignments," Cannon said.

"It's just a look-see, both for the person who is seeking to be incardinated and for the diocese."

From 1974 to 1995, Spillane served in foreign schools run by the Legionaries. From 1990 to 1995, he was also a parish priest in Cozumel, Mexico.

When he came to Sarasota in October 1995, it was to work for Incarnation parish, even though he was also chaplain at Cardinal Mooney High and conducted weekly Mass there.

"He was seeking to become a diocesan priest, so that was the primary thing. His particular religious community does work with young people," Cannon said.

"But our primary work as diocesan priests is parish work so that's why he would have been working in a parish."

Cannon said that in dealing with a situation such as Spillane's, the church is reminded of the admonition to hate the sin but love the sinner.

It's sad for the church whether a person is hurting somebody else or being hurt, Cannon said, "and so the difficulty in this situation is to minister to those who may have been harmed and also to minister to the one who has harmed people.

"Of course, in this situation, there is not a victim in the strict sense, but the injury to the community is the same."

Spokeswoman Gail McGrath said the Diocese of Venice has been intermittently checking with Spillane since his arrest, "to see that Father Spillane is doing OK and that things are progressing as they should."

She said no other allegations of sexual misconduct have been lodged against him.

Although he has not been convicted of a crime, she said, it appears unlikely that his future includes active ministry in the diocese.

"The Legionaries of Christ will determine what permission they choose to give Father Spillane as to where he may live and minister," McGrath said.

Incarnation parishioner Glenn Brown said he didn't know Spillane well but considered the priest a nice person and liked his homilies.

"Of course, it is disturbing, but he is a human being. I feel bad that it happened, but I will continue to pray for him," Brown said. "He's just a human being. He definitely fell. He needs help, and hopefully he can get straightened out."

L.R. "Chip" Waterman, another parishioner, also expressed empathy for Spillane.

"My thoughts of Father Jeremiah are nothing but good thoughts. I have a great deal of admiration for the man. I'm sorry that what happened happened. I still think he is a terrific priest," Waterman said.

"I hope he does whatever is best for him."

 
 

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