Priest Accused of Decades of Abuse
Served in Perrine, Hollyood Parishes
By Lisa Arthur and Jay Weaver
March 23, 2002
They hid under tables, in locked bathrooms and under beds. One boy "cinched his belt tight" to try to avoid being molested. But Father Rocco D'Angelo got to them every time anyway, they said.
During a 31-year Florida career that began in Boynton Beach and ended with retirement in Tampa, Father D'Angelo allegedly molested at least 12 boys, according to court documents, church memorandum and attorneys for the boys.
Catholic Church officials never stripped him of his collar. They never prosecuted him. Instead, they promised parents that they would make sure D'Angelo was never around kids again.
That wasn't true, according to internal church documents obtained by The Herald.
Instead, the Archdiocese of Miami transferred him from Perrine to Hollywood, from Hollywood to a psychiatric counseling center, and finally to the Archdiocese of St. Petersburg.
Not until 1976 -- 10 years after a mother in South Florida first reported that D'Angelo had fondled her boys -- did the Miami archdiocese tell St. Petersburg officials in writing that the father repeatedly had been accused of "alleged homosexual activities involving young boys."
ON THE JOB
Even then he stayed on the job, and at least four more boys allegedly were victimized -- this time in Tampa, according to civil suits filed in the late '90s but dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.
Documents obtained by The Herald -- many written by church officials themselves -- show that Father D'Angelo's transgressions were well-known to the highest officials of the Miami diocese, including then-Archbishop Coleman Carroll, who has since passed away. The alleged molestations occurred between 1962 and 1989 but most victims spoke out only in the '90s as adults.
Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, said the D'Angelo cases occurred long ago when there was less awareness of sexual abuse of minors. They would be handled differently today, she said.
"At that time, the archdiocese did what it thought was the best thing, and that was for him to seek some type of counseling," Agosta said. "And when professionals in the counseling field said it was all right for him to return, the advice was followed. If an incident like that occurred today, it would be dealt with swiftly and effectively."
D'Angelo, 79, refused to comment. His attorney, Joseph Ciarciaglino, offered this statement: "He's an old man with cancer who spends the twilight of his years in prayer and repentance. I have never dealt with anyone more remorseful."
The church has paid known settlements to three of D'Angelo's alleged victims. It is in depositions and church documents collected for those lawsuits -- but never before made public -- that the full tale emerges of D'Angelo's transgressions and how the church handled them.
It's a tale of deception that has rocked her faith in the Catholic Church, says the mother of a boy allegedly raped numerous times by D'Angelo at age 11.
"When they said they were going to send him [D'Angelo] away, we thought he was going to a monastery to bake bread, do good works, far away from children," said Peggy Sidaway, of Lake Worth. Her son Kevin sued in 1996 at age 40, after learning that D'Angelo was still a priest in St. Petersburg. The church settled out of court.
"When we found out they broke their promise just six months after they gave us their word, we were devastated and outraged," his mother said.
The charismatic D'Angelo began his South Florida career in 1962 at St. Mark's in Boynton Beach, the Sidaways' parish. He served as assistant pastor for two years and ingratiated himself with a few families. He ate dinner at their homes. He sometimes spent the night.
When he was transferred to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Perrine, he kept in touch by phone and visited.
But the Boynton parents had no inkling about the side of D'Angelo that began to emerge in 1966 in Perrine.
AT A MOTEL
A mother at the parish allowed D'Angelo to take her two sons, 13- and 12-year-old altar boys, on a weekend trip to motel in Boynton Beach.
"[D'Angelo] kissed them when they went to bed," then-Chancellor John Fitzpatrick of the Archdiocese of Miami wrote Archbishop Carroll in an Aug. 16, 1966, memo detailing what the mother had reported. "He kissed at least one of the boys on the lips. . . . Later in the [Holy Rosary] parish he made some advances on one of her sons."
They told the mother they would send D'Angelo away.
"I was led to believe that he would never be around children again," she said in a deposition in the Sidaway civil suit.
Church officials assured the mother that D'Angelo would receive treatment at a hospital.
Instead, the archdiocese transferred D'Angelo to St. Bernadette Parish in Hollywood on Aug. 30, 1966. Court records do not indicate he received any psychiatric treatment.
Shortly after arriving at St. Bernadette's, D'Angelo allegedly molested an altar boy, although he did not divulge his secret until the early 1990s while undergoing counseling.
He told Catholic Church officials that the priest kissed and fondled him.
"I was really scared, but he was supposed to be my friend," the man said, according to a May 28, 1993, complaint written by a church counselor in Orlando. "I faked that I had a stomach ache when he took me to the motel to stay overnight. I locked myself in the bathroom."
While at St. Bernadette's, D'Angelo continued to nurture his relationships with the families and altar boys form St. Marks.
In the summer of 1967, D'Angelo took Kevin Sidaway and a 12-year-old altar boy on a road trip to New York.
The three spent the first week driving up the coast, staying in motels, where D'Angelo molested the boys, according to court documents.
When one of the boys met up with his parents in New Jersey, Kevin found himself alone with the priest.
"I thought I was being abandoned with this man, who I was afraid of," Sidaway said in his deposition.
They shared a bedroom at D'Angelo's mother's home in New York.
The priest raped Kevin at least four times, Sidaway said in his deposition. More assaults happened on the drive back to Florida. When they got to the Sidaway house, it was late. Peggy Sidaway invited D'Angelo to spend the night. Kevin gave a sworn statement that D'Angelo raped him in his own bed.
"I put on my pajamas to get ready for bed," he said of the final assault. "I decided I was going to put my school belt -- my black leather belt around my pajamas. I cinched it tight. I did that in case he should decide to molest me, he would notice the belt was there."
About a month later, the boy told his mother about the New York trip.
Peggy Sidaway and her husband, Ralph, immediately contacted a priest at St. Vincent DePaul's Seminary in Boynton Beach.
In early August, Kevin Sidaway and two other boys who said they had been abused met with three Catholic priests at the seminary to talk about D'Angelo's predatory behavior.
They told the boys D'Angelo was going away and would not be able to hurt anymore children.
While church officials were persuading the Sidaways to be good Catholics and let the church handle it, D'Angelo was taking another trip with a group of seven altar boys from St. Mark's.
Two brothers -- one 11, the other 13 -- both said they were assaulted. In 1999, the archdiocese paid them undisclosed settlements.
Others came forward that summer with similar complaints, according to church and court documents.
Auxiliary Bishop John Fitzpatrick held a meeting and again, the parents were told D'Angelo would be kept away from children. He was sent to Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore, from September 1967 to April 1968, when D'Angelo's doctor believed he was fit to serve as a priest again. So did senior church officials. D'Angelo was sent back to the St. Bernadette parish.
"The news of your recovery from your recent illness was most welcome and I am certain that you are most happy to be enjoying good health once again," the Rev. Ronald Pusak, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Miami, wrote D'Angelo on April 10, 1968.
But within months, a trio of Boynton Beach parents learned that D'Angelo was in the area and voiced their outrage to church officials.
On July 24, 1968, then Bishop-elect John Fitzpatrick wrote a memo to Archbishop Carroll that shows senior church officials were acutely aware of the D'Angelo problem and that they must do something immediately to avoid scandal.
"These people seem to be sincere and not vindictive, although I think they could cause trouble if we ignore them," Fitzpatrick wrote.
That is when the Archdiocese of Miami arranged to send its problem priest to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, according to church records. And Archdiocese officials apparently did it without telling their St. Petersburg counterparts about D'Angelo's past misconduct until 1976 -- after officials there asked for his job history in South Florida because they said they didn't have it, records show.
In the fall of 1975, the Rev. J. Keith Symons, chancellor of the St. Petersburg Diocese, wrote a letter to the Rev. Noel Fogarty, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Miami, saying D'Angelo wanted to officially transfer his oath to St. Pete.
Symons said he needed background information about D'Angelo's tenure in Miami. (Symons later became the Bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach and was forced to resign in June 1998 after admitting that he had sexually molested five boys early in his career as a priest.)
On Jan. 7, 1976, Fogarty wrote Bishop Charles McLaughlin, telling the Diocese of St. Petersburg, about D'Angelo's past.
"In September 1967 Father D'Angelo was admitted to the Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for evaluation and correction of alleged homosexual activities involving young boys. In April 1968 he was discharged from the institute with a recommendation from the institute that he resume his priestly activities and be reassigned in some parish."
"Father D'Angelo was reassigned as Assistant Pastor of St. Bernadette Church," Fogarty continued. "[B]ut in a short time, three parents of the children involved, even though living 60 miles away from Fort Lauderdale, heard of Father D'Angelo's return and came to the Chancery expressing surprise and protest that Father had been permitted to return to the Archdiocese of Miami."
Fogarty wrote: "Archbishop Carroll trusts that at the time of Father D'Angelo's transfer to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, you were made fully aware of the facts of the case."
Mary Jo Murphy, spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg Diocese, said Friday that she could not comment on when the Archdiocese of Miami first informed it of D'Angelo's past. Nor could she comment on why they placed the priest in three different parishes and in Catholic Youth programs after learning of his South Florida history in 1976.
Attorneys for victims who have sued D'Angelo believe there are more victims who are afraid to speak out.
"In my opinion, he has had dozens of victims, but it's just so hard for all of them to come forward," said Cocoa Beach attorney Sheldon Stevens, who represented three former altar boys allegedly molested by D'Angelo.
The reluctance for anyone to take responsibility over the years continues to anger Peggy Sidaway. The current sex scandal in the Catholic Church makes it worse.
Two weeks ago, she found herself at Sunday Mass for the first time in two years. She went seeking comfort.
'The priest starts saying something like 'There's a witch hunt going on and the church is under attack.' I couldn't believe it."
She took a pen and a scrap of paper from her purse and wrote a note saying the church is under attack for trying to cover up "its dirty little secrets."
"This is not a witch hunt," she wrote. "It happened to my son."
She signed the note and dropped it in the collection basket. The priest called a week later to apologize.
It didn't matter.
"I don't put my faith in a priest or a bishop or a cardinal anymore," she said. "I put my faith in God."
Herald staff writer Phil Long and researcher Elisabeth Donovan contributed to this report.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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