Priest in Palmetto Dismissed
30-Year-Old Allegations Surface in New Jersey
By Rod Harmon
May 2, 2002
A priest with Holy Cross Catholic Church, 504 26th St. W., has been dismissed after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in his former parish in New Jersey.
The Rev. Absalom Coutinho was removed from his position by the Diocese of Venice on April 15 after it learned of two separate allegations of sexual impropriety with a minor from the Diocese of Paterson in Clifton, N.J., said Gail McGrath, communications director for the Venice diocese.
According to an April 24 article in the North Jersey Herald & News, at least one of the allegations dates back to 1976 or 1977, when Coutinho was a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark at a Jersey City Parish. The victim, a female, recently gave details to the Paterson diocese chancellor, the article said.
Coutinho has not been accused of any sexual misconduct while serving at Holy Cross, McGrath said. He came to Manatee County in 1999, and was essentially on loan from the Paterson diocese, where he had worked since 1984.
"He was a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, and reported to that diocese," McGrath said. "They suspended him and removed his faculties and reported it to us, upon which Bishop (John) Nevins (of the Venice diocese) removed his faculties and asked him to leave the rectory. We do not know where he is now."
Specific information about the allegations, including the exact age and sex of the victim at the time of the alleged incident, could not be learned Wednesday. McGrath said the Diocese of Venice did not have that information, because the Diocese of Paterson was conducting the investigation. Phone calls to the Paterson diocese were not returned Tuesday.
Although the suspension occurred April 15, McGrath did not tell the Herald until Wednesday when asked about the specific case. But April 22, and again April 23, McGrath was asked by a Herald reporter for the names of all clergy members in the diocese who had been accused of sexual misconduct over the past 10 years. McGrath gave the names of three priests, but Coutinho was not one of them.
On Tuesday, McGrath said she did not give Coutinho's name because she had not yet received official confirmation from the Paterson diocese, even though he had already been suspended by the diocese in both Venice and Paterson.
"I apologize," McGrath said. "I would never not tell the truth to any reporter."
Coutinho most likely had contact with children during his time at Holy Cross, McGrath said.
"I presume he had normal contact with all parishioners, which would include the elderly, children and people of all ages," she said.
The staff at Holy Cross has been told by the Venice diocese not to talk about Coutinho to the media, said an employee of the church who asked not to be identified. The church's pastor, Nicanor Lobato, suffered a stroke in February and is leaving the parish in a few days.
If Coutinho is found innocent, Nevins would still have to examine the case before Coutinho could again practice as a priest within the Venice diocese, McGrath said.
"My understanding is that, if we are not satisfied with the end result of the investigation of the Diocese of Paterson, we would begin our own investigation," she said. "But right now, because he is a priest of the Diocese of Paterson, and the allegations stemmed from there, the Diocese of Paterson is handling it."
Nevins informed parishioners of Holy Cross about the suspension in the church bulletin last weekend. He is urging anyone with information to report it to the state Department of Children and Families (1-800-962-2873), law enforcement and the diocese (1-941-484-9545).
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