Palmetto Priest Accused of Sexual Misconduct
A Priest at Holy Cross Catholic Church Was Placed on Leave

By Howard M. Unger
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
May 3, 2002

Church officials in Florida and New Jersey are giving few details about a Palmetto priest they put on paid leave last week, one week after he was accused of sexual misconduct in New Jersey.

Absalom Coutinho, a priest at Holy Cross Catholic Church, was placed on administrative leave April 23 by New Jersey diocese officials.

Although he came to Palmetto in 1999, the 58-year-old Coutinho still served under the Paterson Diocese in New Jersey, essentially on loan to Holy Cross.

Holy Cross officials have refused to give specifics about allegations against the former priest, although prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating Coutinho.

Two people have accused him of molesting them in different New Jersey parishes -- one as far back as 1977. One accuser was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse. Prosecutors and church officials refused to release details about the second person.

In Palmetto, Coutinho did not work directly with children, officials said, although he celebrated Mass and performed baptisms.

After the accusations were made, the Diocese of Venice told Coutinho to leave the Holy Cross rectory and stop saying he was affiliated with the parish.

Coutinho, whose whereabouts are unknown, could not be reached for comment. He did not respond to e-mails from the Herald-Tribune.

Holy Cross parishioners learned of his suspension in a letter from Diocese of Venice Bishop John Nevins that was printed in the church bulletin last week.

"Father Coutinho has been suspended from active ministry and the Paterson Diocese reported the allegations to county prosecutors in New Jersey," Nevins wrote.

Several parishioners and church employees contacted by the Herald-Tribune refused to answer questions about him.

Gail McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Venice diocese, said New Jersey church officials are handling the Coutinho case.

"We've not been told anything regarding the allegations," McGrath said.

A spokesman for the Morris County, N.J., prosecutor's office confirmed that his office is investigating the priest, who, until recently, lived in a rectory next door to Holy Cross Church.

"They are strictly allegations. There are no criminal charges yet," Stephen Foley said.

He would not say where Coutinho is or if the priest has talked to prosecutors.



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