Priest Faces Misconduct Allegations; Diocese Removes St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Minister
By Will Greenlee
May 4, 2002
Port St. Lucie - A retired priest who conducted Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church has been removed from active ministry as police on Friday opened a criminal investigation into allegations of "sexual misconduct" involving a 17-year-old parishioner.
The Rev. Edmund Szpieg, the church's pastor, said the Diocese of Palm Beach removed the Rev. Francis E. Maloney, 71, after allegations by the youth, a student at John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce.
The youth reported that while he was house cleaning at Maloney's private residence, he saw the priest in bed with another man, Szpieg said, although "whether they were nude or dressed, I don't know."
The youth also reportedly saw Maloney undressed, Szpieg said.
"He'd be dusting or something, and I guess Father would come out and once or several times he supposedly didn't have any clothes on," Szpieg said.
The Diocese of Palm Beach issued a statement Friday saying Maloney "has been removed from active ministry" based on "an alleged incident of sexual misconduct."
The statement added that "dio- cesan officials were advised by the student he was never molested or violated in any way."
After the statement, Deacon Sam Barbaro, director of communications for the diocese, said Maloney was "forced into retirement" in 1999 after "inappropriate behavior" with a man.
During that period Maloney had been assigned to St. Luke's parish in Lake Worth, Barbaro said.
Asked why Maloney was permitted to continue as a priest when he moved to Port St. Lucie, Barbaro said: "It was an adult; there was treatment; it was not involving minors, so he was given limited capacity to minister."
Szpieg said Maloney had ministered at the Port St. Lucie church, 930 S.W. Tunis Ave., since at least October 1999, conducting Mass on Saturdays or Sundays and on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
"That was his involvement with the parish," Szpieg said.
Of the allegations, Szpieg said, "You have to take them seriously."
"He knows very well that he will not celebrate Mass. He's not going to hear confessions; he's not going to perform marriages; he's not going to perform baptisms."
Maloney could not be reached for comment Friday.
Szpieg said he plans to tell the congregation about the situation this weekend. He said he didn't know when the alleged incidents took place but said the youth stated he had not been molested.
"I said, 'Did he ever touch you, or did he ever ask or suggest sex?' and he said, 'No,'" Szpieg said.
Szpieg also said the youth found a letter "that Father was writing to somebody else . . . and supposedly about (the youth)."
"He considered it improper," Szpieg said.
A friend of Maloney, retired priest Donald Whipple, said Friday night that he had warned him about being alone with the high school student.
"I didn't like what was happening in that environment," Whipple said. "I wrote him a strong warning to get out of the situation."
The teenager somehow ended up with a copy of Whipple's letter and supplied it to WPBF Channel 25 news.
Whipple, who is openly gay, acknowledged Friday that parts of the letter contained sexual language, but it was meant to be a private, frank correspondence between two friends.
Whipple, 74, said he has known Maloney for about a dozen years since they worked together at St. Joseph Church in Stuart.
He said his letter was intended to help his friend avoid getting entangled with the teenager.
"In this day and age it's very dangerous for a priest to be alone with a young man," Whipple said. "If something happened, he could be accused and it would be the boy's word against his word."
Police spokesman Chuck Johnson said investigators are "attempting to find out all the facts associated with this report of alleged sexual misconduct."
Johnson said his agency only learned of the allegations late Thursday after a series of disclosures.
Johnson said an attorney for John Carroll indicated the victim reported the allegations to a teacher at the school, who called an abuse hot line in Tallahassee.
The hot line allegedly declined to take a report and transferred the caller to a law enforcement agency in St. Lucie County.
"We don't know where that went to," Johnson said. "It didn't come here, and it didn't go to the sheriff's office. We're going to attempt to find out where the breakdown occurred."
Johnson said whomever took the call in St. Lucie County told the victim to report the incident to local law enforcement officials. But the victim failed to do so, Johnson said.
Instead, he went to the diocese in Palm Beach Gardens and told officials there. He also gave a television interview before police learned of the incident late Thursday.
"It appears that everybody was notified except law enforcement," Johnson said.
The diocese, in its statement, said it made a report to "state of Florida authorities in accordance with diocesan policies and procedures."
"The intake officer would not take the report and transferred the call to the local sheriff's department," the diocese stated. "The sheriff's department would not take the report either due to the nature of the allegations."
But the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office issued a statement denying the claim.
"The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office received no telephone call on this subject," the statement said. "Also, the St. Lucie County 911 system has no record of such a telephone call."
Johnson said police investigators plan to speak with the youth next week.
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