Diocese Suspends Ex-Manatee Priest
Father Donald Baier Is One of Three Suspended by the Diocese of Venice over Sex Allegations
By Rod Harmon
May 31, 2002
A Catholic priest with ties to two Manatee County churches has been suspended in response to allegations he sexually molested a minor in the late 1970s.
Father Donald Baier has had his privileges stripped by the Diocese of Venice pending the results of an investigation, said Gail McGrath, communications director for the diocese. The action is in keeping with the diocese's policy on sexual misconduct, which was enacted in 1995 and revised in March. "It is important for people to remember that these are allegations, and that a person is presumed innocent until it is proven otherwise," McGrath said in a prepared statement.
Baier served at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach from 1993 to 1998, and at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bradenton from 1998 until his retirement in 2000. Personnel at Sacred Heart and St. Bernard referred all questions Thursday to the Venice diocese.
Baier is the first Manatee County priest under the jurisdiction of the Venice diocese to be suspended since the Catholic sex scandal broke last spring. In April, the diocese dismissed the Rev. Absalom Coutinho from Holy Cross Catholic Church in Palmetto after allegations surfaced in New Jersey, but he was under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Paterson in Clifton, N.J.
The suspension was announced to parishioners last weekend via a letter from Bishop John Nevins, but was not released to the public until Thursday, when an article appeared in the Venice edition of the Florida Catholic newsletter.
"Bishop Nevins prefers that the Catholic people hear news of this nature directly from him first before they hear it through any other media," McGrath said. "That's how he's always operated."
The diocese is being tight-lipped regarding details of the allegations. McGrath would not give an exact date of the alleged incident, the nature of the sexual misconduct Baier is accused of committing, or the sex and exact age of the victim at the time of the alleged misconduct.
McGrath said the suspension took place immediately upon receipt of the allegations, but she would not reveal a date except to say that it was within the past month.
"A lot of details we are unable to discuss simply because the matter is under investigation," she said.
As a retired priest, Baier was able to assist parishes when needed, including the celebration of Mass. The suspension revokes those privileges, and they will not be restored unless he is exonerated through the investigation, McGrath said.
Besides Baier, the Venice diocese also announced the suspension of two other retired priests: Father Neil Flemming, who served at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Sarasota from 1992 to 1996, and Father William Romero, who served at St. Joseph the Worker in Moore Haven from 1982 to 1991. In each case, the alleged incidents occurred years ago, McGrath said.
Nevins is asking anyone with information about the cases, or regarding any sexual misconduct committed within the diocese, to call the Florida Department of Children and Family Services at 1-800-962-2873, the diocese at 1-941-484-9543 and local law enforcement.
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