Statement from Bishop John J. Nevins
Re: Recent News Stories on Ed McLoughlin Press Conferencee
Diocese of Venice in Florida
June 18, 2002
As Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, I am entrusted with the pastoral care of the faithful within its boundaries. Our faith is shared and celebrated in community. The Catholic faithful must be assured of the Church's commitment to protecting all those entrusted to our care, to ensuring that no one who has abused a child in the past, present or future is permitted to continue in ministry. Those who have been abused must be able to trust that the church is concerned for their well being, will promptly investigate any allegation of abuse, and permanently remove from ministry any priest or employee who is determined to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor.
Recent news stories, particularly relating to the case of Ed McLoughlin, have called into question my credibility and my commitment to protecting God's children. It has been implied that I knew Ed McLoughlin was a sexual predator; that I changed his assignments in an effort to conceal this; and that I helped him to flee the country in order to avoid criminal prosecution. This is absolutely not true. I will do my best to set the record straight.
I was tremendously upset and sorry when I learned in April of 1996 that a minor boy, J.S., had been sexually abused by Ed McLoughlin, a priest of the Venice Diocese. This vulnerable young man, who had already been a victim of sexual abuse, turned to a representative of the church for friendship, healing and guidance, only to be betrayed. It was in recognition of the injury to J.S. and in recognition of my own failure to connect the dots regarding Ed's behavior that I agreed to settle the lawsuit.
Prior to the April 1996 allegation of Gail Tidwell that J.S. had been sexually abused by Ed McLoughlin, I had not received any complaint of sexual abuse by Ed McLoughlin. I was advised of concerns regarding his immature and inappropriate horseplay with boys, but I did not recognize, as I would now, that this is a warning sign of potential sexual abuse. In hindsight, I realize I failed to connect the dots that might have illustrated that Ed McLoughlin posed a risk of harm to children.
Ed McLoughlin was ordained to the priesthood in 1978 for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. At the time the Diocese of Venice was formed in October 1984, Ed McLoughlin was already assigned to St. Charles Borromeo Parish. Consequently, he was incardinated into the Diocese of Venice at that time, that is, he became a priest of the Diocese and I, as his Bishop, assumed responsibility for his spiritual and financial support. Ed's personnel record was forwarded to us from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, but records from his seminary studies were not part of his diocesan personnel file. The school records were not obtained until the after the lawsuit was filed by J.S. So, until 1999, I was unaware of the difficulties Ed demonstrated in the seminary and the reservations expressed by the faculty regarding his suitability for the priesthood.
Ed McLoughlin's personnel record reflected that in 1983, prior to the formation of the Diocese of Venice and my installation as Bishop, Ed approached Bishop Thomas Larkin, of the Diocese of St. Petersburg and informed him that he was experiencing significant stress and anxiety in his ministry and needed mental help. Ed McLoughlin obtained a psychiatric and psychological assessment and subsequently entered into a six month residential treatment program for what the records indicated was "great stress, fatigue and a state of confused depression."
In one progress report, there was a vague reference to Ed McLoughlin's relationship with "a young man in his former parish." There was no indication in the file of any sexual impropriety in relation to this young man, but emotional immaturity that suggested he related better to, and preferred the company of teenagers to adults. This was a dot that I missed.
The report from the treating psychiatrist concluded that "Father McLoughlin should return to active ministry a much more assured, comfortable and competent person...If possible an academic teaching position at the high school level seems appropriate for him at this time." In view of the doctor's recommendation, it would have seemed appropriate to appoint him as Director of Scouting. The reference in the progress report would now raise a red flag, but at that time, it didn't.
In February of 1989, I learned from Mary Kay Mack, a teacher at St. Charles Borromeo School, that Ed was seen on the playground spanking boys, carrying them on his shoulders and pulling on their underwear to make a wedgie. Ms. Mack indicated that she had never observed any overt sexual behavior on the part of Ed McLoughlin and she did not know of any child who complained to a parent that Ed McLoughlin made sexual advances toward him. Inquiry was made of the school principal and pastor and neither observed any sexual behavior or had reason to suspect any improper behavior on the part of Ed McLoughlin. It is my understanding that teachers, like physicians, nurses and social workers, are mandated to report allegations of child abuse to the state. To my knowledge, Ms. Mack did not make a report, so I presume she was not concerned about sexual abuse, but immature behavior, at the time. Another missed dot.
I had already decided to assign Ed to the West Indies prior to learning of Ms. Mack's concerns. In April of 1993, Ed was assigned to assist in the relief efforts of Trocaire, the Irish based Catholic Development organization. In connection with this work, Ed took numerous flights to Barbados, Grenada, Somalia, Kenya, St. Vincent, and Ireland. The Diocese paid for Ed's travel expenses as well as the cost of shipping medical supplies. When in the United States, Ed would serve St. Charles Borromeo Parish.
In August of 1993, I received a letter from a young man who was visiting from Texas who met Ed McLoughlin during a visit to St. Charles Borromeo Parish. He described Ed as "touchy-feely." He also felt that Ed had "come on" to him. Father Jerome Carosella, Chancellor of our Diocese, telephoned the young man and was assured that there was no sexual contact, but that Ed's behavior made the young man uncomfortable.
Even though there was no indication of sexual misconduct, I was concerned by this letter and decided to consult a medical expert to help me to evaluate Ed McLoughlin. I requested that Ed undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Behavioral Medicine Institute in Atlanta, a facility that claimed success in identifying whether an individual had pedophilic or ephebophilic tendencies. I provided all records requested by the facility including the medical records from Ed McLoughlin's residential stay in 1983. Dr. Gene Abel, the psychiatrist who evaluated Ed McLoughlin concluded that:
2. "A review of his [Ed McLoughlin's] records and the letter from the boy mentioned above, [visiting from Texas] however, confirm that he has inappropriate social skills with adolescents, especially male adolescents. For a variety of personal, family and cultural reasons he carries out immature communications with children including culturally inappropriate touching, hugging and horseplay. These immature behaviors have persisted in spite of rather extensive treatment in the past and his being confronted about the inappropriateness of this behavior back in the 1980's." Dr. Abel noted that "most people would assume that his inappropriate touching of children is very much tied in with sexual arousal to children." However, "he doesn't show evidence of pedophilic or ephebophilic arousal." Dr. Abel noted that Ed McLoughlin needed a rekindling of his efforts to block immature behaviors with children and adolescents.
"It appears that in recent years he has found a socially acceptable way of dealing with his wanting to please others or help others, that doesn't involve boys. His work in Africa and other countries appears to be a more effective way of meeting his emotional proclivity to help others. Furthermore, in the last few years he is becoming much better at relating to adults. I believe his efforts should be channeled exactly in the direction that they are going, overseas work with developing nations, medical problems of those countries, etc."
In late 1995, Ed McLoughlin asked permission to take classes related to his international relief efforts at the Development Studies Center in Ireland. I agreed. The Diocese covered the cost of some of his flights provided there was adequate substantiation that it was related to his international relief obligations. Ed McLoughlin was residing in Ireland and pursuing his coursework at the Development Studies Center when I learned, via Mrs. Tidwell, in April of 1996, that Ed McLoughlin was alleged to have sexually abused J.S, then an adult, during his minority. About a month prior to that time, a priest attending a counseling class at University of South Florida in Fort Myers was approached by a fellow student. The student mentioned to the priest that there was a young man who had been abused by a priest in Port Charlotte. The family caring for the young man had approached the church, but the church had not listened to them. I asked the priest to investigate this rumor and I presumed this is what led Gail Tidwell to come forward with the allegation regarding J.S. in April of 1996.
It was only after this time that I learned that the Tidwells had confronted Ed McLoughlin a year earlier about the abuse allegations. I was not aware of any allegations of sexual abuse involving Ed McLoughlin when he left the country and at no time did I knowingly assist Ed McLoughlin in his flight in order to avoid criminal prosecution.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the matter was referred to the Diocesan Resource Team for investigation. J.S. was invited to come forward and provide information necessary to permit an investigation into the allegation we had received from the Tidwells. The Resource team attempted an investigation, scheduling interviews of church personnel, but approximately two weeks later the team was advised that J.S. had retained legal counsel and there would be no cooperation in our diocesan investigation. Because the victim chose not to meet with the Resource Team, the Diocese's ability to learn of the nature and circumstances of the sexual misconduct was limited to the discovery process of the lawsuit which was subsequently filed.
I placed Ed on administrative leave, suspending his faculties to minister as a priest and informed the Bishops in Ireland where Ed was studying and living. I continued, consistent with my obligation of decent support under church law, to pay the monthly stipend (including annual cost of living increases) and the cost of tuition for his studies until April of 1997, when Ed McLoughlin acknowledged his sexual misconduct with J.S. The annual stipend to priests of the Diocese of Venice is roughly $25,000 per year, and I often pay for priests to continue their education in areas related to their ministry. Payment of the monthly stipend and tuition was terminated following Ed's admission, though he continued to assert that the sexual misconduct with J.S. occurred after J.S. turned 18.
The Diocese paid for the cost of counseling for J.S. following his claim. There was much publicity surrounding the case which was mediated and settled in April of 1999. I requested no confidentiality agreement and paid no hush money. The case involving J.S. is the only claim I know of which Mr. Sheldon Stevens, counsel for J.S., has brought against the Diocese of Venice.
A criminal complaint was filed by J.S.'s attorney with the Charlotte County Sheriff's office on May 5, 1997. Subsequently a subpoena was served upon Bishop Nevins seeking production of diocesan records relating to Ed McLoughlin. Our attorney contacted the state attorney's office in response, offering to fully cooperate and schedule a meeting for production of the records. The State Attorney's office was to contact us further when and if a decision was made regarding prosecution in this matter and the records were needed. We received no further requests and had no additional involvement with the criminal process.
I wrote to Ed McLoughlin, who was in Ireland in May of 1997, insisting that he assure me of his willingness to return to the United States if summoned by me or the civil authorities, in order to answer the allegations of J.S. However, to my knowledge, the authorities did not request that he return to the U.S., nor did anyone from the Diocese of Venice seek in any way to deter criminal prosecution of Ed McLoughlin. If anyone has knowledge of a diocesan representative interfering with a criminal investigation, I ask them to come forward and report it to the authorities and to me. Likewise, to my knowledge, the Diocese has, consistent with our Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Diocesan Personnel, complied with all state law reporting requirements.
Through the information obtained during the course of the lawsuit, I concluded that Ed McLoughlin was not credible and had in fact engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor. I informed Irish church officials of my findings. I prohibited Edward McLoughlin from returning to priestly ministry and in June of 1999, I proposed that he be laicized (released from the priesthood). He agreed. Edward McLoughlin was released by our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II from the clerical state on November 21, 2000. Ed McLoughlin was provided with financial assistance to aid in his transition from priestly life in order that he might find employment and become self supporting. Ed McLoughlin currently works and resides in Ireland.
Tragically, I failed to connect the dots in this case. As a result, I failed J.S. and others who may have been abused by Ed McLoughlin. I am very sorry. I continue to pray for healing for those who have been victimized. I commend J.S. for having the courage to come forward, which ultimately led to the removal of Ed McLoughlin.
I have learned a great deal through this case, including the need for review of seminary records and more careful assessment of candidates to the priesthood as well as the need for a full release of any medical records relating to psychiatric or psychological treatment received by a priest. I believe I have gained some greater insight into the behaviors exhibited by those who molest children and I hope to be more attuned to the warning signs that an individual may pose a risk of harm to children.
I have made mistakes, but I continue to learn and to try to improve the mechanisms in place to ensure the well being of all those entrusted to the care of the Church. As you know, in the fall I am introducing in the Diocese of Venice a program entitled, "Protecting God's Children." This program addresses the lifelong consequences of child sexual abuse, the ways in which child molesters chose their victims and gain their trust, and what we, as church and community, can do to protect our children. This program will be presented to all priests, employees, parents and any interested others in the hope that they too may take an active part in preventing child sexual abuse.
The lessons I have learned come at too great a price.
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