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  Ex-Priest Denies Two Claims of Sex Abuse

By Stephen Nohlgren
St. Petersburg Times [Florida]
February 6, 2004

A priest who served in the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg for nine years has been accused of sexually abusing two minors in the late 1970s, when he was a young seminarian.

Michael Rhodes, 46, denied the allegations on Thursday, but declined to comment further.

He came under scrutiny a few months ago, when a man told church officials that Rhodes had molested him when he was an altar boy, church attorney Joe DiVito said.

The man could not remember his own age during the alleged abuse, but said Rhodes was a seminary student who was helping with the youth group at the man's church. DiVito declined to identify the alleged victim or the church.

Later, a church investigator came across a second man who also said Rhodes had molested him when he was a youth at that church, DiVito said, declining to name the second accuser as well.

An announcement of the allegations was published in this week's Florida Catholic newspaper and also will be included this Sunday in parish bulletins where Rhodes served as a priest from 1984 through 1993.

The allegations also will be announced at St. Cecelia's Church in Clearwater and the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, where Rhodes served in non-priestly capacities before his 1984 ordination.

The announcements, which encourage sexual abuse victims to contact law enforcement, are standard procedure when church officials believe that allegations are credible.

During his tenure as a priest, Rhodes served at St. Ignatius, in Tarpon Springs; St. Catherine, in Largo; St. Vincent de Paul, in Holiday; and Holy Family in St. Petersburg.

He also served frequently as "master of ceremonies" for then-Bishop John Larkin, helping the bishop during public appearances.

DiVito declined to say why Rhodes left the ministry in 1993, except that his departure did not relate to sexual abuse of minors. That year, he was arrested for disorderly conduct, court records show. He paid a fine and costs of $30, entered into a pretrial intervention program and the charges were dismissed.

Rhodes was born in St. Petersburg . Public records show he is now living in Broward County.

 
 

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