East Naples priest Leo Riley reinstated after abuse investigation
By Ryan Mills
Naples Daily News
July 22, 2015
An East Naples priest cleared of wrongdoing in a sexual abuse investigation has been reinstated.
Diocese of Venice Bishop Frank Dewane reinstated Rev. Leo Riley on the advice of a review board, said Bob Reddy, a diocese spokesman. Before the investigation, Riley, 60, had served at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Rattlesnake Hammock Road since 2013.
“Father Riley asked for a leave of absence. He’s going to take some time off to reflect on what he wants to do next, what he wants to do as a priest,” Reddy said. “He may come back at St. Peters. He may come back somewhere else. He just wanted some time off to get over the trauma of the situation.”
The church launched its investigation after a man came forward in December claiming to have been sexually abused by Riley 30 years ago in an Iowa parish. Jeff Buchheit, 39, says he was abused by Riley in 1985, when he was an altar boy at Resurrection School in Dubuque.
Before starting its investigation, the church confirmed there would be no criminal investigation by Iowa authorities because the case is beyond the statute of limitations. The church hired a private investigator — a former FBI agent — to interview Riley, Buchheit and others. Riley, who denied the allegations from the start, submitted to a polygraph examination last month, his attorney said.
In a recent Sunday letter to parishioners, Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels said “the best information available does not support a reasonable belief that the allegation is true.”
Attempts to reach Riley on Wednesday were unsuccessful. Fran Woods, a friend of Riley’s from his days serving St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Port Charlotte, called the investigation “backwards” because she said it presumed guilt and cast the priest in a bad light.
“He’s a wonderful man. He never should have been put through that,” Woods said. “That was terrible. When he was here for dinner, I specifically asked him what really hurt the most. He said, ‘They ruined my reputation.’”
In a telephone interview, Buchheit called the decision to reinstate Riley “heartbreaking.” He said that less than a week before Jackels announced the end of the investigation, he had met with investigators and provided several leads they never got around to following.
“That’s the part that’s the most heartbreaking,” he said. “I offered up as much information as possible, and they still decided to move forward with their decision without addressing that. I was shocked.”
Barbara Blaine, president of the Illinois-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called Riley’s reinstatement “really, really disappointing.”
“We have little faith in the secretive church investigations,” she said, adding that assigning Riley to a parish could pose a risk to children.
Before transferring to the East Naples church, Riley worked as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda and at St. Charles Borromeo. He came to the Diocese of Venice in 2002. It’s unclear where Riley will serve next or when he will resume his duties as a priest.
“It’s ultimately the bishop’s decision,” Reddy said, “but if he has a preference of what he wants to do, the bishop will take that into heavy consideration.”