Man claiming abuse by Pensacola priest urges others to speak. One victim is rare, experts say.

Pensacola News Journal [Pensacola FL]

July 12, 2023

By Mollye Barrows

A Pensacola man and his mother recently came forward with claims that longtime Pensacola priest, Monsignor James Flaherty, molested him when he was a boy, more than a decade ago. Even though the statute of limitations has passed for possible criminal charges, they reported it to law enforcement anyway.

“Considering the statutes have already passed, he’s not going to prison,” the Pensacola man explained. “I just hope that with my police report and hopefully this article some more people will come forward and maybe a kid who’s experiencing this now will be able to come forward to put the (expletive) behind bars.”

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is looking into the complaint, but deputies aren’t commenting yet on the newly opened investigation. However, they say it is important for victims to report crimes, no matter how much time has passed.

Priest accused of abuse:Mother, son allege prominent Pensacola priest abused him as a child at private school.

Sgt. Shawn White is over the department’s Special Victims Unit.

“Just because in one particular case, the sexual invitations have ended, if this person steps forward and says, ‘Hey, this happened to me,’ and then the next person steps forward, that one may be able to be prosecuted,” White said. “All capital felonies don’t have a statute of limitations, so if it falls in that realm, it could be a 50-year disclosure and if probable cause exists, we can prosecute that. We can actually put a warrant out for that arrest.”

The Pensacola man said the abuse happened when he was a student at St. John the Evangelist, a private, Pensacola Catholic school. He said it started not long after he enrolled in the sixth grade and continued until the middle of seventh grade, around 2011 and 2012.

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He said Flaherty would pull him out of class to “move furniture” at the rectory on campus and would molest him when they were alone together. The man is not being identified due to the nature of the allegations.

Flaherty, who retired four years ago, has not responded to requests for comment. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee said in a statement they are aware of the accusations and are cooperating with the investigation.

Opening door for other survivors

White said research has shown in cases involving child sex offenders there is often more than one victim.

“If they’re an offender, they’ll minimize the number of people they’ve victimized,” said White. “Usually, if they say they’ve had one or two victims, the number ends up being 10, so a lot of them are undocumented. If they touched somebody against their will, that didn’t come about overnight. If they’ve had one victim, it’s likely they’ve had a second victim or more.”