Former SWFL priest accused of sexual abuse in 1980s may have more victims

WINK-TV, Ch. 11 CBS [Fort Myers FL]

April 25, 2024

By Amy Galo and Justin Kase

A priest accused of getting away with sexually touching multiple boys for 40 years may have more victims.

Father Leo Riley was in Charlotte County court on Thursday. He has been accused of sexual abuse on four boys in Dubuque, Iowa, from 1984 to 1986 but wasn’t arrested until Wednesday.

WINK News spoke to John Celeste, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, one of the churches Riley used to work at. He said it’s deeply saddening because you never want someone who promised to be a man of God to break that promise.

Prayer is not unusual for John Celeste, but on Thursday, his purpose for praying was truth.

“I want the truth to come out. Hiding the truth is never any good,” said Celeste.

He woke up to the news that Father Riley was accused of sexual assault.

“People here used to talk well about the man, so he did some good here. I don’t know about what happened in Iowa,” said Celeste.

Four men have come forward, reporting they were sexually abused by Riley in the mid-80s while they were in grade school serving as altar boys.

“He broke his promise. It would be like a policeman committing a crime, like a teacher abusing children. These are people that we trust and that broke our trust,” said Celeste.

Riley worked at four Southwest Florida churches. Three of them were in Charlotte County, and one was in Naples, where he also faced at least one allegation of sexual abuse in 2015 but was never convicted.

Riley was a priest until May 2023.

“This is what we do. When we go to confession, when we say, ‘forgive my sins,’ when I try not to do it again. But if he did it again and again, I guess he’ll pay a price,” said Celeste.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office is asking anyone with information on Riley or any other potential victims to call them at 941-639-2101.