Sexual Allegations Threaten Educator's 30-Year Career

By Cory Schouten and Tiffany Lankes
Herald Tribune
January 28, 2005

MANATEE COUNTY — As a young man, Joseph Gilpin was torn between the priesthood and a career in teaching. He spent eight years in seminary in the North before seeking a new start in Florida.

He found it. He spent more than 30 years in the Manatee schools developing a reputation as a hard-working educator who had a good rapport with students.

But remnants of his past have returned, and now Gilpin has been suspended from his job and is facing a crisis that threatens his career and reputation.

Details of a lawsuit settled in 2004 portray Gilpin as a man who took advantage of his position as a spiritual leader. Gilpin is accused of raping and molesting a young boy in the late 1960s while Gilpin was studying to be a priest. Another man who says Gilpin molested him from 1968 to 1970 recently brought forth his allegations, and a Catholic church official in Maine says they seem credible.

Gilpin was suspended by Manatee Superintendent Roger Dearing on Wednesday after a victims advocacy group informed the district of the lawsuit and the allegations of sexual abuse brought by a second accuser.

Gilpin did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment Thursday. But he has denied the allegations in the past, according to the Boston Globe. Manatee school officials said they did not know of the allegations against Gilpin prior to this week.

The lawsuit naming Gilpin was filed in 2001, roughly the same time a scandal surfaced alleging widespread sexual abuse by priests. The Catholic diocese of Boston eventually agreed to an $85 million settlement of scores of lawsuits alleging abuse by priests.

Gilpin has worked in Manatee County schools since 1971. He's been a teacher and administrator at Bayshore and Manatee high schools and Braden River, Johnson and Haile middle schools.

He served as an adviser for student clubs and went on dozens of overnight trips with students, according to his personnel file.

He was working as an assistant principal at Haile Middle School when he was suspended with pay Wednesday pending an investigation into his past.

While Gilpin generally received good teaching evaluations in Manatee County, he was repeatedly turned down for administrative jobs and was twice reprimanded for inappropriately touching students.

In a lawsuit filed in Massachusetts, Michael Fraga, now of California, claims Gilpin fondled him and performed oral and anal sex on him. He said the molestation happened multiple times in different locations from 1965 to 1968.

Fraga said some of the abuse took place at a summer camp run by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Gilpin was studying to be a priest in Massachusetts at the time.

According to court records, the accuser says he repressed memories of the abuse for years, but believes they contributed to mental and emotional distress. Fraga did not return a phone message.

The second abuse accusation against Gilpin was originally filed with the Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine.

Sue Bernard, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese received a complaint about Gilpin in September 2003, when it heard from a lawyer representing a former student of St. Mary's School. She described the allegations as "credible."

Gilpin spent one year teaching fifth grade at St. Mary's School, according to his personnel file in Manatee County. He spent the following year at a seminary in Ottawa, Canada, Bernard said. But he was never ordained as a priest in Maine or Massachusetts, she said.

"He was asked to leave," she said. "He was not a successful candidate, but it had nothing to do with anything unlawful."

The accuser in the Maine case went to the national advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests last week after he found Gilpin's photo on the Haile Middle School Web site. SNAP contacted the district Wednesday afternoon to ask for Gilpin's suspension.

The second accuser's name was not released by SNAP.

In Manatee County, Gilpin received good reviews for his classroom teaching and rapport with his students. He drew criticism, however, from administrators who thought he needed to act with more authority.

He was also reprimanded on two separate occasions for inappropriately touching students.

In 1996, a Bayshore High School principal reprimanded Gilpin for patting the front of one female student's pants and reaching his hand into her pocket. He also placed his two fingers in a pocket near the waist of another girl's pants, according to the file.

In 1997, Bayshore High did not reappoint him to his job as an assistant principal. He was turned down for at least a half-dozen other administrative jobs.

In 2000, a parent filed a report with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office reporting Gilpin patted her daughter on the butt with a book.

The district has hired Sarasota-based Carol Springer Investigations to look into the allegations. Dearing said he doesn't know how long it will take.

Gilpin's wife, Kathlyn, 56, is a teacher at Bayshore High School. They have one son, Christopher, 23. Family members at his house Wednesday night said Gilpin did not want to comment.

Gilpin and his wife are members of Christ Episcopal Church in Bradenton. Gilpin serves on the church's membership board, said Sandy Kezar, the wife of a former priest at Christ Episcopal.

Kezar said Gilpin told her he abandoned his study of the priesthood because he felt more of a calling toward education.

"He just really is a good guy," she said. "I trust Joe Gilpin without a shadow of a doubt."


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