Diocese Studies 2 Jacksonville Abuse Cases

By Jeff Brumley
The Florida Times-Union [Jacksonville FL]
December 1, 2004

The Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine has recently learned of two abuse cases in Jacksonville, church officials told The Times-Union this week.

One of the cases came to light during the summer and involved an Irish priest who reportedly had "inappropriate" contact with three children in the late 1960s, the diocese said. Diocesan officials are saying less about the second case, though Bishop Victor Galeone indicated that it, too, was "nothing recent."

In the first case, the accused minister has been identified as the Rev. Thomas McNamara of Ireland, who served as a visiting priest at Christ the King and St. Patrick's parishes in Jacksonville from 1966 to 1968, said Kathleen Bagg-Morgan, a spokeswoman for the diocese. The diocese represents about 162,000 Catholics in 51 parishes and nine missions spread over 17 Northeast Florida counties.

Bagg-Morgan said McNamara died in Ireland, but she did not know when. She would not identify the ages of the three victims, then or now, or their gender.

"They were adolescents at the time," Bagg-Morgan said. "They came to us as adults."

Bagg-Morgan said the reported abuse involved "inappropriate touching," but not sex between the priest and children.

None of the three currently live on the First Coast but apparently came forth to ensure the accused priest was no longer in a position to abuse children, Bagg-Morgan said. At their request, Galeone met with them in late July or early August, and he believed their accounts, she said.

Bagg-Morgan said they requested "very little" else. She would not say if any financial compensation will be paid to them.

"They're not seeking litigation," she said. "They wanted to tell their story."

Bagg-Morgan also would not say if any counseling had been provided beyond an initial consultation with the diocesan victims advocate, which is required by the diocese's sexual abuse policy.

Nor did she say if the reported abuse was said to have occurred on or off church property.

Seeking information about any other abuses the accused McNamara may have committed while here, the diocese in August published notices in the bulletins of Christ the King and St. Patrick's, Bagg-Morgan said. She said she was unaware if any of those notices elicited responses.

Both parishes referred all questions to the diocese.

Bagg-Morgan said it is too early to provide details about the other case, which was reported to the diocese more recently. She would not describe the nature of the abuse reported in that case, or if it involved clergy, lay people, adults or children.

The diocesan response team will be meeting on Monday to discuss that case, Bagg-Morgan said. It would be "premature" to publicly discuss that situation beforehand, she added.

On Monday, however, Galeone told The Times-Union that the second case also is an old one.

"They're from the past ... nothing recent," Galeone said of the two cases.

In both situations the diocese has followed its own procedures and a national policy adopted by the nation's Catholic bishops in 2002.

Meeting in Dallas in June of that year, the bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in response to the church sexual abuse scandal growing at that time. The charter calls for the immediate removal from public ministry of any priest who has ever sexually abused a child and requires participating dioceses to report abuse allegations to authorities.

Galeone said that policy is being followed in both cases.

"Are we meeting the victims' needs? Yes," Galeone said. "We've followed the Dallas charter to a 'T.'"

The diocese already had an abuse policy when the bishops approved the Dallas charter. The diocese procedures also require immediate notification of authorities, an internal investigation and aggressive measures to minister to the needs of victims. The diocese also fingerprints and performs background checks on all prospective volunteers and employees, including priests, whether or not they will be working directly with youth, Galeone said.

This month, the diocese will be visited by auditors who will study its abuse policies and how well it adheres to them, Galeone said. Bagg-Morgan said those investigators will first report their findings to the bishop before publishing the results in February.

Galeone said the diocese passed its first audit in August 2003 "with flying colors" and expects to do so again.

The diocese's background check procedure has worked very well so far, he added.

"The background checks to date have had no red flags at all, not one," Galeone said. "And that includes ... thousands of diocesan employees and volunteers that have had to submit to the background check."


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