Lawyer Asks Bishop to Let Lawsuit Proceed

By Kristen Rasmussen
News Journal [Pensacola FL]
August 9, 2005

An attorney for a Pensacola man who claims he was abused by a priest more than 30 years ago asked Bishop John Ricard on Monday to restore his client's faith by allowing a lawsuit to proceed despite the statute of limitations running out.

The Catholic Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee and Ricard filed a motion on Aug. 2 to dismiss a civil lawsuit brought by Pensacola resident Paul Tugwell, who claims he was abused by Monsignor Richard Bowles in 1971.

But in a direct appeal to Ricard on Monday, Tugwell's attorney, Joseph Saunders of Pinellas Park, asked the bishop to "repudiate" the motion, which argued that the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

Saunders wrote Ricard that the bishop was "charged with the care of souls," including the soul of Tugwell whose faith was "shattered" after he was abused "by a priest whom he admired and trusted."

"He needs you to step in and do the right thing," Saunders wrote. "... Perhaps a man of the Gospel could help restore that faith by doing what is right at this time."

The diocese responded Monday with a written statement, saying it planned to proceed with the "appropriate defense" on the statute of limitations. The diocese's attorney, Al Condon of Pensacola, declined to comment.

In May, Tugwell filed the suit against Bowles, who was a priest at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Pensacola when he allegedly tried to have sex with the then-15-year-old during a trip to Georgia in 1971.

Bowles was a priest at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Pensacola when he resigned in 2003 after he was accused of molesting a boy while he was a priest in Jacksonville in 1969.

Tugwell sued the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee and Ricard, claiming they concealed and mishandled complaints about Bowles' behavior and continued to allow him to serve as a priest in close contact with children.

Pensacola churches were part of the Diocese of St. Augustine before the formation of the local diocese in 1975. Ricard became bishop in 1997.

Saunders said learning all of the details surrounding an alleged sexual abuse incident can prevent similar ones from happening in the future, so the statute of limitations should be ignored.