Ex-Lakeland Priest Named in Suit

By Mike Schneider
Associated Press, carried in The Ledger [Lakeland FL]
September 13, 2005

ORLANDO -- Two men sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orlando for negligence Monday, saying they were molested by a priest who had been allowed to continue working in central Florida churches even after a previous allegation of abuse was made.

One of the men claims he was abused at Lakeland's Church of the Resurrection.

Both men, now in their 40s, are seeking more than $5 million each for what they describe in the lawsuits as severe psychological injuries caused by Vernon Uhran in the 1970s.

Uhran was removed from the diocese in 1992 after an allegation of sexual abuse was made against him, said Carol Brinati, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

Brinati said that because the diocese hadn't yet been served with the lawsuits she couldn't comment on them. She didn't know where Uhran currently lives, and an Orlando phone number for Uhran was disconnected.

"Child sexual abuse is criminal and sinful. We remain committed to helping every victim and we pray for all those involved in these situations," Brinati said. "We stand ready to cooperate with law enforcement in any ensuing investigation."

Earlier this year, the Orlando diocese, along with the Diocese of St. Augustine, agreed to pay $1.5 million to three men who claimed they were sexually abused by Uhran and another priest.

In the current suits, one plaintiff, referred to only as John Doe No. 5, claimed Uhran sexually molested him in 1973 at the Church of the Resurrection in Lakeland when he was 9 years old.

Uhran was on the staff of Church of the Resurrection from 1973 to 1976 and also assisted at Santa Fe Catholic High School in Lakeland, according to the diocese.

The Rev. Matthew Mello, pastor of Church of the Resurrection, said Monday he was unaware of the new lawsuit and declined to comment further. He referred all questions to the diocese.

John Doe No. 5 also alleges that Uhran abused him in 1976 at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Belleview.

On both occasions, Uhran had offered to supervise the boy at the churches' rectories while his parents were on vacation.

The other plaintiff, referred to only as John Doe No. 4, said he was an altar boy at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs when he met Uhran. As a 14-year-old, he said, he was sexually abused by Uhran 10 times in 1971 during a three-month, cross-country trip he took with the priest and several other boys.

Both lawsuits contend that allegations of sexual abuse by Uhran were brought to the attention of the diocese early as 1969, yet he wasn't removed from his position and no disciplinary action was taken.

The Orlando diocese has agreed to pay at least $5.7 million to more than three dozen minors abused by more than a dozen priests since 1968.

Ledger religion editor Cary McMullen contributed to this story.