Catholic Diocese of Orlando Ignored Abuse, Lawsuit Says
The Group Is Accused of Allowing a Priest to Work Despite Knowing about the Allegations

By Mark I. Pinsky
Orlando Sentinel
April 26, 2008,0,348757.story

The Catholic Diocese of Orlando knowingly assigned a pedophile priest to two Central Florida parishes in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a suit filed in Orange County Court.

At a small sidewalk news conference Friday outside the Chancery in downtown Orlando, anti-sex-abuse activists from the national organization SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Jose Mena was allowed to continue to act as a priest at Resurrection parish in Winter Garden and Blessed Sacrament in Clermont, despite credible reports that he was sexually abusing altar boys.

The suit alleges that Mena, now 79, abused the plaintiff, 46, when he was a 10-year-old in the early and mid-1970s at Resurrection. For five years, the priest engaged in abuse that "occurred before and after church services on the premises of Resurrection Church, including the living quarters of Father Mena."

Carole Brinati, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese only became aware of the allegations in the past two weeks, when the suit was served.

But according to the suit, "officials of the Diocese of Orlando were aware that Father Mena was engaging in inappropriate relations with boys, but did not prevent Father Mena from engaging in these activities."

The abuse of altar boys began in the 1960s, according to the suit, and church officials were aware of it by 1966 but took no action. Other suits allege that Mena also abused boys in the St. Augustine, St. Petersburg and Venice dioceses, including one filed in 2005 in Manatee.

"Father Mena had been transferred within and among Catholic dioceses to prevent church members from learning of Father Mena's pattern of abuse," according to the Orange County suit.

Brinati said Mena had left active ministry in about 2002, but she did not know whether he had been disciplined. He now lives in a retirement home in Jacksonville, where he could not be reached for comment.

SNAP President Barbara Blaine called on Bishop Thomas Wenski to immediately publicize the charges against Mena throughout the diocese.

Brinati said that diocese policy is to first meet with those bringing abuse charges and, if they seem credible, for the bishop to send a letter detailing the allegations to pastors at parishes where the accused priest served, and to read that letter from the pulpit during Sunday services.

"Our policy says to communicate, not publicize," Brinati said. "We feel it's more important to communicate to the parishes in which the priest served."

On the policy, Blaine said that it was "ridiculous that the diocese has to verify the charges. Victims shouldn't be put through those rigors."

The allegations in the suit should be sufficient to issue warnings and to ask other victims to come forward, she said.

Standing at the fringe of the news conference was the former altar boy who brought the suit, but who did not identify himself to reporters. As church bells from nearby St. James Cathedral sounded, the man said that only after his mother saw a newspaper article about an earlier suit filed against Mena did he think about revealing what had happened.

"I kept it inside," he said. "I didn't want to embarrass my family."

Then, after his father died, he told his mother what had happened.

"I'm trying to get my faith back," he said.

Mark I. Pinsky can be reached at or 407-420-5589.


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