Priest Denies Sexual Abuse Allegations

January 21, 2009

LEE COUNTY: A former Fort Myers priest accused of sexual abuse against a child offered a defiant denial of those charges. Father Ronald Jean Joseph says the allegations are false and Wednesday, he told his side of the story for the first time.

Father Ronald Joseph was greeted with overwhelming support from friends, family and parishioners as he walked into Holmes Beach City Hall.

Supporters held white roses as a symbol of solidarity and the belief in Father Joseph's innocence.

The diocese is investigating allegations he molested a then 16-year-old boy in 1993 at St. Frances Catholic Church in Fort Myers.

Father Joseph says he did nothing wrong.

"I didn't do anything to anybody," he said.

Father Joseph says the allegations include touching a boy's private parts during a sleepover at the church.

He says the sleepover never even happened.

"The news was a surprise and a disappointment," said Father Joseph.

He took aim squarely at the diocese itself, saying he's been treated guilty from the start and the diocese is siding with the accuser.

He even told the crowd he's been suicidal over the allegations.

"I did not do what they say I had done," he said.

Hundreds of supporters signed a petition claiming Father Joseph's innocence.

"I don't know anyone who knows Father Ron who thinks he could even do anything like this," said parishioner Peg Morrison

But some are concerned public displays like this one will only force more abuse victims into silence.

"Molesters aren't black and white. They're not all good, they're not all bad. That doesn't mean he didn't molest a child," said Barbara Dorris of SNAP – Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

SNAP members handed out fliers telling people to have an open mind. But supporters and Father Joseph say their mind is made up and that the allegations are false.

Listed below you can read questions we asked officials with the Diocese of Venice regarding Father Joseph.

Reporter: Father Joseph has alleged that he has been treated like he was guilty from the start. He questions whether the Diocese of Venice followed Church policy in identifying him as a target of the investigation.

Diocese: We are very sorry that Fr. Joseph feels that way. The Diocese made very clear in its announcement to the parishes and the subsequent statement to the press that Father Joseph denies the allegation and strenuously maintains his innocence.

Although he has been removed from public ministry while the investigation is conducted, Father Joseph should continue his prayer life. In addition he continues to receive his salary and benefits.

The Diocese takes such accusations of abuse extremely seriously and there is a process in place to deal with this.

In cases of child sexual abuse, the Diocese does not and will not enter into confidentiality agreements.

We must be open and transparent when an allegation is made to inform the parish communities directly affected by this. Our concern is whether or not there are other victims who need help.

The alleged victim had the courage to come forward, so the Diocese has an obligation to pursue this with utmost concern and respect for the individual’s privacy.

Reporter: When will the investigation be completed?

Diocese: The diocesan review process is not finished, it takes time. This is a very serious matter and the Diocese is not rushing to a conclusion.

We are concerned about the well-being of both parties involved – the person making the accusation and Father Joseph. It is our responsibility to get to the bottom of this.

Reporter: And when will it be forwarded to law enforcement?

Diocese: It has not been determined that a crime has been committed.

Reporter: During today’s forum the attorney for Fr. Joseph brought up a recent letter received with the quote "the allegation is credible." Can you address this?

Diocese: Diocesan policy requires that the results of an investigation and recommendations made by the Diocesan Review Board be made known to the person being accused.

This is standard procedure when an allegation of sexual abuse is brought forward. If you have been informed that such a letter has been received, then it is so.


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