Priest Defends Accusations of Sexual Misconduct

January 21, 2009

[with video]

Priest defends accusations of sexual misconduct

HOLMES BEACH - A Manatee County priest is defending himself after facing accusations that he fondled a teenage boy.

The accuser says it happened 15 years ago, when Father Jean Ronald Joseph served in Fort Myers. The accuser says Father Ron invited him to spend the night alone in the rectory.

Wednesday, Father Ron had strong words for his employer, the Diocese of Venice, and the bishop who leads it. In front of a packed room of supporters at Holmes Beach City Hall, Father Jean Ronald Joseph talked in detail about coming from his native country of Haiti, devoting his life to serving the Catholic church and its young people.

Father Ron says when Bishop Frank Dewane, who leads the Diocese of Venice, confronted him with the allegations, he was crushed and angry. He says this was their conversation. "My priesthood, you already took. If you want to take my paycheck and the health insurance, go ahead and do it, because I live in Haiti 22 years without health insurance, 22 years without getting a paycheck. That's all the power you have. Keep it, leave me alone."

The Diocese of Venice says Father Ron voluntarily removed himself from the ministry while the Diocese investigates.

Father Ron's attorney says the investigation is flawed. "We answered every question from the investigator from the church, but when we asked to either interview or ask the person who made the allegations to show they were unfounded, we were denied that. This is totally un-American," says attorney John Fleck.

Father Ron most recently served at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, but Wednesday supporters came from across the Suncoast - including one woman, also from Haiti, whose teenage sons Father Ron also spent time with. "The Father Ron, I know is a fairly nice man. Always try to help out. I don't believe and I don't think he can hurt anybody, because my sons used to be with him all the time," says Marie Claire Joseph.

Members of SNAP, a support group for people who have been abused by priests, wants anyone who thinks they've been abused to report it to law enforcement, not the Diocese.

They have also asked the bishop to urge Father Ron to turn over his passport.

According to Manatee County Sheriff's officials, there is no criminal investigation into Father Ron, but he could face charges, depending on specific allegations.


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