Former Orlando-area Priest Accused of Sex Abuse

By Walter Pacheco
Orlando Sentinel
January 14, 2010,0,7524009.story

Lawsuit alleges the former priest, who has faced sexual battery charges in the past, had raped a Winter Garden altar boy in the mid-'70s.

A former Orlando-area priest and the Catholic Diocese of Orlando now face another lawsuit that accuses him of sexually abusing an underage boy more than 30 years ago.

But it's unclear what will happen with the most recent suit because the former altar boy reached an out-of-court settlement with the Catholic Diocese of Orlando before the suit was filed in December, the man's lawyer said late Thursday.

The lawsuit filed in Orange County in December accuses former Catholic Diocese of Orlando priest Jose Mena of performing sex acts on an altar boy he had befriended in the mid-1970s while serving the congregation at Resurrection Catholic Church in Winter Garden.

The suit says diocese officials failed to "ensure his safety, care, health and well-being" and that the priest was transferred to other churches "to prevent church members from learning of his pattern of abuse."

Mena served in four parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, according to a diocese spokeswoman: Epiphany in Port Orange and St. Paul in Daytona Beach in the 1960s; Resurrection in Winter Garden in the 1970s; and Blessed Sacrament in Clermont in the 1980s.

"We cannot explain why the Plaintiff's counsel chose to file the complaint and we regret that the Plaintiff's lawyers insensitively chose to disclose the name of the victim because the victim wanted to protect his privacy and that of his family," spokeswoman Carole Brinati wrote.

The Orlando Sentinel is withholding the name of the plaintiff because he was a minor at the time he is accusing the priest of abusing him.

Mena, now 81, left active ministry sometime around 2002, according to earlier news reports.

The former altar boy's suit is the latest faced by Mena. He faced similar allegations of sexual abuse in 2008, as well as others in St. Augustine, St. Petersburg and Venice dioceses, including one lawsuit filed in 2005.

A lawsuit filed in February 2008 accused Mena of having sexually abused a boy at the Winter Garden church for five years in the mid-1970s. Records show that lawsuit, as well as one filed in June 2008 saying Mena abused a different boy at St. Paul, are still pending.

The February 2008 suit also says Mena had been abusing boys since the 1960s and that church officials were aware of his activities by 1966 but took no action.

Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office spokesman Randy Means said the statute of limitations on some of these cases has already run out, unless they happened when the victim was 12 or younger at the time of the incident. That is not the case with the lawsuit filed in December.

The latest allegations came to light after a man, now 42, recounted abuse after having counseling in February 2008.

"It was not until that time that he was able to recall these horrific events of his childhood and began to understand their devastating effect on his life," his lawsuit says.

Brinati, the spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, which serves Orange and eight other counties, said in a statement that the "Diocese of Orlando had amicably settled this matter well before the complaint was filed."

She didn't disclose settlement terms.

W. Clay Mitchell Jr., an attorney with the Orlando-based law firm Morgan and Morgan, the former altar boy's lawyer, said Thursday he was unaware of whether his client settled the case on his own before filing his lawsuit.

He learned of the out-of-court settlement on Thursday, he said. He told the Orlando Sentinel he was trying to reach his client.

The man seeks more than $15,000 in damages, the statutory minimum for a civil suit in circuit court.

"That this allegation of abuse occurred more than 30 years ago does not lessen the horror we feel at this betrayal of trust and the harm caused to the victim. We pray for the victim and family,'' Brinati's statement said. "We remain committed to helping any victim, and we make every effort to ensure the safety of our vulnerable populations. We pray for all those involved in these situations."

Mena's last known residence, in 2005, was Jacksonville. The Florida Times-Union reported in April 2008 that Mena's whereabouts where unknown and he may have moved to Europe, possibly returning to his native Spain.

Sarah Lundy contributed to this report. Walter Pacheco can be reached at or at 407-420-6262.


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