Abuse allegations against priest leave parishioners, Cocoa Beach residents stunned

By John Mccarthy
Florida Today
August 30, 2018

This is Church of Our Saviour Catholic Church in Cocoa Beach.

[with video]

Parishioners at the Church of Our Saviour and residents of Cocoa Beach were stunned to learn the church's new pastor had been removed following allegations that he molested a minor in Pennsylvania sometime before 2005.

The Diocese of Orlando, which includes Brevard County, announced Wednesday that it had "removed the priestly faculties" of the Rev. David Gillis after it had received notice from church officials in Pennsylvania that Gillis had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor there. A letter from the diocese said the allegations had "at least the semblance of truth."

The Diocese of Allentown said it had provided information to local law enforcement.

Gillis was named pastor of Our Saviour earlier this year.

Brooks Rampersad of Cocoa Beach is one of the church's parishioners who was shocked by the accusations. 

"A number of people I know have been praying regarding the cover-ups in the ministry. I feel the sudden action in this case, on something that has been hidden for over a decade, is a good sign that changes are happening and God is listening to our prayers."

The allegations against Gillis come on the heels of a state investigation in Pennsylvania released this month that identified more than 300 priests who preyed on more than 1,000 children in six Roman Catholic dioceses. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the church "weaponized" the Catholic faith to permit priests to prey upon children for decades with few consequences.

Our Saviour's parish office directed questions about Gillis and choosing his replacement to the Orlando Diocese. The diocese did not immediately respond to a phone message and email from FLORIDA TODAY.

A post on the "Wake Up Cocoa Beach" Facebook page about Gillis' removal sparked a heated conversation with some condemning the entire Catholic Church hierarchy, while others said the actions of individual priests don't reflect on the church as a whole, especially lay members.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the Catholic Church at the top level completely condones this. He had a history, he should never have been allowed to be in that type of position again. He was placed there WITH knowledge by the church," wrote Erin Brody Brydges.

Others acknowledged the clergy sex abuse crisis, while saying they remained true to their faith.

"Many of us love our little Cocoa Beach catholic church and we are heart broken by what is happening," wrote Vicki Baldassare Lockard. "We are parents that would kill anyone that would do that to a child. They should clean house (,) they should hold the bad ones accountable but I will never turn my back on the good ones or my church. Please show our neighbors and the Our Saviours Parishioners some compassion we are all in shock."

Even faithful church members, though, acknowledged the Catholic Church has a long way to go to regain the trust of its members.

"The vast majority of priests are holy and abide by their vows," wrote James Michael Wichlacz. "They too are angered, disgusted and saddened. Another reason this is so sad. Realizing that it is open season on the church, which I understand, means the church has a lot to do to gain back trust."




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