State Attorney: Lawmen Will "Look into" Priest Dismissed by Tallahassee Catholic Diocese
By Jeff Burlew and Jennifer Portman
August 17, 2018
|Father Edward Jones as photographed in 2006 at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.|
The Catholic Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee removed a priest of two Big Bend churches after he was accused of inappropriate contact with an underage girl in 2004 when he was serving at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tallahassee.
The diocese announced in a Thursday news release that it received an accusation against Father Edward Jones on Monday, conducted an investigation and found the allegation credible. As a result, the diocese removed Jones as pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Crawfordville and Sacred Heart Parish in Lanark, where he had been working since 2010.
The news appeared to have taken local authorities by surprise. State Attorney Jack Campbell said Friday morning he learned about the allegation earlier in the day from an article in the Tallahassee Democrat. He said he immediately reached out to local law enforcement, state child welfare authorities and prosecutors to see whether there were any ongoing investigations into Jones.
'This is shocking. This is terrible.'
Both the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and the Tallahassee Police Department told the Democrat on Friday morning that there were no open investigations into Jones. The diocese said Friday afternoon that it had reached out to the State Attorney’s Office. Campbell said the allegation will be investigated.
“This is shocking,” Campbell said. “This is terrible. We’re going to look into it. We need to find out what happened and help those who might have been hurt.”
Diocese officials released few details about the allegation. They said the victim reported to church officials a single incident of “inappropriate contact” that happened at Blessed Sacrament on an unspecified date in 2004, when the victim attended the church on Miccosukee Road. The diocese did not release the victim’s age at the time or gender, though sources told the Democrat the victim is female.
Bishop William Wack, in an email to the Democrat, said he felt it was important to announce the news and publicly ask anyone who was abused by Jones or any other priest to come forward. The internal investigation was conducted in accord with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the Catholic Church put in place in 2002 to address abuse by the clergy, and the diocese’s policies and protocols.
“Following the procedures of the diocese that have been in place for many years, I immediately started our investigation and acted when the results were given to me,” Wack said.
In a news release, Wack expressed his sadness over the incident and offered assistance to the victim, her family and friends “who have over the years been affected by the inappropriate behavior.” The diocese later said the victim has not asked for assistance but the diocese remains willing to provide it.
“It is a priority in all of our parishes and schools to uphold the dignity of every person,” the diocese said in its release. “We are deeply saddened when we learn of the alleged abuse of any vulnerable person.”
The allegations against Jones surfaced the same week a statewide grand jury in Pennsylvania released a scathing report exposing decades of systematic sexual abuse and cover-ups in the church. The 900-page report alleged that more than 300 “predator priests” were accused of raping and molesting more than 1,000 kids over a period of seven decades.
The grand jury specifically criticized the use of language by church officials in Pennsylvania to describe sexual abuse by the clergy in its own internal documents. The Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee used some of the same language to describe what happened in the Jones case.
"Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed," the Pennsylvania report says. "It's like a playbook for concealing the truth: First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say 'rape'; say 'inappropriate contact' or 'boundary issues.' "
Possible legal action
Sharmane Adams, a spokeswoman for the diocese, was asked about the church's use of the term "inappropriate contact." She responded by saying, "Based on what the victim told the Diocesan investigator, we used the term 'inappropriate contact' with a minor. Whatever term that is used, sexual abuse or inappropriate contact, if it is true, it is illegal."
The Pennsylvania grand jury report also said that because victims were “brushed aside," nearly every instance of abuse was too old to be prosecuted.
In Florida, the statute of limitations varies depending on factors including the date the crime occurred and underlying facts of the case, Campbell said. In 2015, Florida lawmakers approved and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “43 Days Initiative Act,” which extended some statutes of limitations involving felony sexual batteries to eight years. It was named in honor of a victim who reported a sexual assault 43 days after the statute ran out.
“The statute of limitations could be a potential issue,” Campbell said. “However, it’s not an absolute bar. It’s going to depend on the age of the child and the times and ages of disclosure. That’s why we need to know what the facts are so we can proceed accordingly.”
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church referred questions to the diocese. Jones could not be reached for comment.
Jones' role in the church
According to the diocese, Jones served as parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament from 2003 to 2007 and at St. Thomas More Parish in Tallahassee from 2007 to 2010. He was assigned to the parishes in Wakulla and Franklin counties from 2010 until his removal this week. The diocese said he is no longer a priest with or outside the diocese.
The diocese said a letter will be read at all masses this weekend addressing the Jones allegation. A counselor will be made available after mass at Sacred Heart and Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes to speak with anyone with concerns or questions.
Adams acknowledged that over the past 40 years, there have been allegations and cases regarding other priests, all of which, she said, were resolved.
In 1997, a Quincy priest was relieved of his duties and sent for a medical evaluation after a young man accused him of molesting him when he was a teenager, according to media reports. Two Tallahassee brothers told reporters at the time that they, too, were molested by the priest but that their stories were ignored.
The diocese said it is committed to stopping abuse by clergy members and encouraged any victims to report abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families at 800-96ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) or law enforcement.
Contact Jeff Burlew at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @JeffBurlew on Twitter.