Investigation: Florida Was Dumping Ground for Priests Accused of Sex Abuse
By John Finnerty
December 16, 2020
SOUTHWEST Fla. – Investigators in the Florida Attorney General’s office have completed a two-year investigation into sexual abuse inside Florida Catholic churches, revealing three major findings:
Using 267 tips to a tip line, investigators found 97 Florida priests accused of sexual abuse in Florida.
The investigation did not uncover current, ongoing or unreported sexual abuse by Florida priests.
Investigators found 81 priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse in other states, then transferred, relocated or retired to Florida, sometimes without the knowledge of the Florida churches they were being moved to.
“We had states up north that were passing their problem priests down to us in Florida — and not even telling the bishops down here. And that stinks,” said statewide prosecutor Nick Cox, who then-Attorney General Pam Bondi tapped to run the investigation.
Read the full report here.
Cox was disappointed that, despite finding almost 100 Florida priests accused of sexual abuse, none of them could be prosecuted, either because they had died or because the statute of limitations had run out.
“Whenever we believe someone has committed a crime, we’d like to prosecute them,” Cox said. “The law didn’t allow that here.”
If a victim of sexual abuse did not report the abuse within 72 hours, Florida used to be very restrictive about how long those crimes could be criminally prosecuted. However, during the last legislative session, lawmakers passed “Donna’s Law.”
“Donna’s Law” eliminates any statute of limitations for people younger than 18 who are sexually abused. There is no longer a time limit on criminal prosecution.
That only applies, though, to cases of abuse that happened after July 1, 2020. It doesn’t go backward, meaning none of these priests can face criminal prosecution under the law.
Eugene Rosenquest, a victim of sexual abuse himself, now runs the Florida Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests [SNAP]. He thought the state’s report could have gone deeper.
“Basically, it’s a half-hearted attempt. Disappointing,” Rosenquest said. “It was like a quarter-measure of what has to be done.”
Rosenquest was pleased Florida’s hotline where you could report abuse is staying open. But he wanted current Attorney General Ashley Moody to push churches to better handle their own issues and include material outlining possible signs of abuse.
Adam Horowitz, a Miami lawyer, often represents victims of sexual abuse in court. He too was disappointed in the report, suggesting it merely confirmed what we already know.
“What the report doesn’t touch on is why [the named priests] can’t be prosecuted,” Horowitz said. “They can’t be prosecuted because there was a cover-up in the church. Victims were pressured not to speak out. In some cases, victims were misled. Priests were transferred from one parish to another, where they’d get a fresh start in a clean reputation.”
Among the 97 priests named in the report as having been accused of sexual abuse, nine are from the Diocese of Venice, which serves Southwest Florida.
But in a letter to parishioners, Bishop Frank Dewane notes that none of the nine are still allowed to minister in the Diocese of Venice. Some have died, some were laicized and others had their “priestly faculties permanently removed.”
Dewane adds that the report “is a sad reminder of the harm done in the past to minors by those who had been ordained to serve the Church and care for the Faithful.”
But he was pleased the investigation did not reveal new instances of abuse, according to the letter. Dewane declined ABC7’s request for an interview.
You can still report instances of abuse to Florida’s abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.