Couple, Daughter Sue Brandon Priest

By Barbara Johnson
St. Petersburg Times [Florida]
November 3, 1987

Tampa - A rift simmering for several years between the former music directors of a Catholic church in Brandon and a parish priest has boiled over into Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The music directors, who were fired in June, filed a lawsuit late Friday charging numerous abuses by the priest.

None of the principals in the case - the music directors, their daughter, the priest and the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg - would comment Monday on any of the allegations.

But three witnesses identified in the complaint indicate that at least one of the allegations may be exaggerated.

The lawsuit was filed by Dallas and Elisabeth Pavone and their daughter, Alice, now 20.

They accused the priest, the Rev. James Lara of the Church of the Nativity, of repeatedly touching and making sexual advances toward Alice beginning in 1981 when she was 14, and of defaming, publicly humiliating and abusing her parents.

The Pavones also named Bishop W. Thomas Larkin because they claimed the diocese has known for years of Lara's "penchant for such sexual exploitation of young ladies," and that the church has received other complaints of sexual misconduct by him.

Dave McNamara, director of information for the diocese, on Monday called Lara an "excellent priest."

The diocese "never had a complaint against the priest. The priest has been here 25 years," McNamara said.

The Pavones' attorney, John Chamblee Jr., said no criminal charges are being pressed by the Pavones. He said the Pavones heard their daughter's allegations for the first time last fall.

The lawsuit says the Pavones were fired by Lara on June 2 after seven years of employment at the church. It blames Lara for allegedly damaging the Pavones' professional reputations, affecting their ability to find work.

According to the lawsuit, Lara over the past three years called the Pavones various derogatory names - such as alcoholics, incompetents, gluttons and unfit parents - to their faces and in front of their children and other members of the congregation.

But three of four church chorale members who the lawsuit claims were present June 1 when Lara allegedly called the Pavones derogatory names said he did not do so. The church members, John Jeter, I. C. Brady and Judy Akins, said they met with Lara to see if he would give Dallas Pavone a good recommendation so he could find a new job, but that the priest never used the words "alcoholic" or "incompetent" as alleged.

A fourth person named in the lawsuit as a witness to that episode could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit also contends that Lara ordered the Pavones to read aloud during five Masses in front of a total of about 6,500 parishioners a statement Lara wrote for them confessing the Pavones' alleged wrongdoing and apologizing to the congregation.

The public humiliation was so great, according to the lawsuit, that several church members walked out. Church member Brady confirmed that the public confession had taken place and that some of the chorale members found it degrading for the Pavones.

McNamara, the diocesan spokesman, said a priest ordering a public confession "would not be a normal practice, I would think."

In a battery count, Elisabeth Pavone contends Lara has hit, shoved and poked her, at times leaving bruises.

Asked why his clients would endure such treatment, Chamblee said, "It's just a matter of doing what you have to do."


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