Cops Net Priest in Sex Case
A Catholic Priest Used a Computer to Set up What He Thought Would

By George Coryell
Tampa Tribune
February 11, 1997

Clearwater - A Sarasota Catholic High School chaplain came to town to have sex with a 13-year-old boy Monday, according to Clearwater police.

Instead he found Clearwater detectives who charged him with one count of attempting to commit a lewd or lascivious act with a minor, said Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor.

Father Jeremiah Michael Spillane, 43, who lives at the Incarnation Catholic Church rectory at 2929 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota, approached a person whom he believed to be a 13-year-old boy on the Internet about a month ago, Shelor said. Instead, he was corresponding with Detective Chuck Esposito, who has become a national authority on computer sex crimes.

"Unlike a lot (of suspects) in the beginning, he didn't start off with blatant sexual dialog," Esposito said. "It was a seduction, like a slow buildup like between a man and a woman he likes."

Esposito said when Spillane first contacted him on the America Online computer service, he did not say he was a priest. Instead, he indicated that he was a counselor of sorts and talked to "a lot of teenaged boys," Esposito said.

Spillane inquired about the boy's sexual orientation and in later messages professed his love, Esposito said.

Finally, police say, Spillane told Esposito over the computer that he wanted to meet to engage in sexual acts and set a meeting at the Mobile station at Hercules Avenue and Sunset Point Road for 5:30 p.m. Monday. Spillane serves as a priest at the Incarnation Catholic Church and as a chaplain or guidance counselor at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota under the Venice Diocise.

Esposito said Spillane was ordained in 1986 in Rome. He has no prior convictions or charges for sex crimes, Esposito said.

Although Spillane is from an outside diocese, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have seen a spate of improper behavior from priests during the past year: - In January, the resignation of the Rev. James Russo, 51, was announced at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Dunedin. According to the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, an "episode of misconduct occurred many years ago" between Russo and an unidentified minor. - Early last year, the Rev. Rocco Charles D'Angelo, who served three churches in the diocese between 1970 and 1993, was named in several lawsuits by former altar boys who say he molested them. He is now retired and in ill health. - In September, the Rev. Simeon Gardner, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Lutz, resigned after the diocese discovered funds missing and reported that Gardner had said he diverted up to $ 300,000 from four church accounts to a man with whom the church says he had been sexually involved. A grand theft charge is pending against the 70-year-old priest. - Also in September, the Rev. Patrick Clarke, pastor of Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor, was placed on paid leave after the bishop learned he had been secretly married for 15 years. No announcement has been made on whether Clarke will leave the church or his wife.

The Venice Diocese could not be reached for comment Monday night.


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