Police Say Priest Told of Liaison

By Juli Cragg
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
March 27, 1997

A Catholic priest from Sarasota said he had been sexually involved with boys in Mexico, according to a police detective who posed as a 13-year-old boy and corresponded with him by computer.

A transcript of the correspondence is part of the evidence against the Rev. Jeremiah Michael Spillane in a computer sex crime case.

Spillane was arrested Feb. 10 in Clearwater when he arrived for what was to have been a sexual encounter with the boy.

At the time, the 43-year-old priest was on staff at Sarasota's Church of the Incarnation and was chaplain at Cardinal Mooney High School, where he conducted a weekly Mass.

Before the New York-born Spillane moved to Sarasota in 1995, his 21 years of pastoral experience were spent mostly in schools in Mexico, Spain and Rome.

He has been placed on administrative leave by Bishop John Nevins of the Catholic Diocese of Venice, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

It was the second time within a year that Nevins had placed a priest on leave. Last week, the bishop disclosed that in April 1996 he suspended another priest's authority to minister after learning of allegations that the priest had molested an altar boy at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Port Charlotte. The boy, now a young man, filed a lawsuit in that case last week.

Spillane, who is free on bond, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Clearwater on two charges: attempting to entice a child under the age of 16 to commit a lewd and lascivious act, and seduction of a child by computer.

On Friday, he filed a not-guilty plea, though police say he made a full admission when arrested.

According to the police report, Clearwater detective Chuck Esposito was conducting undercover operations on the America Online computer service when he was contacted by Spillane Jan. 17 in a "chat room."

Esposito, who is assigned to a crimes against children unit, was pretending to be a 13-year-old boy from Clearwater.

Spillane, using the screen name "Jericho190," said he was a single male from Sarasota and listed his occupation as "counsellor, philosophy, anthropology, sociology."

After several exchanges, Spillane and the "boy" discussed arrangements to meet for sex.

Esposito also asked Spillane about prior experiences, typing, "have u ever done this stuff with a guy my age? were they scared or what?"

"In Mexico; no they weren't but because they had been doing it long before I ever had. . . I was the one scared to death," Spillane replied.

"I bet u made them feel comfortable," Esposito wrote.

"I tried but they helped me, actually," Spillane wrote.

Spillane could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Esposito said law enforcement officials plan to contact Mexican police to advise them that Spillane may have been sexually active with boys there.

He said Clearwater and Sarasota County authorities have not learned of any possible victims but are trying to determine whether any of Spillane's other computer correspondents were underage and were victimized. Sarasota County authorities have subpoenaed officials with America Online, he said.

The Diocese of Venice was unaware of the transcript reference to sexual encounters in Mexico, diocesan attorney Victoria Pflug said Wednesday. After speaking with a Herald-Tribune reporter, she said the diocese would obtain a copy of the transcript and notify Spillane's religious order, the Legionaries of Christ.

Pflug said the diocese has received no other sexual misconduct complaints against Spillane.

Spillane was ordained in 1986 in Rome for the Legionaries of Christ, a Mexico City-based order of priests. In February, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant reported that nine men had come forward to accuse the order's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, of molesting them in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when they were boys and young men training to be priests.

The Legionaries run schools around the world. Spillane worked at several of the order's schools, and served in Mexico as a principal from 1974 to 1977 at a school in Monterrey and as vice principal, teacher, chaplain and spiritual director from 1990 to 1995 at a school in Cozumel.

Efforts to speak Wednesday with a Legionaries spokesman were unsuccessful.

The Spillane case is not the only sexual misconduct case to affect the Diocese of Venice.

In the lawsuit filed last week in Punta Gorda, a 20-year-old former altar boy at St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte said that beginning in 1992, he was molested for 21/2 years by a priest who is the younger brother of the church's pastor, the Rev. Nicholas McLoughlin.

The suit accuses Nevins and McLoughlin of negligence and charges that they knew that the Rev. Ed McLoughlin had a history of child molestation yet allowed him to have unsupervised contact with boys. Ed McLoughlin, whom Nevins put on leave, now lives in Ireland.

In a letter read by Nick McLoughlin at weekend Masses at St. Charles Borromeo, Nevins denied any negligence.

The young man claims to have been molested by Ed McLoughlin after coming forward with allegations of being molested by Richard Trepinski, the former director of the Charlotte County BoyChoir, which met at St. Charles Borromeo.

Trepinski was convicted in 1993 of molesting two former choir boys and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In another case, the diocese agreed several months ago to an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit involving a priest who pleaded guilty in 1993 to having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old girl, according to the Fort Myers attorney who filed the suit.

The priest, the Rev. Charles Michael Cikovic, was removed from duties at Fort Myers' St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church after the accusations were made in February 1993.

Cikovic, who had previously served at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Bradenton, pleaded guilty in September 1993 to three counts of sexual battery on a child and one count of lewd and lascivious acts on a child. He was sentenced to six months in jail and 20 years probation. He left Lee County Jail in December 1995.


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