Symons Left Cash for Priest's Victim, His Mother Claims

By Dan Moffett and Eliot Kleinberg
Palm Beach Post (Florida)
June 5, 1998

The plain business envelope was waiting at the reception desk of the bishop's chancellery each week during the late summer of 1995.

Written on the white paper was the name of a former altar boy from Boynton Beach who was struggling to overcome the torment of his childhood.

Inside was $ 125 cash that was supposed to help him do it.

The money was left by Bishop J. Keith Symons, head of the Palm Beach Diocese. He told the troubled man's family it came from his heart and out of his pocket. The parents told him another priest had assaulted their son, and Symons said he wanted to help.

"He said he was giving it because he liked our son," said the man's mother. "He said he was a good boy and wanted to help him out. I never believed that. I thought the whole thing was a coverup."

As Symons was making the weekly payments, the mother's two sons, now in their 30s, were giving prosecutors sworn statements in a lurid sexual molestation case in St. Petersburg.

The Rev. Rocco Charles D'Angelo was being accused by five former altar boys of assaulting them in the 1960s and 1970s. The boys said in court papers that D'Angelo abused them while he was at St. Mark's Church in Boynton Beach. Records show D'Angelo admitted being a molester, sometimes assaulting boys while wearing his priestly vestments.

Symons was the chancellor of the St. Petersburg diocese from 1971-81 when D'Angelo was moved there from Miami. Symons was the keeper of the paperwork, the official church records. He was the administrator who admitted receiving a letter describing D'Angelo's history as a pedophile in South Florida.

"Symons was the man who brought D'Angelo to St. Petersburg," said Kevin Sidaway, a 42-year-old Lake Worth mail carrier who was one of D'Angelo's victims. "He was responsible for allowing him to continue the molesting."

D'Angelo lawsuit settled

Joseph Divito, general counsel to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, did not return repeated telephone calls Thursday. Symons, church officials say, is undergoing psychological treatment at an undisclosed site.

On Tuesday, he resigned as bishop of the Palm Beach Diocese, admitting he - like D'Angelo, his subordinate - had molested altar boys decades ago.

Symons' departure comes a week after Sidaway announced he'd settled a lawsuit against the church in the D'Angelo case. Sidaway is one of at least eight men who say the priest molested them.

Sidaway sued Symons, the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Archdiocese of Miami in 1996. In court documents, the church later admitted to the sexual assaults and to placing D'Angelo in treatment. The church admitted promising victims' parents the priest would be sent where he could not bother children; instead, D'Angelo spent 25 years in the Tampa Bay area.

"This person was allowed to work in different parishes around St. Pete and work with children," said Sheldon Stevens, an attorney for Sidaway and other victims. "Symons was totally aware. He hid it from people like the church always does."

As chancellor in St. Petersburg for more than a decade, Symons compiled "the professional psychiatric evaluations that at the time clearly demonstrated the fitness of Reverend D'Angelo to serve as a priest," he said in a statement to The Palm Beach Post for a 1996 story about the D'Angelo case.

In November 1975, D'Angelo had been in St. Petersburg for seven years and wanted his affiliation officially transferred from Miami, according to church documents.

Symons wrote Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll of Miami; the Miami chancellor wrote back to Symons' supervisor, the bishop of St. Petersburg, explaining the circumstances of D'Angelo's departure from South Florida.

"Archbishop Carroll trusts that at the time of Father D'Angelo's transfer to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, you were made fully aware of the facts of the case," the letter said.

'He said he knew nothing'

The Boynton Beach mother, who asks that her name be withheld, said her son went to the Palm Beach Diocese in the summer of 1995 after decades of emotional problems. Symons paid him about $ 725 cash in all in weekly installments for therapy. He left it at the desk outside his office at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola on Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens.

"Symons told us he had never heard any bad reports about D'Angelo," the mother said. "He said he knew nothing."

Citing pastoral confidentiality, Symons declined comment three years ago when the payments were being made and later when they were mentioned in sworn statements to prosecutors.

Three suits remain pending against the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Sidaway, who was first to come forward as victim and plaintiff, has settled his suit against the church out of court. He is continuing a separate case against D'Angelo, who is retired and believed to be in a Maryland psychiatric hospital.

"My vindication comes in the terms and conditions of my settlement because it will help other children," Sidaway said. "My validation comes from Symons having to resign because he was an admitted child abuser. I believe the church is corrupt."


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