Palm Beach Diocese Pulls 2 Priests' Duties

By Kathryn Quigley
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
April 21, 2002

A Palm Beach County priest who worked for a South Florida charity was relieved of his duties Monday by the Diocese of Palm Beach. As of last week, the Rev. Matthew Fitzgerald can no longer practice as a priest.

Diocesan spokesman Sam Barbaro would not comment Saturday about why Fitzgerald was relieved of his duties. The diocese expects to release a statement about Fitzgerald Monday, he said.

In an unrelated case, Palm Beach Diocese officials also acknowledged last week that they dismissed a Royal Palm Beach priest in 1995 after a man accused him of sexual abuse. The Rev. Thomas DeVita has since moved to the Kalamazoo Diocese in Michigan.

Fitzgerald worked for Food for the Poor, a Deerfield Beach-based charity that provides aid to the Caribbean and Central America. Angel Aloma, executive vice president of the charity, said that the charity had no problems with Fitzgerald but that he needed to be able to function as a priest for his job.

The interdenominational charity uses more than 65 priests and ministers, who go to churches across the country to speak about Food for the Poor. Fitzgerald also helped solicit large donations.

All the priests who work for the charity come with a letter from their bishop, Aloma said. Fitzgerald began working for Food for the Poor in May 2000 and had a letter of recommendation from Bishop Anthony O'Connell. Before that, Fitzgerald was in several Palm Beach and Martin county churches. He is now listed as "on leave" in church records.

O'Connell recently resigned as head of the Palm Beach Diocese after allegations of sexual misconduct with seminary students became public.

Since then, charges of sexual abuse about other priests with connections to Palm Beach County have come to light, including the acknowledgement of claims against DeVita.

DeVita celebrated Mass and had other duties at St. Rita in Wellington and Our Lady Queen of Apostles in Royal Palm Beach from June to October 1995, Barbaro said Saturday. During that time, an adult male at Our Lady Queen of Apostles accused DeVita of sexual abuse.

DeVita could not be reached for comment Saturday.

In 1998, Newsday published an article detailing DeVita's admission of sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old boy in the 1970s. DeVita was transferred to other parishes in the New York area before receiving psychological treatment.

Barbaro said the diocese knew that there was a psychological report on DeVita when he came to Palm Beach County in 1995 and that the report recommended his continued ministry. Barbaro said DeVita was "removed from ministry" in 1995 but wouldn't say whether it was connected to the adult's abuse complaint.

DeVita is now pastor of St. Mary of the Lake in New Buffalo, Mich., and is well-supported by the Kalamazoo Diocese, spokesman Ed Carey said. The Kalamazoo Diocese knew of both allegations against DeVita.

DeVita confessed to abusing the teen in 1998 in an admission to his parishioners in Michigan. He told them the relationship with the teen was consensual but that he "crossed the line."

There have been no similar complaints about DeVita in the seven years he was been a priest in the Kalamazoo diocese, Carey said. The complaint from the parishioner at Our Lady Queen of Apostles "did not seem credible" to Kalamazoo officials, he said.


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