St. Lucie Priest Removed from Post

By Teresa Lane and Kathleen Chapman
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
May 4, 2002

A priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church has been removed from active ministry after a 17-year-old parishioner told church authorities he discovered the priest in bed with another man.

The Rev. Francis Maloney, who called the teen "very confused," admitted he made some inappropriate statements to him on a topic unrelated to sex but said, "What (the teen) concluded is all wrong." Maloney's dismissal on Thursday comes about three years after he was forced to retire and undergo treatment for engaging in sexual activity with a man while working as an associate pastor at St. Luke Catholic Church in Palm Springs, said Sam Barbaro, spokesman for the Diocese of Palm Beach.

Maloney, 71, said parts of the boy's story reported on a TV newscast were not true. Maloney denied making sexual advances to the teen - a claim the youth made during a TV interview, but didn't mention when recounting his ordeal to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's pastor, the Rev. Edmund Szpieg.

"I asked him point-blank, 'Did he ever touch you or suggest anything sexual?' and he answered no to both questions," Szpieg said. "His story stayed the same both times he told it to me. Then he went on TV and said Father Maloney made sexual advances."

Maloney said he's known the teen for about nine years and hired him in the fall after the youth mentioned he needed money. Maloney paid him "good money" to come over after school, for two hours most days, helping with such odd jobs as trimming hedges and packing up Christmas decorations. But nothing sexual ever happened, he said.

"I made some statements to him that I should not have - not about sex," he said. "He's a very confused boy."

Although the teen called Szpieg about the allegations April 27, he earlier had told a teacher at John Carroll Catholic High School in Fort Pierce, Szpieg said. Diocesan officials directed the teacher to report the accusation to a statewide child-abuse hot line, but Barbaro said the abuse intake officer would not take the report and transferred the call to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, which also refused the call "due to the nature of the allegations," Barbaro said.

Sheriff's spokesman Mark Weinberg said neither his office nor the 911 emergency system has a record of the call, which reportedly was placed about 2 p.m. Wednesday. Police spokesman Chuck Johnson said police hoped to interview the teen Friday but were told he had hired an attorney and would meet with police Monday or Tuesday.

Police are investigating whether a call was placed to the abuse hot line, Johnson said.

"It just fell through the cracks somewhere," Johnson said. "No one's been injured because of this breakdown, and now we have learned of the incident and are moving forward with an investigation."

Szpieg said the teen claimed Maloney walked around in his home naked while the teen was doing housework and had a sexually explicit letter from another priest offering advice on how to interest the boy in a sexual relationship. When the teen returned to Maloney's Bridgeport Drive home to confront him about the letter, he told Szpieg, he found Maloney naked in bed with another man.

Szpieg said he was aware Maloney was helping the youth with tuition at John Carroll but was unaware of the housekeeping job.

"If I had known, I probably would have told him it wasn't a wise idea in this day and age," Szpieg said. "I would never have a young boy clean my house. I wouldn't want the appearance of any impropriety."

Earlier stint at church

Maloney said he was at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton from 1996 to 1999 before returning in early 2001. In the mid-1990s he was at Holy Family Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie for a short time - only six to eight months, he said.

Barbaro said Maloney also served for a time as a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Stuart and St. Juliana Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.

In April, the interim leader of the Palm Beach Diocese, the Rev. James Murtagh, said that confidential church files contained five instances of improper sexual activity between priests and adults but none involving children.

Refusing to name any priests or victims, Murtagh said the five cases primarily involved relationships between priests and women but also included relationships between priests and men.

All but two, he said, involved consensual relationships gone sour. He provided no details of the two non-consensual relationships.

Port St. Lucie parishioners were shocked by the allegations Friday and defended the cookie-baking, pet-loving priest as a jewel at their church, built in 1999.

"He always made a point of getting to know everyone's name and making them feel welcome," said Al Soricelli, a founding member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, which is on Tunis Avenue in southwest Port St. Lucie. "He even made a point to learn the pets' names and ask how Fido was doing when he'd see you. I'm extremely sad, because I'll spill blood to defend that church. It's the most incredible parish you could ask for."

Church member Frank LaMorell said Maloney was always baking cookies and other goodies for the church's bake sales and celebrated three Masses a week.

"I like his whole attitude - friendly and approachable," LaMorell said. "He never acted in a lewd or suggestive manner. I can't believe that."

Szpieg said that he arranged a meeting between the teen and diocesan officials on Wednesday and that after the teen recounted his story, officials asked him what he would like done in light of the incident. The youth said, 'I don't want him to be a priest anymore,' and the diocese complied the next day, Szpieg said.

Szpieg said officials wondered whether the teen needed psychological counseling and were dismayed to hear him tell a TV reporter it was an odd question.

"He had kind of a cocky attitude, and I plan to mention that in my sermons about it this weekend," Szpieg said. "I've given similar sermons when other priests in the diocese were removed for similar allegations. Every time you turn the TV on you hear the same thing. It's wearing on us."


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