Police Don't Plan Charges against Retired Priest

By Kathleen Chapman
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
May 15, 2002

Police said Tuesday that they would not file charges against retired priest Francis Maloney after interviewing the 17-year-old Catholic high school student whose accusations of sexual improprieties prompted the church to suspend Maloney from active ministry.

The teen, who did household work around the priest's Port St. Lucie home, told police that the 71-year-old priest was found in bed with another man, talked to him about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, and left out a letter in plain view describing ways to tell whether a teen was gay, Port St. Lucie police Detective John Holman said at a news conference Tuesday.

Though the alleged behavior might be wrong in the eyes of the church, police and prosecutors agreed that Maloney did not appear to break any Florida laws, Holman said.

"We're not here to address the moral issues," Sgt. Robert McGhee said. "We're here to address the criminal issues."

Maloney, the former associate pastor at St. Luke Catholic Church in Palm Springs, was forced into retirement and underwent counseling for sexual activity with a man about three years ago.

He moved to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Port St. Lucie, where he celebrated three Masses a week, according to one church member there. He was suspended from active ministry after the teen, a student at John Carroll High School in Fort Pierce, told his story to diocesan officials two weeks ago.

Sam Barbaro, spokesman for the Diocese of Palm Beach, said Tuesday that the diocese would study the Port St. Lucie police report and then decide whether Maloney can be reinstated.

Barbaro said he could not explain in detail why Maloney was reassigned to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton after he was found to violate the vow of celibacy three years ago, saying only: "Priests are called on to live a chaste life, and if that chaste life is violated, each case has to be evaluated."

Barbaro said he believes Maloney was confined to limited responsibilities at the new parish, but did not know exactly what those were.

Holman, who interviewed the teen with his lawyer, Andrew Pelino, for about two hours last week, said the teen had been friends with Maloney for several years.

The teen said that Maloney made "remarks, comments and questions" to him about homosexuality and the Catholic Church, Holman said. But the conversations could not be characterized as sexual advances, the detective said.

Holman said the teen saw the priest naked as the priest changed clothes in another room, but that the priest did not "walk around nude" in front of the boy. The teen also told Holman that the priest left an opened letter describing how to tell if a teen is gay in a place where the teen could see it, but that the letter did not identify any teen in particular.

None of those alleged actions constitutes a crime, Holman said. "There was no touching, no asking to be touched," he said. "He never asked for any favors. . . . There was nothing to indicate any outright sexual activity."

Pelino differed with the detective on some points.

"We are continuing our investigation, but it is our belief that Father Maloney did in fact make inappropriate sexual advances and did intend to seduce our client into having a homosexual relationship," Pelino said.

Whether that constitutes a crime is up to police and prosecutors, Pelino said. But Pelino believes that Maloney violated civil and moral laws.

Pelino said that Maloney told the boy not to tell anyone that he was working at the priest's house. Maloney initiated the conversations with the teen about homosexuality in the Catholic Church, asking outright whether he had sex with a man, Pelino said.

Pelino said the priest intentionally exposed the teen to the letter, which Pelino said contained graphic sexual content. He also left pictures of naked men where the teen would find them, Pelino said, and did walk around the house in "what amounted to a Speedo," and was completely naked on one occasion.

The letter, which was on stationery with the name of the Rev. Donald Whipple "counsels Father Maloney on how to seduce our client." The writer also details a graphic sexual encounter with "what appears to be a complete stranger," Pelino said.

Pelino said he did not want to release the letter at this point, but quoted the line: "You must know you are probing to find out if he has gay leanings."

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. No details of the two non-consensual relationships were provided.

Holman said he hopes to interview Whipple and Maloney, who have not returned his calls.

Maloney has 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 only six to eight months, he said.

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


UNPUBLISHED CORRECTION: Fr. Maloney is a retired priest living in his own home in Port St. Lucie. He was never assigned to Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, nor does he live at the parish. Upon taking up residence, he offered to assist at the parish on weekends only. He was never assigned there by the diocese.


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