Diocese Suspends Three Retired Priests
Bishop John Nevins Says the Alleged Abuse of Minors Took Place Many Years Ago

By Matthew Doig
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
May 29, 2002

Three retired Catholic priests of the Venice Diocese have been suspended because of allegations of sexual abuse.

Bishop John Nevins wrote parishioners that the Revs. Donald Baier, Neil Flemming and William Romero had been barred from ministering, pending the results of a diocesan investigation. The letter was placed in some parish bulletins over the weekend.

Nevins' letter indicates that the alleged incidents involved the abuse of minors and took place "many years" ago. The letter did not give specific dates or any information about where the three men served as priests.

Diocese spokeswoman Gail McGrath said Nevins prefers to reveal additional details by personally writing a story that will appear in the diocesan newspaper Thursday.

McGrath did say that the accusers are now adults, and that one of the alleged incidents occurred more than 30 years ago. "It's important to remember that these allegations are allegations," McGrath said. "The person is innocent until proven guilty."

In a written statement, McGrath added that "the presumption of innocence does not preclude the diocese from taking prudent action before an investigation is completed."

The investigation will be handled by the diocese, McGrath said.

Based on information in a diocesan directory, Flemming once served as pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Fort Myers, and Baier was the vicar of St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach. According to the diocesan Web site, Romero was ordained in 1967 in Miami; no information could be found about where he served.

In the past month, diocesan officials have had to deal with other allegations of sexual abuse:

* The Rev. Carl Bartholomew, a former priest at St. Martha's Catholic Church in Sarasota, is accused of molesting a 16-year-old boy in 1994, when Bartholomew was still a chiropractor.

* The Rev. Absalom Coutinho, a priest at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Palmetto since 1999, was suspended because of allegations of abuse more than 20 years ago in New Jersey.

* Nevins notified parishioners in April that credible accusations had been made against the Rev. Robert Schaeufele of the St. Petersburg Diocese. Schaeufele served as a priest at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice in the late 1970s.

* Church choir director Anthony Battaglia of Fort Myers was placed on administrative leave without pay while the diocese investigates allegations he committed sexual abuse more than two decades ago in New Jersey.


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