Documents Show Flaws in Church Inquiry
A Panel's Investigation of a Priest Accused of Misconduct Appears to have been Tainted by Bias and Conflicts of Interest

By Matthew Doig
Sarasota Herald-Tribune [Florida]
November 17, 2002

The item in the Oct. 13 edition of the St. Martha Catholic Church bulletin was clear: Father Carl Bartholomew was an innocent man.

Allegations that he'd molested a teenage boy eight years ago, when Bartholomew was a chiropractor and not a priest, were false, it said.

The five-paragraph blurb painted the accusers as liars who refused to cooperate with the church investigation.

"We wish the choicest blessings on Fr. Carl in his new apostolic ministries, and we pray that God will soothe the hurt and damage done by these false accusations," the bulletin read.

Parishioners could have faith in this conclusion, pastor Fausto Stampiglia boasts in the bulletin, because it was based on an aggressive investigation. A committee of lay people spent six months reviewing medical records and opinions of medical experts they'd hired, the bulletin said.

But the reality is far from what parishioners read in their bulletins.

The investigative panel Stampiglia created never declared Bartholomew innocent. After interviews with the accuser, his mother and Bartholomew, the committee closed its case and said the truth would never be known because there were no witnesses.

The committee did determine that Bartholomew's explanation -- that the contact with his accuser's genitals occurred as part of a medical procedure -- was plausible. Maybe the boy misinterpreted a valid medical procedure, the panel suggested.

That's not good enough for Anna Keane, the mother of the man who revived his allegations against Bartholomew last April. She accuses the committee of a token investigation designed to exonerate the 61-year-old priest.

"They didn't want to know the truth," Keane said. "They wanted to cover up the truth."

Documents from the committee's investigation, which were faxed to the Herald-Tribune by Bartholomew's attorney, show that the investigation was flawed from the beginning.

Its "primary investigative tool" was a Massachusetts chiropractor who had no experience investigating criminal accusations. Basic techniques used by law enforcement officers, including lie detector tests, were never used.

The makeup of the five-person investigative team, which included a paid investigator and a four-member committee to review his work, also invites questions about its credibility. A psychologist on the committee once analyzed a man who had accused Bartholomew of making sexual advances toward him when he was a teenager. Despite the connection, the committee never explored those accusations, according to the documents from the investigation.

"That investigation wasn't fair," Keane said. "Every single person involved was biased and friends with Bartholomew."

The perception that the Catholic church has protected its priests at the expense of children has been growing around the world as the scandal over abusive priests has spread this year.

The outcry became louder last week, when U.S. bishops approved a revision to the zero-tolerance sex abuse policy they had enacted this summer.

The vote Wednesday revised the zero-tolerance plan to put priests in charge of determining whether there was enough evidence to launch an investigation against one of their own. The process of determining whether an investigation is needed would be kept secret.

Church critics say secret investigations and tribunals like the one in the Bartholomew case should have been identified as the problem, not the solution.

Meanwhile, Stampiglia said the church stands by its findings that Bartholomew is innocent and by the impartiality of its committee.

Bartholomew said any questions about the committee are moot because he's innocent. He points out that the Keanes made their accusations again eight years after they visited Bartholomew's chiropractic office in Bradenton.

"If it was such a big thing, why didn't something come of it at the time?" he said. "When I'm a priest, all of a sudden it's an issue."

The unanswered question

Stampiglia's committee is right about one thing: only Bartholomew and his accuser, Stephen Keane, know what happened on June 8, 1994.

Keane, who is now 25, saw Bartholomew for back and neck pain when he was a 17-year-old senior at Cardinal Mooney High School in Sarasota. He'd been in two car accidents in less than two months, and Keane's insurance company asked him to visit Bartholomew for a medical exam.

During the exam, Keane claims, Bartholomew fondled him and said he had a "body like a God."

Bartholomew doesn't dispute that he touched Keane's testicles. He says the contact occurred during a necessary hernia examination. In a typical hernia exam, the doctor touches the patient's testicles and asks him to turn his head and cough.

"Molestation is the penetration of an orifice," Bartholomew said. "Rubbing testicles is not molestation. Thank God I didn't check him anally."

Keane said Bartholomew's excuse will eventually be exposed as a lie.

"I know what happened. Carl Bartholomew knows what happened," Keane said. "In the eyes of God, he will pay for what he's done."

Anna Keane, a former St. Martha parishioner who now lives in Massachusetts with Stephen, said they never reported Bartholomew because they didn't think anyone would believe them.

"It would just be my son's word against Bartholomew's," she said.

But when priests and sex abuse became a national scandal this year, Keane said her son reminded her of his visit to Bartholomew's chiropractic office. The Keanes said they filed a complaint with the Diocese of Venice in April to prevent more abuse.

The Venice diocese has its own board to review sex abuse allegations, but Bartholomew and Stampiglia are Pallottine priests, a separate order of the Catholic faith.

Bartholomew's Pallottine status kept the Diocese of Venice from using its committee to review the allegations against him. Instead, the Pallottine superior in Rome directed Stampiglia to form an ad-hoc committee.

With no physical evidence or witnesses to verify either Bartholomew's or Keane's story, determining the truth would be tough even for a veteran investigator.

But Stampiglia's committee hired Dr. James Barassi, a Massachusetts chiropractor, to do the work.

Barassi has no experience as an investigative interviewer, but he performed that task on behalf of the committee by interviewing Bartholomew and the Keanes.

Randy Gonzalez, director of the Criminal Justice Academy in Sarasota, said it takes years of education, training and practical experience to become an effective interrogator.

Without that experience, Barassi made errors and assumptions that a trained interviewer would have avoided.

For example, Anna and Stephen Keane were in the room together when Barassi interviewed them, according to the investigative documents. Gonzalez said adults should be interviewed separately.

Barassi failed to ask Bartholomew, a former Sarasota art gallery owner, direct questions about his past and his relationships to find people who could corroborate or refute his story.

"An officer prefers to go into an interview session with as much information as possible," Gonzalez said. "They want to know the complete background."

Instead, Barassi focused almost exclusively on whether Keane's symptoms justified Bartholomew's giving him a hernia exam.

Barassi concluded that Keane had been diagnosed with a spinal condition called a grade I spondylolethesis. He wrote in his report that the condition, which is basically a slight slip of a disc in the lower back, demonstrates "without doubt that there was medical indication for a hernia examination."

Bartholomew, who also has a degree as a medical doctor, called the spondylolethesis a "red flag" that indicated Keane could have other problems such as a hernia.

"When you see one genetic anomaly, there will always be a second," he said. "It's just a normal examination."

But eight chiropractors contacted by the Herald-Tribune disagreed with Barassi and Bartholomew.

Dr. Terry Yochum, the director of the Rocky Mountain Chiropractic Radiological Center in Denver, said there is no reason to perform a hernia examination as the result of a spondylolethesis diagnosis.

"No, there is not a relationship between a spondylolethesis and a hernia," said Yochum, a published expert on spondylolethesis.

Barassi's written opinions, including several inconsistencies between Bartholomew's story and his medical notes, went unquestioned by the committee.

There's no explanation in the committee's summary of why Bartholomew's examination notes don't include a hernia exam or the spondylolethesis he now says convinced him to perform the exam.

Keane says he wasn't suffering from abdominal or groin pain, and there is no mention of either in the "Subjective Symptoms" section of Bartholomew's notes. Chiropractors contacted by the Herald-Tribune said those symptoms would be the only reason for a chiropractor to perform a hernia exam.

Barassi said in a phone interview that he needed to talk to Stampiglia before speaking to a reporter on the record. However, Barassi didn't return repeated calls seeking comment.

Committee loyalties

There is no way to confirm Anna Keane's belief that the committee was stacked. Stampiglia won't reveal the identities of half the panel.

The Herald-Tribune has learned that Barassi was selected to run the investigation by committee member Karen Shields-Wright, a chiropractor from Connecticut.

Shields-Wright is the president of the Association for Catholic Chiropractors and knows Bartholomew professionally. Bartholomew has also been a member of the association.

Shields-Wright declined an offer by church officials to be paid for participating in the investigation. However, she did accept a statue from a Pallottine official and she has permission to spend two nights without charge at the Pallottine headquarters in Rome for her service on the committee.

Shields-Wright would not speak on the record for this story.

The second known committee member is Ed Yarosz, a psychologist from Marietta, Ga., who said he has analyzed deacon candidates for the Diocese of Venice and the Archdiocese of Atlanta for years. Yarosz said that when he agreed to be on the committee, he didn't expect to be paid. But when their investigation was complete, Yarosz said, the members were paid. He would not say how much.

Stampiglia chose Yarosz to serve on the committee despite a direct link between the psychologist, Bartholomew and a second person who had alleged sexual misconduct.

Yarosz knew a boy named [Redacted], who had accused Bartholomew of making sexual advances toward him in 1998.

At Stampiglia's request, Yarosz served as [Redacted]'s psychologist shortly after the boy's visit to Sarasota as a seminary candidate. Such appointments are routinely made.

[Redacted], now 23, is not mentioned in the investigative documents, though Yarosz wrote the summary.

Gonzalez said students at his Criminal Justice Academy take a class called Ethics and Professionalism in which they're taught to keep themselves away from unethical situations.

"Our students are strongly advised that they can't put themselves in a position where there is going to be a conflict of interest," Gonzalez said.

An officer has a "moral, as well as a statutory, obligation to come to his or her superiors and divulge any relationships" that might pertain to an investigation, he said.

[Redacted], who was a Pallottine seminary applicant, met Bartholomew in a chat room on the Internet and accepted his invitation to visit Sarasota and meet with Stampiglia and other Pallottine clergymen in 1998. Shortly after the visit, [Redacted], then 18, told Stampiglia that Bartholomew had sexually harassed him.

Nothing ever came of [Redacted]'s allegations, but he said Stampiglia denied his seminary application because he couldn't mind his own business.

[Redacted] contacted the Herald-Tribune last May after the paper published a story about Keane's allegations against Bartholomew. In telephone interviews and e-mails to two Herald-Tribune reporters, [Redacted] said Bartholomew made a number of suggestive comments, some of them during a drive past North Lido Beach.

"He indicated a grove of pine trees which he called 'the pines' and informed me that if I ever wanted any (homosexual activity) that this would be the place to go," [Redacted] wrote in the e-mail.

[Redacted] contacted the Keanes with the same story and encouraged them to press their case against Bartholomew. Stephen Keane asked [Redacted] in an online chat session to promise he'd tell his story if Bartholomew was brought to court.

[Redacted] responded, "yes ... I want him to fry ... but you'll have to provide my airfare -- I'm a poor student," according to a printed copy of the chat session Keane gave to the Herald-Tribune.

Anna Keane thought [Redacted]'s story added credibility to her son's accusation. But when she mentioned [Redacted] during the church's investigation, she said Shields-Wright told her [Redacted] had been discredited because he'd been caught with child pornography.

The Keanes lost [Redacted] as an ally when he signed a sworn statement recanting his previous allegations against Bartholomew.

"At no time during that trip or at any other time did Fr. Bartholomew sexually harass me or suggest any contact with me of a sexual nature," the affidavit states. "Mrs. Keane has fabricated all of these allegations in their entirety. I have not collaborated with the Keane family and will not do so in the future."

He signed the statement, which was solicited by Bartholomew's attorney, four days after the church committee closed its investigation into Keane's allegations.

Anna Keane suspects that [Redacted] was pressured into signing the affidavit.

Stampiglia said the church had nothing to do with [Redacted]'s affidavit. But the church did have suspicions about [Redacted], and denied him entry into seminary because of them, not because of [Redacted]'s allegations, Stampiglia said.

Stampiglia said that when [Redacted] was being checked for the seminary, he was told by "a good source" of a link between [Redacted] and child pornography."

[Redacted] said he has never been caught with child pornography, so there is nothing that Bartholomew could hold over his head.

[Redacted] said he recanted his accusations because he now believes that Bartholomew's behavior was a test given to every seminary applicant to judge their reaction to homosexual advances.

Stampiglia said that was exactly what happened.

"Our (Pallottine) superior felt something was wrong with him, that he was effeminate," Stampiglia said. "The provincial said, 'Why don't we ask him point-blank?'"

Bartholomew said that because he'd invited [Redacted] to Sarasota, he had the responsibility to be blunt with [Redacted].

"I asked [Redacted], 'If someone in seminary propositioned you, how would you react?' He laughed and said, 'It depends on how good looking he is,'" Bartholomew said. "I admonished him and said, 'That will get you kicked out of seminary.'"

When Yarosz was asked about [Redacted], and why he doesn't appear in the investigation, he said, "I'm not going to talk about him. I can't comment on that."

'Those days are over'

Ties between Bartholomew and the committee Stampiglia created to investigate him might not have been an issue if they weren't Pallottine priests.

Because Pallottines are a separate religious order, their authority to minister comes from a Pallottine superior in Rome, not from Venice diocese Bishop John Nevins.

Stampiglia and the Pallottines were given control of the parish in 1991, at a time when St. Martha struggled to make money. The parish, which now has a successful church and school, has become one of the best in the diocese under Stampiglia's stewardship. St. Martha is still considered a church of the Venice diocese.

The diocese has a Permanent Board of Review that handles allegations of improper sexual conduct and makes recommendations to Nevins. According to diocesan officials, more than half its members are people who don't work for the diocese.

But the diocese process is flawed, according to church critics, because the identities of its members are secret.

Critics of the way Catholic officials mismanaged previous sex abuse allegations have called for more transparency in the church's internal investigations around the world. The era of giving clergymen the benefit of the doubt is over, said Svea Fraser, a founding member of the Voices of the Faithful, one of several Catholic lay organization formed in response to this year's spate of sex scandals.

"Catholics used to just pay, pray and obey. Those days are over," Fraser said. "The wake-up call was when we saw that our children were in danger."

Anonymous committees won't restore the trust that parishioners have lost in their clergy over the past year, Fraser said.

"Secrecy, a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability are the root causes of this whole problem," Fraser said. "We can't just sit back and think of the clergy as perfect icons. They are human, and they have human flaws."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.