Sex Abuse Charges Levelled against Tampa Priest

ABC Action News
February 13, 2003

Tampa - The Diocese of St. Petersburg is once again investigating one of its own. An allegation of sexual abuse has been made against Father Ignatius Tuoc, pastor of the Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Church and the St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission.

The diocese suspended Father Tuoc almost two weeks ago and has been investigating the charges against him ever since.

The abuse investigation is the first within the St. Petersburg diocese since the national conference of bishops in Dallas. That conference established sweeping reforms to address the crisis of priests abusing children. How it is handled, who investigates, and the ultimate conclusion is being closely watched by an entire congregation, an anxious public, a priest, and his accuser.

Father Tuoc has been a priest in the St. Petersburg diocese for 27 years. Twelve of those have been spent at Epiphany of Our Lord Catholic Church and St. Joseph's Vietnamese Mission.

"The congregation believes that the allegations are false and that father is innocent as he maintains and the congregation is praying for him and hoping that the truth will come forward," church secretary Connie Chiriboga said.

Father Tuoc's accuser, a 26-year-old woman, told ABC Action News the abuse started when she was just a girl of 13 and continued until just a few weeks ago, when she complained to the diocese. She also said she believes there are more victims.

In search of truth, the diocese is no longer using the all-Catholic response team that cleared Father Robert Morris of St. Mary's in Lutz last year. Rather, in the spirit of reform embraced by the conference of bishops, the diocese is introducing the first investigation of a new review board that will handle all allegations of sexual abuse against priests.

In the case of Father Tuoc, unlike previous instances, the diocese maintains it used an outside investigator to make a preliminary assessment. The investigator referred what was uncovered to the review board, and now the review board will conduct further investigations.

The diocese told Action News they have a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abuse, and released a statement saying, "Bishop Robert Lynch, head of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, repeats his call for anyone to come forward who feels he or she has been abused by Reverend Tuoc or any employee of the diocese."

Father Tuoc's attorney has been in contact with Action News and says his client is deeply grieved by this accusation.

Father Tuoc's accuser, who wished to remain anonymous for this story, has filed a complaint with police.


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