State Attorney Won't Charge Accused Priest

By Bill Heery
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
June 24, 2003

LAKELAND - The Polk County State Attorney's Office said Monday there is insufficient evidence to charge a former Lakeland priest with lewd conduct on a 12-year-old girl.

But in his report, Assistant State Attorney J. Kevin Abdoney said there are "clear indications that the suspect has engaged in inappropriate conduct with regard to sexual affairs with adult women which have caused tremendous hardship upon their families."

The Polk County Sheriff's Office in March filed a complaint with the state attorney's office, alleging the Rev. Peter Uniowski of St. John Neumann Catholic Church with lewd conduct on a child, a second-degree felony. A conviction could mean a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

When the allegation was made, Uniowski, 52, who was appointed founding pastor of the church in 1988, was placed on administrative leave, said Carol Brinati, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Orlando, which encompasses Polk.

In a news release Monday, the diocese said Bishop Norbert Dorsey alerted the Diocesan Response Team to the allegation when it was brought to his attention, and Uniowski agreed to an evaluation at a licensed facility. Dorsey will comply with resulting recommendations and again present the case to the response team for final recommendations, the release said.

"The evidence in this case amounts to the child's word against the suspect's word," Abdoney wrote in his report. "While it can not be said that the allegations in this case are false, there is simply not enough evidence to prove them beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt."

Abdoney said if further evidence is developed within the three-year statute of limitations, the state will consider reopening the investigation.

The 12-year-old girl told a forensic specialist on the Child Protection Team in Bartow that Uniowski was "stalking" her family, which belongs to his church. She said he visited their house several times a week when just she and a younger sister were home, the report says.

The girl told investigators Uniowski made her sit on his lap facing him and and kissed her neck. On that occasion, she said, Uniowski placed his hands on her waist and rubbed his cheek against hers.

On another occasion, the child said, she was in bed when Uniowski entered her room, lay beside her on top of the covers and kissed her lips.

Uniowski denied kissing the child on her lips, having rubbed her back or having lain in her bed, the report says. "He stated that the child must have misinterpreted something he did, but he could not specify any particular incident that would have confused her," the report says.

Investigators, with the cooperation of the Orlando diocese, obtained information about previous complaints against Uniowski, the report says. None of those complaints included child sexual abuse by Uniowski but indicated a similar behavior pattern toward other families in his congregation, the report said.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Uniowski was ordained in Orlando in 1975. He served parishes in Daytona Beach, Fort Pierce, Titusville and Ormond Beach before coming to Lakeland.


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