Priest Removed from Lakeland Parish; Allegatons Claimed the Rev. Peter Uniowski Behaved Improperly

By Cary McMullen
The Ledger (Lakeland, FL)
July 1, 2003

LAKELAND — Although he was never arrested or charged with a crime, the Rev. Peter Uniowski lost his job over the weekend.

Uniowski will not return to St. John Neumann Catholic Church, the parish he led since the church was founded in 1988. A letter from Bishop Norbert Dorsey of the Diocese of Orlando was read at Masses on Saturday and Sunday, announcing that he has removed Uniowski and replaced him with the Rev. Frank Buck, the assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Lakeland, effective July 8.

Buck is on temporary assignment at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Orlando and could not be reached for comment Monday. He has also been assistant pastor at St. Ann Catholic Church in Haines City.

Uniowski had been suspended by the diocese since March 17, pending an investigation into allegations he had engaged in sexually suggestive behavior with a 12-year-old girl.

On June 23, the Polk County State Attorney's Office announced the results of the investigation. In its report, the State Attorney's Office gave details of the allegations but said Uniowski would not be prosecuted because they could not be corroborated.

Uniowski denied inappropriate contact with the girl took place, but he told investigators he had visited the girl on several occasions when she was home alone with a younger sibling, according to the report.

Under a diocesan policy, priests accused of sexual abuse of minors are suspended and sent for psychological examination while a criminal investigation is carried out. A Diocesan Response Team then conducts its own inquiry and makes a recommendation to the bishop about the priest's status.

In his letter to the parish, Dorsey said that he learned of the state attorney's report from local reporters. He then convened the Response Team to review the information.

"You have been very patient during this difficult time and, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your prayers and support... I think it best for all concerned that Father Peter not return to ministry at St. John Neumann," the letter said.

The letter did not say whether Uniowski would be assigned elsewhere or face further discipline. An e-mail from Carol Brinati, the diocese's director of communications, said Dorsey would meet with Uniowski soon to discuss his situation. In a separate e-mail, Brinati said the diocese would have no further comment beyond Dorsey's letter.

Phone calls to Dave Wendel, a deacon at St. John Neumann, were not returned Monday.


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