Called to Accountability

Protection of Minors (04-13-2002)

To the faithful people of the Diocese of St. Petersburg,

As Shepherd of the Catholics in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, my tasks are many and the challenges are great. It is my solemn duty to serve the people of God with all my heart and every bit of my energy. Let me assure you that the current situation concerning alleged misconduct with minors is being attended to and will be resolved. I pledge to you that this diocese will emerge stronger for having dealt with this issue.

During my six years as bishop, no priest has been allowed to continue to serve in priestly ministry when credible and substantial evidence has been presented showing sexual misconduct with a minor. Shortly after my arrival, I became aware of credible evidence against certain priests, stemming from misconduct with a minor that occurred many years ago. Diocesan procedures were followed. The priests were suspended pending an investigation.

The results of those investigations substantiated the allegations. Those priests were removed from active ministry and will not return. These cases have been extensively reported in the press.

Allow me to reiterate that we follow diocesan guidelines in examining and evaluating each complaint individually and take swift and appropriate action to effectively deal with the situation. Every allegation of misconduct is taken seriously and receives my personal attention. Diocesan policy requires compliance with mandatory reporting of child abuse. We have conducted training for the staff of our parishes and our schools to help recognize all abuse of children, the mentally handicapped and the elderly. We require all staff to follow the mandate of Florida law for reporting abuse. Complaints of abuse that occurred years ago and are now brought forward by an adult are handled on an individual basis with respect for the confidentiality of the victim.

Whenever it is determined that an employee of the diocese or a priest of this diocese has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor, we will take steps to assist in the healing process for the victims. We continue to encourage them to come forward and make us aware of their situations. We at the Diocese of St. Petersburg respect the victims’ wishes for confidentiality, and will work with them in any way possible. We have always encouraged victims to do whatever is necessary to hasten their healing and well being. We work with them and inform them that they may wish to contact local law enforcement. It is my promise to you that we will continue to do everything we can to see that no child is knowingly placed in a compromising situation.

Please consider that allegations may be untrue and that a person is innocent until proven guilty and all should receive fair and impartial treatment until all facts are known. Having said that, there is no doubt that some allegations may prove to be true.

About five years ago, the Diocese of St. Petersburg established a process for dealing with all such allegations. Prior to that, my predecessor, Archbishop John Clement Favalora, acted in accordance with the guidelines developed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is my firm belief that every credible or substantial claim regarding sexual misconduct with minors of a priest serving the diocese has been fully assessed and appropriate action has been taken. To be certain in my belief, I have ordered a total review of all the files of the active priests of this diocese. I pledge to you that I will take all appropriate action upon completion of that review.

I ask all of you to pray with me for all those who have felt the horrible sin of abuse at the hands of any person of the Church. I also ask you to pray that abuse, as a larger societal problem, will be eliminated.

Your friend in Christ Jesus,
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch
Bishop of St. Petersburg