Florida Diocese Hides Abuse Even During a 2020 Criminal Investigation

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2021 | Catholic Church

And in the category of Most Secretive Florida Catholic Diocese, the award goes to. . . .St. Augustine!

Records obtained by law enforcement, show that St. Augustine diocesan officials hid recent abuse reports against a priest, EVEN IN THE MIDDLE OF A STATEWIDE ATTORNEY GENERAL INVESTIGATION into church abuse and concealment cases.

And the records contain the names of several credibly accused predator priests whose identities would have almost certainly remained secret if not for that Attorney General probe.

Remember, it was nearly 20 years ago that every U.S. bishop pledged to reform their mishandling of abuse reports, a pledge often honored only in the breach. This pledge, it turns out, was apparently easier for them to make than to uphold.

While the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution was investigating the Catholic abuse scandal just a year ago, a St. Augustine priest – Fr. D. Terrence Morgan – was under investigation by a local police department for a lewd and lascivious act on a child, including allegations he grabbed a child’s butt and sent sexually explicit text messages.

Did St. Augustine Bishop Felipe Estevez share that report with the AG’s office? Nope.

Here are more details:

In 2019, St. Augustine police interviewed Fr. D. Terrence Morgan and his former pastor Fr. Tom Willis.  Fr. Willis admitted he got complaints about Fr. Morgan’s ‘boundary issues’ and he relayed them to his church superiors in 2017.

Fr. Morgan told investigators he’d had “inappropriate contact with a male student” and had “a relationship with two 19-year-old men” but denied any sexual contact with them.

Again, in 2019, St. Augustine’s bishop and his staff – virtually all of them – knew the Florida AG was looking into clergy sex crimes. But not a single person called or wrote the investigators.

Nor did the church hierarchy tell investigators with the Office of Statewide Prosecution about an allegation Fr. Morgan had a sexual relationship with a teenager in 1977.

According to a news account: “The report was filed with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in September 2020 during the state’s investigation.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution didn’t publish its findings until November 2020. The next month, finally, St. Augustine diocese told parishioners the next month there were allegations against Fr. Morgan with a “semblance of truth” and the diocese was conducting a canonical investigation.

The files obtained from the Diocese of St. Augustine have internal investigative documents, emails and notes from cases involving Fr. Thomas McNamara, Fr. Richard Bowles, Fr. William Malone and Fr. William Weinheimer — all credibly accused of sexual abuse. Noticeably missing from the records are files on Fr. John H. Dux, a priest named in the state’s probe of sex abuse in the church and who the Diocese of St. Augustine reported was credibly accused of molesting a child in 1976.

(Morgan taught at Bishop Kenny High School and worked at Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. He retired in 2019.)

(At least three clerics on that list are still alive: Fr. Dux, Jr., Fr David McCreanor and Fr. Michael E. Morse )

Just three months ago, the AG’s final investigation was published. It named 97 priests across Florida who were credibly accused of sexual abuse.

But given how St. Augustine church officials kept silence about allegations against Fr. Morgan, we can’t help but believe that the AG’s report just scratched the surface of abuse here. And we tremble when we think of how many other child molesting priests, brothers, bishops, seminarians, nuns, monks and lay employees have been accused of abuse and are still being protected by Catholic authorities.