A Parishoners Guide for Catholic Church Reform

by | May 6, 2024 | Catholic Church

Catholic Church Reform Horowitz

If you’re a Catholic in the state of Florida and you’re fed up with how the church hierarchy is or is not dealing with children’s safety, predator priests, and ill-advised secrecy, know you are not alone. If you’re sick of sitting in the pews and feeling helpless, there are ways to help make a difference, and we at Horowitz Law have many ideas. Let’s start with the three best steps you can take.

3 Steps to Take for Church Reform

  1. Contact your state senator and state representative and urge them to repeal or reform Florida’s archaic, arbitrary, secrecy-guaranteeing, and predator-friendly statute of limitations.
  2. Join a group that’s doing something (VOTF-Voice of the Faithful, SNAP-the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, BishopAccountability.org. If you don’t feel like joining, a donation is helpful.
  3. Ask fellow Catholics and ex-Catholics if they ever saw, suspected, or suffered abuse. Most abuse survivors don’t share their experiences unless someone they know and trust gently asks them, “Were you ever hurt as a kid?” Here’s more about why that’s so important- Navigating Difficult Conversations: Why It’s Essential to Ask Loved Ones About Their Childhood Experiences

If you think there’s any chance of ‘reform from within’ or you just want to express your concern for kids directly to a Catholic official, we suggest that you contact these bishops about these specific shortcomings.

  • Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski
  • Palm Beach Bishop Gerald Barbarito
  • Venice Bishop Frank Dewane

They’re among the very few bishops in the US who haven’t disclosed ANY of their credibly accused child molesting clerics on their websites. When one thinks of what states have seen the most predator priest disclosures, arrests, convictions, lawsuits, and settlements, these states usually spring to mind: California, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Those states include 30 prelates who head dioceses (bishops, archbishops, and cardinals). With just two exceptions (San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Worcester Bishop Robert McManus), every single one of these men has revealed the names of their predator priests and keeps those names on his official diocesan website. (No state has a higher number of recalcitrant, still-secretive bishops than Florida.)

Wenski lists some predators’ names but provides absolutely no other information, not where they are or were, when they were ordained, whether they’ve been arrested, prosecuted, convinced, or defrocked, or their current status, like suspended or deceased.

More Bishops to Contact

  1. Contact St. Petersburg Bishop Gregory Parkes. Even though his diocese’s slogan is “Courageously living the Gospel,” he doesn’t have the courage to provide any information about dangerous, potentially dangerous, or once dangerous clerics. Parkes refuses to include even one on his list of ‘credibly accused abusers.’
  2. Contact St. Augustine Bishop Erik Pohlmeier. According to BishopAccountability.org“The diocesan website apparently no longer includes the diocesan (credibly accused abusers) list.” Ask the bishop, “Why did you backslide? Why are you now hiding these names?”
  3. Contact Tallahassee Bishop William Wack. He refuses to provide the titles of about half of his predators, so it’s not clear whether the individuals are priests, seminarians, or monks. He divides his list into two parts: “those who have served at any time in ministry and been credibly accused of sexual abuse and “priests who served in the (diocese) and were credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor or minors.”
  4. Contact Palm Beach Bishop Gerald Barbarito and St. Petersburg Bishop Gregory Parkes. They are the only two Florida bishops who have ‘credibly accused abusers’ lists but won’t even disclose whether the proven, admitted, or credibly accused child molesting clerics are alive or dead. For example, Fr. Norman J. Rogge – one of the few priests to ever be imprisoned in two states for child sex crimes – spent time in the St. Petersburg Diocese, but you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information was Bishop Parkes’ website.

Sadly, the bigger picture is not any better. No Florida bishop provides predators, ‘last known whereabouts‘, or photos (as the bishop of Sacramento and the archbishop of Philadelphia do, for instance.) No Florida bishop provides the ordination dates of the alleged offending clerics. As best we can tell, only one of them has updated their lists since 2021. Now, let’s look for a minute at Florida’s current and recent Catholic leaders. At least three of them are accused of abuse. 

Bishop Joseph Keith Symons

  • 1981-1983: Auxiliary bishop of St. Petersburg, FL
  • 1983-1990: Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, FL
  • 1990-1998: Bishop of Palm Beach, FL. 

In 1995, Symons admitted to past sexual abuse of a boy and stayed in ministry. He remained bishop in Palm Beach, FL, until he resigned in 1998 at age 65. Soon after, another victim emerged. Symons admitted to the abuse of 5 boys but was not chargedFound in ministry 1999 in Lansing, MI diocese. Bishop emeritus.

Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell

  • 1988-1998: Bishop of Knoxville, TN
  • 1998-2002″ Bishop of Palm Beach, FL

 In 2002, O’Connell admitted to sexual abuse of a Missouri high school seminary student in the 1970s. He resigned immediately as Palm Beach, FL bishop per canon 401.2, at age 63. Numerous former students alleged abuse but still were not charged. He remained bishop emeritus until his death in 2012.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch

In 2001, he denied the accusation of sexual harassment by the diocesan communications director. The church paid the accuser $100K, and the bishop said it was severance, not hush money. The accuser’s lawyer said there was “unwanted touching” but no “overt sexual actions.” Retired at age 76 in 2016. Remains emeritus bishop.

Maybe you’re saying, “Well, these bishops may be awful on abuse. But hopefully, they’re slowly moving in the right direction. “Unfortunately, that’s not what the evidence shows, as you can see by what we wrote on this blog less than a year ago: https://www.adamhorowitzlaw.com/blog/2023/07/florida-bishops-need-to-significantly-improve-with-their-accused-predator-priest-lists/

The Bottom Line

If you really want to help make and see change, contact secular authorities. But if you feel you must try your church hierarchy first, ask these tough questions about who and where predator priests were and are now. And inside that, your bishop divulges this information – in detail – on his and other church websites. Check out another blog for more information on Florida’s statute of limitations on child sex crimes.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and numerous sexual assault lawsuits against massage therapists. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization, doctor, professional, or therapist sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today