I pose this question as a result of a series of emails I received concerning an incident at a Catholic high school in Florida. The stories state the facts. My question continues to be: “Why don’t good priests stand up and challenge the clerical system”? Once again, I’d like to hear from you and especially our priests. Dr.Nick
Teacher says he was fired after seeking priest inquiry
By Matthew Doig
Published: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at 2:28 p.m.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday by a former Catholic high school teacher claims he was fired because he pushed for an investigation into a priest who pressured teenage girls to tell him about sexual details during confession held at the school.
Former Bishop Verot High School teacher Chris Wilson is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 after he says he was fired for seeking an inquiry into the behavior of a priest. (Photo provided by Chris Wilson)
Former Bishop Verot High School teacher Chris Wilson is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 against the school, the Diocese of Venice and Bishop Frank Dewane, who oversees the priest in question.
According to the suit, Dewane used his “power and position” to have Wilson fired as “punishment, retaliation and a lesson to others similarly situated within the Venice Diocese.”
Wilson’s suit claims that Bishop Verot’s principal fired him days after learning Wilson complained to the Department of Children and Families about Father Cory Mayer, who visited the Lee County Catholic school in April to take confession from students.
The suit states Wilson reported Mayer — first to school officials and later to DCF — after learning Mayer instructed at least five teenage girls to give him details about whether they had masturbated or had sex. If they refused, Mayer told them, he would not grant them absolution, the suit claims.
Mayer, director of vocations for the diocese, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
A Venice Diocese spokesman said that he had not seen the lawsuit, filed in Lee County’s 20th Judicial Circuit, and would be unable to comment until he had.
In an interview Monday, Wilson said that while his students were not “permanently scarred” by their encounter with Mayer, they were troubled enough that he felt compelled to press the issue with authorities.
In my mind I kept thinking, ‘What if this was my kid?'” said Wilson, who has two young daughters. “It was so wrong, I just couldn’t understand why he would even ask.”
When he reported the incident to school officials, Wilson was told such questions were appropriate during confession, the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, Dewane told the principal Mayer’s questions were not out of line and that the school had no authority to intervene.
According to a story in the St. Petersburg Times, a similar situation flared up in January at the Cathedral School of St. Jude, which is located in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Parents reportedly became upset when they learned Father Joseph Waters pointedly asked 7th- and 8th-grade students during confession whether they looked at pornography and masturbated.
Waters defended his actions and Bishop Robert Lynch, who leads the St. Petersburg Diocese, cited the seal of confession as he refused to meet with parents who wanted to discuss the issue.
Father Thomas Williams, a professor of Catholic Studies at the University of South Florida, said while a confessor might gently help an individual struggling to broach a difficult subject, confession is “not an interrogation.”
“The confessors I know think it’s at least a dicey practice to ask about specific sins the penitent hasn’t brought forward him or herself,” said Williams, who is also an Episcopalian priest.
Wilson said his students told him Mayer’s questions came “out of the blue” and that one girl had to repeatedly tell Mayer “it’s none of your business.” Wilson also found it odd that it appears Mayer only asked the questions of female students.
“I did not hear of any male students getting asked the question,” he said.
A father of one of the female students questioned by Mayer said in an interview Tuesday he is furious with Dewane and Cavell because they never informed parents of the allegations. He said while his daughter was not physically harmed, she was “harmed emotionally, spiritually and psychologically.”
“A 15-year old girl doesn’t need to be asked those questions,” said the father, who asked that his name not be used to spare his daughter further humiliation. “It’s not the priest’s damn business.”
The father, who said he was born and raised in the Catholic church, said he is also upset that Wilson was fired for trying to do the right thing.
Wilson said Monday that as a teacher, he believed state law required that he notify DCF. Wilson said a DCF supervisor informed him later that the agency could not act because it is only allowed to handle allegations of abuse, neglect and abandonment.
In what Wilson considered a last chance to bring closure to his concerns, on May 14 he phoned Barbara DiCocco, the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Diocese of Venice. He explained Mayer’s comments and the steps he had taken, including his complaint with DCF.
Wilson said two days later Cavell called him into the principal’s office and told him he had “stepped over the line” by reporting Mayer to DCF. The only reason he was not fired that day, Wilson said, is because he happened to have his 2-year-old daughter with him at the time. The next morning, Wilson said Cavell fired him for insubordination.
Cavell did not return calls seeking comment.
Wilson said he has no regrets.
“I followed my conscience,” he said. “I was trying to protect the church. I was trying to protect the kids. I thought that’s why all of this is in place — to prevent the possibility that anything might happen to the kids.” Herald-Tribune.com
In a related story reported in Sarasota press, is actually quite a bit more complicated. This story is summarized by a resident in the area who wrote me. Let me share his concerns:
The “offending” priest is actually the bishop’s driver, master of ceremonies, and diocesan vocation director. The two apparently live together, are always together “on the road”–and several anonymous priests in the diocese harbor suspicions (and have informed others about their suspicions) about their sexual practices. And so, once again, the bishop (Frank Dewane) appears at the edge of the controversy and again appears to be the puppet master.
Without further proof, the press could not touch this. However, I am aware that a wealthy parishioner who was unhappy with the bishop’s handling of a pastor removal has hired a private investigator who is “on the case.” He (the parishioner, not the investigator) reported that discovering something current is very difficult–the bishop purchased and renovated a former convent as his “palace”–it has about 35 rooms and is located on 40 fenced and gated acres. The reported cost of purchase and renovation exceeded the original (generous) budget by more than $1 million. (We learned the latter from a “deep throat” in the chancery who was asked to change the minutes of the finance council to reflect the higher amount ex post facto.
This man is so disliked and so feared by the priests and deacons, it is a wonder that he has survived.