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Area priest investigated for alleged molestation

A local Catholic priest is being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct, according to a statement released today by the Diocese of Venice.

The alleged sexual misconduct occurred in 1993 between the Rev. Jean Ronald Joseph, now a priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, and someone who at that time was a minor, said Adela Gonzales White, communications director with the Diocese of Venice. The reported incident took place when Joseph worked at St. Frances Xavier Catholic Church in Ft. Myers.

White did not release the minor’s age or gender nor give any specifics on the allegations.

“Father Joseph denies the allegation and strenuously maintains his innocence,” White said today.

Joseph, who leads Haitian ministries in Manatee and Sarasota counties, was ordained as a priest in Florida in October 1993, according to the diocese. He also was formerly assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bradenton.

St. Bernard’s Rev. Robert J. Mongiello and St. Frances secretary Janet Sushil both declined comment on the investigation today and referred calls to the diocese.

Diocese Chancellor Volodymyr Smeryk said that when the allegations arose Joseph immediately removed himself from performing his duties as a priest.

If the allegations prove true and if the child was under age 12 at the time of the molestation, Joseph could be criminally prosecuted.

Bradenton defense Attorney Mark Lipinksi said there is no statute of limitations in cases of capital sexual battery, which would involve a child under age 12.

If the minor was age 12 or older during the abuse, there is a statute of limitations of four years, under the law.

Dave Bristow, with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department, said that at this time, his office is not investigating Joseph.

The investigation of the allegation falls under the Policy of the Diocese of Venice in Florida for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, according to the statement. The policy conforms to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Essential Norms for Diocesan Polices Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse approved by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

“Anyone who believes that he or she has been sexually abused as a minor by another person connected with the Diocese of Venice in Florida, or any organization, should contact either law enforcement officials or the individual responsible for Victim Assistance in the Diocese of

Venice in Florida,” White said. “The Diocese of Venice remains committed to a zero tolerance policy for sexual abuse with a minor.”

The diocese’s statement says it complies with its policy to protect against abuse, and to keep a safe environment in the Catholic Church. All priests, deacons, lay employees and those volunteers who have contact with children and vulnerable adults must undergo comprehensive background screening that includes fingerprinting, the statement continues.

“We pray for the pain and suffering of all victims. We pray that the Lord of Truth and Light will guide all in His ways,” White said. “These are very painful times for Father Joseph, the lay faithful as well as the clergy. Let us remain united in prayer.”