Priest denies sex abuse allegation

HOLMES BEACH — A local priest being investigated by the Catholic church for alleged sexual misconduct more than 15 years ago denied the accusation publicly this afternoon.

“I did not do anything to anyone,” said Rev. Jean Ronald Joseph, a priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach who is on leave until the investigation concludes.

With a thick Haitian accent Joseph, 44, spoke about the allegation to about 150 parishioners and community members during a public forum at Holmes Beach City Hall.

Joseph, according to his lawyer and area police, was not being criminally investigated as of Wednesday.

The reported molestation occurred in 1993 between a minor and Joseph when Joseph was assigned to St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Fort Myers, according to the Diocese of Venice. When the investigation was announced to area churches late last month, the diocese did not release specifics on the allegation.

But on Wednesday, Joseph’s attorney, John Fleck, said it involved a 16-year-old boy who was a family friend of Joseph.

Fleck read a portion of the allegation aloud Wednesday. In it, the alleged victim, now age 31, wrote that on “one given night” he was invited to St. Frances for a sleepover.

According to the accusation, he was asked to sleep in bed with Joseph. He said he woke from a “deep sleep” to find Joseph touching him. The accusation continues that when the boy pretended to be asleep, Joseph stopped.

“I feel very angry about this,” the alleged victim wrote.

Joseph said the accusation is false.

“There was never such a night,” said Joseph, who said he’s cried and been suicidal since learning in August of the allegation. Since the diocese informed him in August that he was being investigated he said he’s been on anxiety, sleeping and anti-depression medications.

Fleck questioned whether the diocese followed church policy in identifying Joseph as a target of the abuse investigation.

“They did not follow rules that it would be a private church investigation,” Fleck told the crowd.

The diocese did not return e-mails or phone calls to comment.

The diocese, Fleck said, sent Joseph a letter, dated Jan. 15, stating an investigative board determined the allegation is credible and that it needs “continued examination.”

The investigation of allegations against Joseph falls under the Policy of the Diocese of Venice in Florida for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults, according to a December statement from the diocese.