Church-affiliated abusers blend into new communities 30, 2005
By Cory Shouten

Manatee County -- If the allegations against Joseph Gilpin are true -- that he abused boys as a seminarian before beginning a teaching career in Florida -- it would resemble a path followed by dozens of church-affiliated abusers.

They often end up in jobs outside the church that involve interaction with children, in positions like teacher, coach, or counselor, said David Clohessy, the national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

Last week, a letter from the group led to the suspension and eventual resignation of Gilpin, who worked in Manatee schools for 34 years. SNAP and another advocacy group say Gilpin molested two boys in the 1960s, and another man has come forward who also says he was a victim of Gilpin's abuse.

Clohessy said it's not unusual for those accused of abuse to blend into new communities.

He reeled off several examples: An ex-priest who had abused a Kansas City man surfaced as a drug and alcohol counselor for teenagers; a priest from Missouri turned up as a greeter at a Florida theme park; a priest from Iowa rented an apartment a few blocks from two schools.

The problem of abusive priests resurfacing elsewhere won't wane anytime soon, said Jason Berry, a freelance writer and the author of two books on the scandal in the Catholic Church.

About 800 priests have been forced to find employment elsewhere since the church began laicizing abusive priests a few years ago, he said.

And it's not just the church's problem.

"Society as a whole is going to be grappling with dilemmas like this for a long time to come," said Berry, who lives in New Orleans.

SNAP's primary mission is self-help for victims of clergy abuse, but it also keeps track of abusers. The thinking goes: If victims don't know their abusers' whereabouts, who will?

In the case of Gilpin, who was never ordained, records show the Archdiocese of Boston knew of abuse accusations against the former seminarian by 1993, and the Diocese of Portland, Maine, received a complaint in 2002.

But apparently no one in the church tracked down Gilpin or warned the school district about his past.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest for 34 years who now lives in Maryland, thinks that's wrong.

"It's completely irresponsible on the part of the Catholic Church leadership, but it's common," he said. "If he abused and it was under church auspices and he'd gone elsewhere, they'd kind of just wash their hands of him."

He said some offenders turn up working as teachers or move in near schools or just disappear. In one case, he said, a priest who had been kicked out of the church moved across the country and began working at a rehabilitation center for troubled youth.

"It was like putting a fox in the hen house," said Doyle, who sounded the church's first alarm about child-abusing priests more than 20 years ago.

In the case of Gilpin, there wasn't much the church could do, said Sue Bernard, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Portland, Maine. They sent letters notifying priests and parishes across the state about the allegations. But Gilpin had long ago severed ties with the diocese.

"He is no longer connected with us, and he could be anywhere," she said. "If we had any control over a person, that's different."

But the way Clohessy, of SNAP, sees it, there are two ways to handle the dilemma: the "irresponsible passive approach" and the "responsible, Christian, preventative approach."

With SNAP, the choice is clear. The group received word last week from a man in Maine who saw Gilpin's name associated with a school in Bradenton. The man said Gilpin molested him in the late 1960s.

After finding a picture of Gilpin and a brief biography on a Haile Middle School Web page, SNAP began drafting a letter to the school district.

District officials said they were unaware Gilpin had been accused of abusing two young boys while studying to be a priest during the 1960s.

On Friday, SNAP sent letters to Catholic bishops in four states, urging them to investigate possible cases of abuse involving Gilpin and reach out to other potential victims.

The notice went to Massachusetts and Maine, where the abuse reportedly took place, along with Indiana, where Gilpin also attended seminary, and Florida.

Earlier last week, the group told the district about two accusations of sex abuse against Gilpin.

In one, Gilpin was accused in a lawsuit of repeatedly molesting a boy from 1965 to 1968 while Gilpin was studying to be a priest in Massachusetts. The lawsuit was settled along with several others for $85 million by the Archdiocese of Boston.

In the second complaint, a man said Gilpin abused him from 1968 to 1970 in Maine. Gilpin was a teacher at St. Mary's School in Biddeford, Maine, at the time.

A third man has also come forward saying he was molested as a boy by Gilpin at his cottage on Hills Beach in Biddeford. Paul Kendrick, director of Maine Voice of the Faithful, another clergy abuse advocacy group, said Saturday that the two men from Maine knew each other as boys.

Gilpin has no criminal record in Florida, and he was not charged with a crime based on the abuse allegations. He did not return a phone call Saturday, but has denied the allegations in the past.

In Manatee, Gilpin was a teacher and administrator at Bayshore and Manatee high schools and Braden River, Johnson and Haile middle schools. Most recently, he was an assistant principal at Haile.

Gilpin generally received good teaching evaluations, and his file also contains mentions of his good rapport with children. But Gilpin was accused on at least three occasions of inappropriate behavior with students, including an incident in November 2004 when he reportedly patted a boy's bottom and made indecent remarks to two other boys.

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