Former Jacksonville bishops failed to report sexual abuse allegations, records show

Archives show church didn’t tell state about allegations against retired priest during its investigation

Since the early 1990s, at least four women have repeatedly come to the Diocese of St. Augustine with complaints of how now-deceased priest William Malone molested and fondled them, impregnating at least one of them, in the 1980s.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – Since the early 1990s, at least four women have repeatedly come to the Diocese of St. Augustine with complaints of how now-deceased priest William Malone molested and fondled them, impregnating at least one of them, in the 1980s.

His victims were young girls, the youngest just 11 years old.

The Diocese of St. Augustine told its parishioners in 2019 — for the first time — it knew of credible allegations against Fr. Malone. Church leaders didn’t specify how many victims came forward or what they knew.

The archive records, provided by the Diocese of St. Augustine to the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution, reveal the diocese — specifically late Bishop John Snyder — knew about Fr. Malone’s problems at least starting in 1991.

I-TEAM: St. Augustine Diocese says retired priest under investigation | Who are the 13 Diocese of St. Augustine priests credibly accused of sex abuse? | Retired priest accused of sex with teen in 1977

In 1991, the parents of a young parishioner set up a meeting with Snyder after learning their daughter was repeatedly molested by Malone in the early 1980s when she was 11 years old. The abuse happened during confession.

The family later told diocese investigators the allegations were dismissed during the 1991 meeting as “conjecture” and “not credible” because their daughter didn’t want to meet with diocese officials.

The allegations were not brought to police by the diocese, but that same year Rev. Malone was moved to a different parish within the Diocese of St. Augustine. Malone was assigned to be the associate pastor at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Palm Coast where he stayed for a year.

In 1992, diocese records show, Bishop Snyder became aware of a young parishioner Rev. Malone got pregnant. By this time, Rev. Malone had transferred back to the Holy Ghost Order in Long Island, New York, but child support was being paid to his daughter’s mother.

In a 1994 letter, the Pastor of Sacred Heart updated Bishop Snyder on how much child support was sent to the mother of Rev. Malone’s child to that point. The payments began in Dec. 1992. By August that year, the diocese had provided $5,529 to the mother of Fr. Malone’s child.

Letter detailing financial support provided (Provided to WJXT)

A letter between Bishop Snyder and Rev. Brian McLaughlin with the Holy Ghost Order in Dublin in 1993 laid out the arrangement. The Diocese of St. Augustine would forward $3,000 every year to the Holy Ghost Order to be paid to Rev. Malone’s child. Diocese records show the payments continued under Bishop Victor Galeone and ended in 2010.

“Father Malone should understand that our involvement and willingness to assist shall remain confidential,” Bishop Snyder wrote in that 1993 letter.

In letters between Bishop Snyder and McLaughlin in 1993, McLaughlin also addressed the allegation Rev. Malone sexually abused a child. McLaughlin wrote to Bishop Snyder: “He says he does not recall the incident(s) related to possible child abuse but accepts that something must have happened.”

The abuse allegation was not reported to police at the time.

In 2003, the woman who was molested by Fr. Malone at age 11 wrote a letter to then Bishop Victor Galeone. In it, she detailed the abuse and the meeting her parents had with Bishop Snyder in 1991. She wrote: “I was abused by a man of God at 11-years-old and ignored by men of God who were supposed to protect His flock.”

According to diocese records, the woman met with Bishop Galeone in 2003 about the abuse. At this point, the Diocese of St. Augustine hired a victim advocate coordinator and appointed a Diocesan Review Board to investigate sex abuse allegations. But the Diocesan Review Board was not called to investigate the allegations made against Fr. Malone in 2003, records show. Neither were police.

In 2018, the woman came forward for the third time to report Fr. Malone molesting her when she was 11 years old. The Diocesan Review Board met and requested a review of the allegations by an independent investigator and based on the report, the review board found the allegations to be credible.

The diocese private investigator shared the allegations with law enforcement in February 2018. It was five months after the diocese learned — for the third time — of the allegations.

The diocese told parishioners about credible allegations against Fr. Malone in March 2019. A deluge of allegations against Malone followed. In total, three more women came forward with complaints about how Malone sexually abused them at Sacred Heart.

In March 2019, a woman reported Fr. Malone molested her once a week for six weeks during counseling sessions with the priest in 1982 when she was 15 years old. She told investigators her husband reported the abuse to diocese officials in 1994, but he was told she needed to meet with a diocese attorney and staff by herself to discuss the allegations.

The diocese contacted another reported victim in January 2019. The woman told the diocese private investigator Fr. Malone sexually assaulted her in the rectory. She was 18 or 19 at the time. She told the investigator her family notified the pastor of Sacred heart church — Msgr. Madden — within a week of the abuse happening.

In March 2019, another woman reported Fr. Malone sexually assaulted her sister in the late 1980s. Her sister was an adult parishioner of Sacred Heart at the time. She reported that during a session with Fr. Malone, he “grabbed her [sisters] breast during prayer for healing and redemption.”

In an internal report, the private investigator for the diocese wrote: “the details of the molestation are consistent with the other credible allegations” including location, physical contact, and the age and characteristics of the victims.

The attorney and communications director for the Diocese of St. Augustine declined repeated requests for an interview to discuss Fr. Malone’s case and other cases detailed in the formerly secret archives, and provided this statement instead. The records, says the diocese, speak for themselves.

“The timing of those events should be readily ascertainable from the records you have. The way in which the allegations were handled is also readily ascertainable from the summary contained on the website as I have described in previous communications with you. If you need additional information please let us know,” attorney Tom Bishop said via email.

The state investigation

News4Jax obtained more than 900 pages of the Diocese of St. Augustine files from the Florida Attorney General, but in many ways the records are incomplete.

The Florida Office of Statewide Prosecution subpoenaed “secret archives” from the seven dioceses in Florida and the Archdiocese of Miami as a part of its investigation into sex abuse in Florida churches in all denominations.

The files obtained from the Diocese of St. Augustine have internal investigative documents, emails and notes from cases involving Fr. Thomas McNamara, Fr. Richard Bowles, Fr. William Malone and Fr. William Weinheimer — all credibly accused of sexual abuse. Noticeably missing from the records are files on Fr. John Dux, a priest named in the state’s probe of sex abuse in the church and who the Diocese of St. Augustine reported was credibly accused of molesting a child in 1976.

The records also provide no documents on the eight other priests the Diocese of St. Augustine reported in its own audit were also credibly accused of abuse. The Office of Statewide Prosecution explained the discrepancy between the Diocese of St. Augustine’s list and its own, saying their list named only those who would have been prosecuted in Florida, if not for the statute of limitations.

The Diocese of St. Augustine also did not share with the Office of Statewide Prosecutors that over the course of its investigation one of its retired priests Fr. D. Terrence Morgan was under investigation for a lewd and lascivious act on a child, including allegations he grabbed a child’s butt and sent sexually explicit text messages.

The St. Augustine Police Department eventually dropped the case in February 2020 after repeated attempts to contact the family who made the complaint.

But, in the report compiled by the St. Augustine Police Department, police detailed two October 2019 interviews with Fr. Morgan and the pastor of his former parish at Cathedral Basilica St. Augustine Fr. Tom Willis. Willis told police he received complaints about Fr. Morgan’s boundary issues and brought them to superiors in the Diocese of St. Augustine in 2017.

“When he continued to get complaints in May 2018, he inquired how this situation was being handled and was told that it had been dealt with and he needed to drop it,” the report stated.

According to the report, Fr. Morgan left on sabbatical in 2018 to go to a behavioral health facility for Catholic clergy. Morgan told investigators there was an issue before he left where he had “inappropriate contact with a male student.” He told investigators he ended up going to the health facility after he “continued to have a relationship with two 19-year-old men.” He denied having any sexual contact with them.

The diocese also didn’t tell investigators with the Office of Statewide Prosecution about an allegation Fr. Morgan had a sexual relationship with a teenager in 1977.

The report was filed with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in September 2020 during the state’s investigation.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution didn’t publish its findings until November 2020. The Diocese of St. Augustine told parishioners the next month there were allegations against Fr. Morgan with a “semblance of truth” and the diocese was conducting a canonical investigation.

Nick Cox is one of the prosecutors who worked on the Attorney General’s report on sexual abuse in the Catholic church in Florida. Cox said when the Diocese of St. Augustine publicized the allegations against Fr. Morgan, he reached out to their attorney.

“My question was — we were trying to work nicely, cooperatively — why did I not know? And he gave me an answer I understood. They were still developing their knowledge of it essentially,” Cox said.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution released its report in November 2020, naming 97 priests across Florida who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Investigators said they found no children in “immediate danger” over the course of the two-year investigation but found problems in how the church has historically handled sex abuse allegations. Specifically, Mr. Cox recommended a change in how Florida Catholic church officials use Diocesan Review Boards.

“The church is incapable of policing itself,” Cox said. “The church should not be relying on the church or diocesan review boards to police whether crimes are being committed against children or anything else. That is for law enforcement to do.”

The boards are typically made up of diocese members with backgrounds in criminal justice, policing, mental health, and even former prosecutors. In the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fourth Circuit Judge Mark Borello is the chair of the Diocesan Review Board.

“The diocesan review boards are a good thing. I think they are a positive step, but the diocese needs to realize the diocesan review board is secondary to law enforcement,” said Mr. Cox. “The problem is diocesan review boards don’t have any criminal powers; law enforcement has criminal powers. So, the diocesan review boards … I have tried to make this clear, they don’t need to be investigating this and then deciding it needs to go to law enforcement. The minute the allegation is made, they need to notify law enforcement and make sure law enforcement doesn’t mind them taking a look.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.