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St. Augustine Diocese did not disclose priest was under investigation, AG’s office says

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

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Top leaders with the Diocese of St. Augustine did not disclose to state prosecutors investigating sex abuse within Florida churches that one of its priests was the subject of two local criminal investigations until after the state concluded its investigation.

Now, the Florida Attorney General’s Office is looking further into Fr. David Terrance Morgan, a retired priest.

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

Morgan, 72, is a former religion teacher at Bishop Kenny High School and was last assigned to Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine before retiring in 2019.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office announced it was beginning an investigation into sex crimes inside Florida’s Catholic churches in October 2018.

Police reports show that more than a year later in October 2019, someone reported allegations against Morgan for the first time to the St. Augustine Police Department.

In the report, Morgan was accused of inappropriately touching a minor on the buttocks in 2017 and reportedly admitted to investigators he had “inappropriate phone contact with a male student in 2017.”

Investigators with the St. Augustine Police Department interviewed Fr. Tom Willis, the pastor of Cathedral Basilica at St. Augustine -- where the incident allegedly happened -- in October 2019.

The pastor told police two years earlier in 2017 that he received complaints about Morgan’s “boundary issues” and “brought those issues to his superiors in the Diocese of St. Augustine.” He also told investigators that when he continued to get complaints in May 2018, he asked the diocese about the situation and his superiors told him “it had been dealt with and he needed to drop it.”

Investigators with the St. Augustine Police Department also interviewed Morgan in October 2019. In a recorded interview, he “denied any sexual contact” with minors and said “he did have a sexual talk with them, which he described as the ‘kind of goofing off talking that college boys do.’”

Morgan told police he left to do a sabbatical at St. Luke’s Institute in 2018 after “he had inappropriate phone contact with a male student in February 2017.” Willis said Morgan’s sabbatical was at the urging of Bishop Estevez.

St. Luke’s Institute is an independent mental health facility for clergy.

Ultimately, the St. Augustine Police Department closed that investigation after multiple attempts to contact the family that made the complaint.

In September 2020, another allegation was made, this time to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, alleging Morgan had a sexual relationship with a teenager in 1977. Morgan was a religion teacher at Bishop Kenny High School. The case was dropped because of the statute of limitations barring prosecution.

RELATED: Retired priest, religion teacher accused of sexual relationship with teenager in 1977

The Florida Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution was actively investigating sex abuse in Florida churches from October 2018 to November 2020 and subpoenaed church records as a part of its investigation. Nick Cox, a prosecutor for the office, said neither of the allegation against Morgan were brought to them over the course of their investigation.

Then, a month after the attorney general released her report, the dioceses announced there were allegations with a semblance of truth against Morgan.

Cox said that after finding out about the allegations against Morgan from an informant, he called attorneys for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

“My question to them was, we were trying to work nicely, cooperatively. Why did I not know?” Cox asked.

A request for comment from the Diocese of St. Augustine had not been returned as of Friday. Calls and emails to attorneys for Morgan also have not been returned.


About the Author:

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