The Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese is responding to a report from the Florida Attorney General’s office on diocesan sexual abuse cases.
The incident allegedly occurred in 2002 at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tallahassee. The Diocese announced on Thursday that, through an internal investigation of all seven dioceses in the state, it was determined the allegation against Father Edward Jones is credible.
Bishop William Wack has led the local diocese since 2017.
“It’s not a surprise to us in that we’ve been cooperating with the attorney general’s office for two years on this,” said Wack. “They informed us two years ago they were going to just kind of look into all the dioceses in Florida, to see how we handled in the past, and continued to handle, allegations of abuse by priests of church personnel.”
The diocese dismissed Jones in August of 2018 after conducting its own investigation, which concluded that the allegation did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.
After reading the report, Wack says a couple of findings jumped out at him.
“First of all, it’s just devastating whenever you see anything like this that refers to past abuse; it probably triggers emotions again, certainly in the victims, and I think about that,” the Bishop said. “I was somewhat pleased to say that since 2002 even going back before that they found that we were already implementing new procedures that were very helpful.”
In the dioceses in Florida, 97 priests and 81 more from other states were listed in the report; the investigation was begun by then-Attorney General Pam Bondi.
“Please know; we want to help you we want to counsel you and we want to get to the bottom of anything that could have happened in our state,” Bondi told victims in 2018. “Please share your story with us, even if you previously reported it to the Church — to anyone — report it to us now.”
The investigation ended under the watch of Bondi’s successor, Ashley Moody. Wack says the switch in AGs – in this case was seamless.
“The only thing is that later on, there was a desire to complete the work that was begun by Pam Bondi,” said Wack. “We needed to wrap this up and close it, that’s the only difference that I noticed. There was a sense of urgency toward the end of it.”
Although the attorney general's work appears to be finished, the diocese will pick up from where Moody left off — monitoring every situation, every call, every allegation that’s received by church officials.
“We turn it over to our independent review board; if it involves a minor we will call the police immediately,” Wack said. “For us, once we got this, I put out a letter to the parishioners, and also we took this opportunity to list those priests in the past who have had credible allegations against them. We put them on our web page.”
While Wack feels the Church is getting a handle on dealing with sexual abuse cases by clergy and lay people, he adds that’s no reason to congratulate themselves.
“Until and unless every single case is exposed and it stops, we can only then say that we’re 100% successful,” said the Bishop. “But given that — yes, absolutely. Since 2002, since the charter was enacted, the evidence was clear that the numbers have gone way, way down, and that the reporting has gone way up.”
But even with more reporting on abuse through heightened awareness and state-of-the-art technology, almost all of those reports are historic, mostly from the 1970s and 80s.
“I’m confident that we are in a much better place now as far as handling allegations, and seeing them all the way through; and not just passing them on or trying to explain them away or something like that, said Wack.”
More information on the dioceses’ efforts to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults is at www.ptdiocese.org/safeenvironment.
“Whenever we receive any kind of accusation, [the priest] is removed from ministry until – and during – the investigation when that’s finished,” Wack said. “And if it’s credible, then immediately they are removed; they are not reinstated.”
Concerns or allegations of sexual abuse can be directed to local law enforcement or the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.