ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A former Tampa Bay resident has filed a lawsuit against two Catholic Dioceses alleging that they turned a blind eye against a priest accused of molesting children.
The lawsuit has been filed against the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York and the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Attorneys representing Mark Cattell, a victim of child sexual abuse allegedly committed by Father Robert D. Huneke, held a press conference on Wednesday announcing the filing of the lawsuit.
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The lawsuit, filed by Mark Cattell, claims that he was sexually abused by Father Robert D. Huneke on several occasions in 1981 when he was only 9-years-old. At the time, Cattell was a parishioner at Christ the King Church and a student Christ the King School in Tampa.
The complaint states that prior to being transferred to Florida, Father Huneke was assigned to St. Dominic’s parish in Oyster Bay, Long Island, a parish in the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre. There, he allegedly sexually molested a 13-year-old boy over a period of years beginning.
In 1980 that boy, John Salveson, wrote a letter to the then-Bishop of Rockville Centre John McGann, alerting Bishop McGann of the sexual abuse in the hopes that the Bishop would take action and prevent Father Huneke from sexually abusing boys in the future, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, after meeting with Father Huneke, Bishop McGann wrote back to Salveson, stating that “Father Huneke acknowledged his responsibility and assured me that he has been receiving counseling and spiritual direction and that this matter has not been a problem for over a period of approximately two years.” Bishop McGann took no other action against Father Huneke.
After Father Huneke was transferred to the Diocese of St. Petersburg in Florida, where he became a priest at Christ the King Church and Christ the King School, Salveson wrote another latter, to the then-Bishop of St. Petersburg, William Larkin. In the letter, Salveson told Larkin that he was sexually abused by Father Huneke, according to the lawsuit. Bishop Larkin responded by letter and advised Salveson that he did not know “whether [Father Huneke] is undergoing any kind of therapy but will look into the matter.”
The lawsuit claims that Bishop Larkin did nothing in response to Salveson’s report.
Salveson is not a party in the lawsuit but has been part of other lawsuits filed against the Catholic Church in the fight against sexual abuse of children by priests.
In 1989, Father Huneke left the priesthood after Salveson went public with his sexual abuse allegations. Father Huneke died in 2002.
Cattell’s attorney, Jeff Herman, called this lawsuit, “another heartbreaking example of the Catholic Church protecting pedophile priests instead of children. These horrific acts should have never happened. For too long, the Church has been able to hide behind the statute of limitations to avoid responsibility. This case shows why the statute of limitations must be amended nationwide to hold institutions accountable for protecting sexual predators.”
Attorney General Pam Bondi's office has set up a website that will allow people to report incidents of past sexual abuse . Bondi stressed that if someone is being abused currently they need to call 911.