TAMPA — The Diocese of St. Petersburg knew nothing about allegations that a priest sexually abused a child at Christ the King Catholic Church at any time during the three years the priest was assigned there, Bishop Gregory Parkes told parishioners at the church in a letter this weekend.
Mark Cattell, 45, a former student and parishioner at Christ the King and now a lawyer and magistrate in the Virginia Supreme Court, raised the allegation in a lawsuit filed last week against the diocese. Cattell said he was 9 in 1981 when he was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert D. Huneke, now deceased.
In his letter to parishioners, Parkes said that the first the diocese heard about the allegations of sexual abuse at Christ the King was July 16. The victim was referred then to the diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator and encouraged to contact law enforcement, Parkes said in the letter. In addition, the diocese, following its policies, contacted the state attorney’s office.
PREVIOUS: Man files suit saying a Tampa priest sexually abused him in the 1980s Huneke was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1979 with a letter of recommendation from the bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York, Parkes said. Huneke was assigned as associate pastor at Christ the King.
He was removed from the ministry at Christ the King in 1982 when it was learned that he was accused of abusing a child in Rockville Centre, Parkes said.
"At the time of his removal, the diocese of St. Petersburg had received no complaints related to the ministry of Robert Huneke during his time here," Parkes said.
The diocese did know about allegations from Rockville Centre, according to letters from 1981 that were provided when the lawsuit was announced last week. At that time, John Salveson. who said Huneke had abused him as a youth while the priest was assigned to Rockville Centre, wrote then-Bishop W. Thomas Larkin of St. Petersburg. In his response, Larkin thanked Salveson for his letter and said he would keep the matter "in mind in our personnel placements."
Larkin, who died in 2006, added, "I do not know whether he is undergoing any kind of therapy but will look into the matter."
Cattell has filed suit against the Diocese of St. Petersburg and Parkes, as well as the Diocese of Rockville Centre and its bishop. The lawsuit gives graphic details of Cattell’s abuse and describes Huneke as a "charismatic and friendly priest, who was well liked by parishioners." Huneke, the suit says, forced the Christ the King student to perform oral sex on him.
In his page-long letter to today’s parishioners, Bishop Parkes spells out measures he said the diocese has taken to show its support for the victims of sexual abuse and to prevent recurrences.
"I felt it was important to give you background on this priest," Parkes said, "and how the Diocese of St. Petersburg addressed the allegation."