SEBRING — The Diocese of Venice is now facing a lawsuit from a woman who said Father Nicholas McLoughlin, formerly of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Port Charlotte, sexually assaulted her during confession.
The incident, which was also investigated by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office this year, allegedly took place in April 2018 at Our Lady of Grace Church. According to incident reports, the State Attorney’s Office did not find sufficient probable cause to file charges.
McLoughlin, also known as “Father Nick,” is currently on administrative leave as of November 2018, pending investigation into allegations he molested a child at Corpus Christi Parish in Temple Terrace, Florida, in the 1970s.
At the time, McLoughlin was under the supervision of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.
In 1997, McLoughlin was named as a co-defendant in a lawsuit involving his brother, Ed McLoughlin, then assistant pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, where Nicholas McLoughlin was pastor at the time.
The Diocese of Venice agreed to pay $500,000 to settle that suit with a former Port Charlotte altar boy who was allegedly molested by Ed McLoughlin.
The victim in this most recent case, listed in reports as 66 years old, has invoked Marsy’s Law to protect her identity.
Her case is being handled by Fort Lauderdale attorney Adam Horowitz, who filed a complaint a week ago in circuit civil court in the 12th Judicial District.
The Sheriff’s Office incident report, written in May by then-Sheriff’s Office Investigator Anthony P. McGann, states that the case started with a call on May 9 to McGann from Susan Benton, former Highlands County sheriff and current victim advocate with the Archdiocese of Venice.
McGann met with the victim on May 10. She told him she had moved from Homestead to Highlands County in February 2018 to be closer to her sister.
After an internet search, she found Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church was the nearest Catholic church to where she lived, and went there on March 25, 2018 — Palm Sunday.
She introduced herself to a priest she later learned was McLoughlin, and told him where she was from and named her former priest. McLoughlin allegedly “went off on her,” reports said, saying “although he is a legend, I can’t compete with that and if you think you came here for (him) you’ve got the wrong place.”
She told McGann that encounter left her shaken so much that she could not even pray as she sat in the pew. She attended Easter Sunday Mass but skipped confession to leave as soon as possible.
On April 7, between 3:30 and 4 p.m., she went back to the church for confession, which was conducted by McLoughlin. During confession, she told him she had a headache from falling off a horse.
He then allegedly got up to move toward her. She thought he was going to make the sign of the cross in front of her forehead, but he allegedly put his thumb on her forehead instead and with his other hand grabbed her right breast.
She alleged he groped both breasts — leaving bruises — kissed her with his tongue and prevented her from leaving. She did not have photographs of the bruises, reports said.
She did an internet search again, and then called the Sheriff’s Office.
When McGann spoke with McLoughlin, he said a different priest was hearing confessions that day. According to the incident report, McGann photographed a calendar from April 2018 that indicated the other priest was hearing confessions.
The report states McGann called the victim on Aug. 23 to tell her the case is still open, but inactive, and would not be prosecuted at this time.
It’s unclear where in the church confession took place and whether it was held in a confessional booth. If it takes place outside a booth, the penitent has the option of anonymity behind a screen or other divider.
McGann left the Sheriff’s Office last week to take a job with St. Petersburg Police Department.
Nicholas McLoughlin served as pastor of Corpus Christi Parish, Temple Terrace from 1973 to 1982; as associate pastor of St. John Vianney, St. Pete Beach and pastor of Bishop Barry and Notre Dame High Schools in St. Petersburg from June 1972 to August 1973, and was appointed Pastor of Our Lady of Grace in March 2007.