SEBRING — Father Nicholas McLoughlin of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Avon Park has decided to retire.
After months of investigation for allegations of inappropriate behavior with a minor during his time serving with the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Review Board of that diocese has found the accusations to be credible.
His case has been referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which according to CatholicCulture.org, serves to promote/defend doctrine and make judgments on matters that concern the Catholic faith, such as new theological theories, writings contrary to the faith, privilege of faith in marriage cases and the judgment of crimes against the faith.
In a letter to members of McLoughlin’s parish, a part of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, Bishop Frank J. Dewane said McLoughlin continues to deny having done anything wrong in the matter. However, for the good of the parish, Dewane wrote, McLoughlin has decided to retire.
“It is known that this outcome may disappoint many parishioners,” Dewane states in his letter, dated April 6, 2019. “You are encouraged to entrust this matter to prayer, and to strive for unity and understanding.”
Meanwhile, Fr. Claudio Stewart is serving as interim pastoral administrator, the letter states.
“This time has been difficult for many,” Dewane’s letter states. “In the letters received about this matter, some have expressed frustration at the length of time that has elapsed. Allow me to note, that in conducting a canonical inquiry (one conducted under church or “canon” law), utmost attention must be given to respecting the rights of all involved.”
The Diocese of Venice serves 10 counties in Southwest Florida: Highlands, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota.
McLoughlin was put on leave at approximately the beginning of November, based on a letter sent to parishioners last fall and obtained by the Highlands News-Sun.
The complaint came from a person who was a minor from 1973-1982, when McLoughlin was a pastor for Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace.
That first letter states that the Diocese of St. Petersburg had determined the allegation had “a semblance of truth,” enough to open an investigation.
According to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, McLoughlin once served as associate pastor of St. John Vianney at St. Pete Beach and pastor of Bishop Barry and Notre Dame High Schools in St. Petersburg from June 1972 to August 1973.
McLoughlin’s administrative leave was under Diocese of Venice policy as well as to allow for an objective review by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the first letter said.