Monday, October 03, 2005


Church defends hiring man with record

Thanks to Daniel S. for bringing this to our attention:

St. Petersburg, Fla. - Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church hired a man now charged with making a lewd proposition to a teenager before seeing the results of his background check, diocesan officials said Monday.

Once received, the check showed William Forte of Dunedin had an arrest record. In 1992, he had been charged in Polk County with showing pornography to six teens, giving them alcohol and paying them for sex. He ultimately pleaded guilty to two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and received six months' probation.

That revelation did not doom Forte's hiring in 2003 as a facilities manager at the Dunedin church, said Vicki Well Bedard, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

"(Forte) was able to assuage their concerns," Bedard said. "They felt his explanation was adequate, and the charges were more than 10 years old. ... They felt satisfied that the case was blown out of portion."

Last week, Forte, 60, was arrested and accused of offering a teen $100 last year to perform a sex act, which the boy refused. Forte had been supervising the teen's court-ordered community service, one of his regular duties, Pinellas sheriff's officials have said.

Detectives are investigating whether Forte, who was charged with lewd and lascivious conduct, had or tried to have inappropriate relations with other juveniles. Since news of Forte's arrest was reported Thursday, sheriff's Detective Randall Jones has received about a dozen calls on the case, including some potential tips. Jones is also talking with Polk County deputies about the 1992 charges.

"It's an ongoing investigation," the detective said. "We want to see what victims may come forward."

On Friday, Father Tom Madden and other church leaders visited the classrooms of students in grades 5 and above at the parish school and answered questions about Forte and the allegations, Bedard said. Sunday night, Madden led a meeting for parents, some of whom were angered that Madden spoke with their children first.

Ron Sokol, a parent whose two children, ages 9 and 11, attend the parish school, said Monday that he was contacting Polk County authorities to learn more about the previous accusations against Forte.

"I'm not happy with their explanation to this point," he said. "Somebody needs to tell us why this man was hired."

Madden, whose office referred questions to Bedard, was trying to strike a balance between providing information to families while not jumping to conclusions about guilt or innocence, she said.

"Pastorally, (Madden) is hurting through this as well," Bedard said. "All of us would like to roll back the clock. Still, we have to assume Mr. Forte's innocent. That's the fine line that Father Madden walks as an employer."

The incident for which Forte was charged last week took place in 2004, according to sheriff's investigators.

Forte was supervising the teen and instructed him to follow him into the bathroom to clean it. There, Forte offered the boy money if he would perform a sex act, detectives said.

The allegation did not surface until August, when the boy's mother overhead him telling another friend not to do his community service at Forte's church, sheriff's officials said. The mother asked why, and her son then revealed what had happened.

Forte, who is free after posting $20,000 bail, could not be reached for comment. His attorney did not return messages Monday.

--Anyone with information about Forte is asked to contact Detective Randall Jones of the Crimes Against Children Unit at (727) 582-6200.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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