Sex abuse cases come to light in Venice, Fla., diocese

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Three cases of sexual misconduct by clergy have come to light in recent days in the Venice, Fla, diocese.

Two weeks ago, Fr. Bernard Chojnacki, a vicar at a local parish, was arrested for allegedly exposing his genitals to a county sheriff and then grabbing the sheriff's genitals.

Carmelite Fr. William C. Wert, who has been living in a retirement home in the diocese while on a leave of absence, was arrested in February on two counts of committing a sex offense against a victim between the ages of 12 and 15. Shortly after his arrest, authorities filed eight more charges of sex offenses against a minor and lewd and lascivious behavior.

Meanwhile, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported Tuesday that a former Catholic high school teacher in the diocese has filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired for raising concerns about a third priest.

Chris Wilson, a former teacher at the diocese's Bishop Verot High School, alleges in the suit that Bishop Frank Dewane had him fired as "punishment, retaliation and a lesson to others similarly situated within the Venice Diocese" after he brought forth concerns that Fr. Cory Mayer was asking teenage girls inappropriate questions while hearing confession.

Chojnacki, who was arrested June 7, was released from jail on $1,250 bail. The diocese told the Herald-Tribune he is on administrative leave and is staying at another rectory, but has declined to say where it is located.

Wert is in the Sarasota County jail and faces a jury trial in October.

Wilson's lawsuit alleges that Mayer, who visited the school in April, asked at least five teenage girls details about whether they masturbated or had sex.

A diocesan spokesperson told the Herald-Tribune he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet seen it.

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