Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg faces sexual abuse lawsuit

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The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg is at the center of a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at the hands of a former priest in the 1980s.

Mark Herman, an attorney for Mark Cattell, discussed the lawsuit during a news conference Wednesday.

"We called this press conference today to announce the filing of a lawsuit that I filed [Tuesday]," Herman told reporters. "It involves two bishops and a pedophile priest. It's a story unfortunately that we've heard before but we continue to hear more of these kinds of horrific stories."

The lawsuit surrounds Father Robert Huneke, who died in 2002. According to letters provided by Herman, John Salveson wrote seven letters beginning in 1980 to a bishop in New York accusing Father Huneke of sexual abuse.

When the letters began coming in, Huneke was working with the Diocese of St. Petersburg as a priest at Christ the King Church on South Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

"He wrote for the sole purpose of protecting other children in the future," Herman said.

Herman believes it's astonishing neither the bishop in New York nor Bishop William Larkin in St. Pete, removed Huneke when the abuse allegations were known.

"The Diocese of St. Petersburg has these letters. They know what's in the file. They know that Bishop Larkin was told that Father Huneke was a pedophile. They never contacted the authorities," Herman said. "As we allege in the complaint, Father Huneke then sexually assaults a young nine-year-old boy. That boy's name is Mark Cattell and that's my client in this case."

Cattell, now a 45-year-old magistrate in Virginia, is suing the Diocese of St. Petersburg because, according to his attorney, the organization's leadership failed to protect mark nearly four decades ago.

Herman said it took Cattell has been living with this pain but didn't realize the extent of it until his recent marriage. That's what led him to come forward now.

"There's this power in scaring these kids, so these kids grow up and they're suffering and they don't even understand necessarily why. In Mark's case, he was suffering. He had issues, lots of issues and he was not dealing with what happened, not processing what happened," Herman explained. "It wasn't until he got married where he met this wonderful woman, for the first time he was able to begin to process and he started to connect the dots and he started to see that things in his life, lots of issues, were connected to the abuse."

The Diocese of St. Petersburg said in a statement that Huneke was removed from the church in 1982 after church leaders learned about the abuse allegation in New York.

Regarding Cattell's allegation, the statement went on to read, in part, "the Diocese...reported the allegation to the state attorney in accordance with our Policy for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults. We respect the victim’s decision to litigate and the Diocese will respond to the victim’s attorney once we are served with the lawsuit. The Diocese of St. Petersburg stands with victims of sexual abuse and we recognize the courage it requires to speak out about their betrayal and hurt. Our hearts continue to go out to the victims of priests and others who have betrayed their trust."