ST. PETERSBURG — Dozens of parents from the Cathedral School of St. Jude met behind closed doors Wednesday night to discuss concerns about how a priest handled the sacrament of confession with their children in the weeks before Christmas.
The meeting came one day after Father Joseph L. Waters, 49, addressed the matter in a letter to the school community, referring to what he called a recent controversy that "continues to disturb the peace of our school.''
Olimpia Calandra, who spoke on behalf of the group of parents, issued a written statement after the meeting at the Seminole Lanes bowling alley.
"We came together tonight to gather information and to discuss incidents that we feel compromised the safety of our children participating in the Sacrament of Penance,'' the statement said. "We have reported these incidents to the appropriate personnel within the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the responses we have received to date we believe are insufficient and do not substantially address the issue regarding the leadership of our parish.''
Calandra said she could not give details of the concerns.
In another letter, Waters said he would not discuss the matter since "the church's sacramental discipline is crystal clear that the secrecy of the confessional is absolute."
In a followup letter sent to parents Tuesday, he said it was tempting to defend himself against the "baseless and false denunciations'' of his sacred ministry.
"Even if these unfortunate accusations were true: That a priest asked about the appropriate use of the Internet or about involvement in sins against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue; what would be so shocking about that? These are real spiritual challenges for our youth,'' he wrote, citing the commandment referring to adultery in the Catholic faith.
In a Jan. 7 letter, the vicar general for the diocese, the Very Rev. Robert F. Morris, told parents that Waters "is a respected and dedicated priest" of the diocese "with whom we have the utmost confidence.''
Bishop Robert N. Lynch, head of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, named Waters head of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle two years ago. A few months before his appointment, the priest was charged with drunken driving near Riverview. He pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to probation and community service.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.