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Church to tell members about accused priest

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Today, members of St. John's Episcopal Church and parents of students at its school will begin hearing of an incident that is almost three decades old.

Some will learn for the first time that one of their priests, the Rev. Jon Caridad, was fired in 1977 and quit the priesthood after he was accused of "inappropriate behavior with a student," according to a letter mailed to parishioners Thursday.

After receiving counseling, Caridad was allowed to return to the priesthood. Recently, the letter states, a victim, "possibly from St. John's," brought charges against Caridad before the Diocese of Mississippi, where Caridad was serving.

In May, for the second time in his career, Caridad renounced his ministry.

The Rev. Michael Durning, the assistant to the bishop, said Thursday that church leaders felt it important to be open about the matter, though more than 25 years have passed.

"They could have decided it was a long time ago, but they wrestled with it. They could have simply decided not to say anything to anybody," said Durning. "Instead, they felt that it was important for the parish community to know that this had taken place, even though it was nearly 30 years ago."

Jack Murray, senior warden and head of the parish vestry, said close to 1,000 letters were mailed to parishioners and parents of students at St. John's school Thursday.

"Our approach is one of openness," said Murray, who remembers Caridad.

"I was a member at that time. It was in the '70s. What I think we knew at the time was that there was some incident, but we never knew the details."

Last spring, the incident was brought up during a series of parish meetings that included discussions of St. John's history. Most people had never heard of Caridad.

The matter resurfaced recently. Officials from the Diocese of Southwest Florida, which stretches from Brooksville in the north to Marco Island in the south and extends as far east as Plant City and Arcadia, told church leaders that a victim from the 1970s had brought allegations of abuse by Caridad to the Diocese of Mississippi.

Jim DeLa, spokesman for the Diocese of Southwest Florida, said the victim told the Diocese of Mississippi that the abuse began in the fall of 1973.

"When Father Caridad was told of the allegations, he decided to renounce his orders. That effectively ended the investigation by the church," DeLa said.

Caridad, 59, is married and the father of two children.

He served at St. John's from 1973 to 1977. He renounced his orders to the priesthood in 1977 and taught in Britain for several years. He was reinstated as a priest in 1982 by the Diocese of Southwest Florida. In 1984 he went to work for the Diocese of Upper South Carolina and in 1992, moved to Mississippi.

The Rev. David Johnson, assistant to the bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi, said Caridad served as headmaster of Coast Episcopal School in Pass Christian, Miss., for about a year before becoming rector of St. Peter's by the Sea Episcopal Church in Gulfport, Miss. He served there until May.

"His renouncing his orders are not any admission of guilt on his part," Johnson said.

"I can assure you," he said, "that there was not knowledge of any kind of alleged misconduct with children."

The St. John's letter said there are no other reports of victims.