Florida priest accused of sex abuse expected to return to Iowa

Florida priest accused of sex abuse expected to return to Iowa

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Father Leo P. Riley, a priest working with the Diocese of Venice is facing capital sexual battery charges.

The charges stem from alleged incidents in Iowa, where he previously worked in the 1980s.

According to the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Riley was ordained a priest in 1982 in Iowa. In 2002, he requested to transfer to Florida to be closer to his parents. He moved to Venice in 2005.

Riley was a priest at Saint Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte in the early 2000s. He is currently assigned to San Antonio Catholic Church, which is also in Port Charlotte.

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Archbishop Thomas Zinkula of the Archdiocese of Dubuque in a statement said the first allegation of abuse committed by Father Riley was made in December 2014. The claim dated back to 1985.

In 2014, Riley was in Florida and the Archdiocese reported it to the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office.

“It is the understanding of the Archdiocese that the Dubuque County Attorney’s Office chose not to conduct an investigation into the allegation because the applicable statute of limitations at that time had expired. The Archdiocese also notified the Diocese of Venice, Florida and Father Riley was placed on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation,” Zinkula wrote.

The diocese conducted its own investigation and said, “the best information available at the time did not support a reasonable belief that the allegation was true.”

Father Riley continued to serve as a priest in Venice and later in Port Charlotte. A man who is now 32 years old alleged he too was a victim of Riley’s.

“As a child, I attended Saint Charles School in Port Charlotte, where Father Leo Riley repeatedly abused me for years,” said the man, who did not want to share his name. “I never told anybody back then he said that if I told anyone he would do it, my sister what he was doing to me.”

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The man said he reported what happened to him to the State Attorney of Charlotte County in 2020, the same year attorney Damian Mallard filed a lawsuit on his client’s behalf against Father Riley, the Diocese of Venice and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church alleging sexual abuse he claims was perpetrated by Riley in Florida in the early 2000s.

“How many people have to claim to be abused by a priest before it’s enough to place him on a administrative leave and remove him from any possible access to children?” said Mallard. “We call on Father Riley, the Church and the Diocese of Venice to acknowledge and admit that crimes of this man and act with all deliberate speed to make this right and help these men heal from the nightmare for decades.”

“At the time the civil lawsuit was received, the factual allegations therein were inaccurate and contradictory,” said Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice. “The plaintiff has since changed his allegations and the litigation is still pending.”

In May 2023, the Archdiocese of Dubuque said it received two new and separate allegations against Father Riley stemming from 1985 and 1986. Those allegations were reported to the Dubuque Police Department.

“Our criminal investigations division started looking into an allegation of sexual abuse committed by Father Leo Riley that occurred within our jurisdiction in Dubuque Iowa back in the 80s,” said Lt. Luke Bock.

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Lt. Bock said the yearlong investigation led to detectives establishing probable cause. Riley was arrested last week at his Port Charlotte home.

“The statute of limitations for this would have expired, however with him moving to Florida that tolled the statute of limitations which allowed this investigation to continue,” said Bock.

“My heart aches for each victim of sexual abuse and for their family. I am truly sorry when a member of the clergy hurts a child in such a terrible way, instead of providing them with the proper love and guidance that each child inherently deserves,” Zinkula’s statement said.

Riley has since bonded out of jail. He has a home in Port Charlotte but has been ordered to return to Dubuque. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the allegations of abuse within its jurisdiction. It is asking those who believe they may be victims to call 941-639-2101.

“If the accusations are true, then we have had a sexual predator living among us in Charlotte County that was trusted by far too many people simply because of his position,” said Sheriff Bill Prummell. “It is likely that there are more victims, and I encourage them to come forward so that we can make sure this type of heinous thing does not happen to anyone else here. It doesn’t matter when it happened; but what does matter is that the truth needs to be shared and justice needs to be served. We stand with you.”

Bishop Dewane said Riley has denied the allegations.

“As your Bishop, I would like to assure you that the Diocese of Venice takes these matters seriously and remains committed to doing its utmost to protect children and vulnerable adults,” said Bishop Dewane. “Anyone who believes that he or she has been the victim of sexual misconduct by someone serving in ministry for the Diocese of Venice, or for that matter by anyone, should contact law enforcement officials at 1-800-962-2873. The Diocese of Venice provides a Victim Assistance Coordinator, who can be reached at 941-416-6114.”

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