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Whited Sepulchers

Clergy sex abuse cited in lawsuit

Man says a Catholic priest assaulted him in Jacksonville in 1954.

By Jim Schoettler
Gregory Peake said he's lost his faith in religion thanks to a man whom he held up as God-like 54 years ago.

Peake, 63, filed a lawsuit in Jacksonville Tuesday claiming that a late Catholic priest who taught him in 1954 sexually assaulted him repeatedly. And Peake kept what his attorney described as love letters from the priest showing his deep affection for the 9-year-old boy.

Peake said he was abused by the Rev. William Weinheimer, who taught at a school once known as St. Mary's Academy and was a superintendent of Bishop Kenny High School. Weinheimer died in 1986, according to the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Peake accuses Weinheimer of sexually assaulting him over several months. He said he didn't come forward when he was young in part because Weinheimer threatened that his family would be sent to hell. He said he contacted a lawyer last summer because he had coped with the abuse long enough.

Peake spoke with the Times-Union in a telephone interview from his home in England.

"I just think I got to the point where I have a tremendous desire to have fairness for myself," he said, "and if there's anyway what I do helps anybody else, that would please me."

The diocese is named as the defendant in the suit, which alleges the church knew about the abuse and covered it up. In a brief written statement, the diocese said the allegations are "under review and discussion."

Weinheimer served in Jacksonville for about two years before moving onto Orlando and then the Tampa area, the diocese said.

Peake's attorney, Joseph Saunders of Pinellas Park, said he expects the statute of limitations for such a suit to be contested. The time-frame for filing a suit at the time was no later than four years from the time a victim turned 18. But Saunders said that doesn't apply because Peake was threatened with punishment if he came forward.

The suit says the abuse occurred at Weinheimer's home on the grounds of Bishop Kenny. It also alleges that the diocese had received complaints about similar conduct by Weinheimer, but the suit mentions no other victims and neither Peake nor his attorney knew of more. The diocese declined to comment on details in the lawsuit.

The letters from Weinheimer to Peake contain much small talk about events in Weinheimer's life. But he also talks about Peake's absence from the school at one point and how much he missed him. Peake's attorney provided copies of the letters to the Times-Union.

"Believe me, it is agony to me as I haven't been the same since you left. I miss you so much," Weinheimer wrote to the 9-year-old. "If you are happier where you are ... I can try to forget what you told me so often [:] 'I love you more than anyone in the whole world.'"

Weinheimer signed all the letters, "With love." In one letter he suggested Peake burn the letters so his "folks" don't see them. Some of the letters are written on Bishop Kenny letterhead.

http://www.jacksonville.com


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