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Accuser Outlines Allegations

May 3, 2002 | Tampa Bay Online She kept quiet about it since she was an eighth grader, 14 years now - her tale of the touching, the kissing, the heavy breathing.
But now, everywhere Bridget Kolodziej turns, victims of abuse by priests are coming forward, prodding her to retrieve her story from its hiding place.

Kolodziej has come forward, with help from former St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church receptionist Nancy Ramsey Tosh, who said she tried at the time to have Kolodziej's priest removed, but failed.

Kolodziej said the pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Lutz, Robert Morris, inappropriately touched and kissed her when she was a 13-year-old youth group member and he was a seminarian. Tosh said Morris, now 45, confided in her that he was having problems with celibacy.

Morris, who told his congregation he passed a lie-detector test about the allegations Friday, said he is innocent and expects to be exonerated. He is suspended pending results of a diocesan investigation.

``As a seminarian and a priest, I have never participated in any sexual misconduct with any persons, adult or child,'' Morris wrote in the church bulletin last weekend.

Kolodziej and Tosh tell a different story.

Tosh said she would have come forward before, but Kolodziej was young and scared, and Tosh's attempts to spark an investigation then were stifled with threats of legal action.

A Foundation Of Trust

During the summer of 1988, Kolodziej, a Largo teen, had just learned she could join the St. Catherine of Siena youth group before she entered ninth grade.

Things were a little strained at home, she said, so the church was her escape. In Morris, then a seminarian, she found ``spiritual guidance.''

``I was like a church mouse,'' said Kolodziej, now 27. ``I built that trust with him, and I started talking about how I really didn't get along with my parents real well. My dad was gone a lot, and I was looking for a father-figure type.''

Tosh, now a sociology professor in California with a doctorate in religious studies, was a 29-year old church receptionist at the time. She said she would drive children to the Lutz church on Saturdays if they needed a ride. Kolodziej often was a passenger.

Kolodziej, now married and the mother of three children in Largo, recalls weekly hourlong sessions with Morris, who would ``sit in front of me and have my hands clasped with his,'' she said.

The meetings went on for weeks, she said. They'd just ``shoot they breeze.''

She said Morris confided in her as much as she did in him, revealing deep personal secrets.

Then in the fourth or fifth week, a church cook called Morris into the rectory for lunch.

``I'd never been back there,'' Kolodziej said. ``He invited me along, so I followed. His bedroom was overlooking the parking lot.''

She said they both stopped and leaned over a desk to look out the window at someone speeding through the parking lot below.

He put his sandwich on desk, she said, and put his arms around her above her elbows.

``It kinda startled me,'' she said, and when she turned around, Morris touched her breast and kissed her ``not in a fatherly way.''

``He was really feeling on me,'' she said. But ``I thought it was cool, it never occurred to me that it was wrong.''

Kolodziej said she had something of a crush on Morris at the time, so when he told her ``whatever was between us was between us,'' she told no one - except Tosh, who ``freaked out and said she never wanted me around him alone anymore.''

Sharing A Confidence

Kolodziej said she continued to see Morris on Saturdays, but there was no more touching, although she said they did speak about the incident: ``He said he hoped it didn't freak me out.''

Tosh said she was stunned when Kolodziej told her Morris had kissed her and ``treated her like her woman.''

Although Kolodziej swore Tosh to secrecy, a troubling phone conversation she had with Morris about two days later - involving frank talk about Morris' sexuality - led her to believe he might pose a risk to other children.

She said she complained to the church's associate pastor, who brought the issue to the attention of the diocese, then told her no one at the diocese would address her personally about this issue.

Then, she said, instead of responses, she was pressured to drop her complaint.

Tosh, who was a youth minister in training and worked in the church's communications department, said that one day soon thereafter, she arrived at work and got a message she was told was from the diocese: It threatened legal action if she didn't stay away from Morris and stop pursuing her complaint.

``I realized then that there was no way I could ever get them to listen to me,'' Tosh said. She said she offered to take a lie-detector test, but the church refused.

Tosh said she approached the news media with the story in April because she thought the church might attempt to settle with money, but take no appropriate personnel action.

``My best-case scenario is that Morris will tell the truth and that he will get help,'' Tosh said.

Church spokeswoman Mary Jo Murphy said an investigation into Kolodziej's complaint is ongoing. Morris attended Mass at St. Mary on Sunday to tell parishioners he is innocent of the allegations.

Morris has been at the church five years, since former priest Simeon L. Gardner admitted taking more than $213,000 from church accounts to pay a man to keep quiet about their sexual relationship.

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