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Diocese of St. Petersburg Paying $33,500 To Woman Who Claimed Priest Raped Her

Jan 23, 2003 | AP

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has reached an out-of-court settlement with a woman who claimed she was sexually abused by priest.

The diocese will pay Melissa Price, a single mother from New Port Richey, $33,500.

Price, 32, said she plans to use part of the settlement to hire a private investigator to find the Rev. Polienato Bernabe, who she claims molested her in Gulfport when she was a girl.

"There's no amount of money that is going to replace what happened," Price said.

Bernabe was a visiting priest from the Philippines who worked in the diocese from 1975 to 1989. He allegedly had sex with Price when she had a cast on her leg, and was charged with one count of capital sexual battery. Authorities believe he is somewhere in the Philippines.

"It appears that Melissa Price was a victim of abuse by Father Bernabe," said Joseph DiVito, general counsel for the diocese. "She seems credible."

Clearwater lawyer John Trevena, who represented Price, said the diocese was not under any obligation to pay her because the statute of limitations for a civil claim in her case expired years ago.

"On their part, I have to give them credit for that," Price said of the diocese. "They could have said, `Forget it, we'll just take you to court and have it thrown out.'"

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