Diocese says they never received red flags from local priest accused of sex abuse
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (CBS12) —
One retired priest implicated in a grand jury report of “predator priests” was “in good standing” when he relocated to a Boca Raton church in 2007, according to the Diocese of Palm Beach.
Days after a grand jury report named Thomas Benestad in a list of more than 300 priests, the Diocese in Allentown, Pennsylvania told the Palm Beach Diocese in 2007 that Benestad was “in good standing.”
Even the Bishop of Allentown at the time had no objections to Benestad’s ministry in South Florida, according to the Diocese of Palm Beach.
The grand jury report shows Benestad resigned as a pastor and took a leave of absence before moving to Boca Raton more than 10 years ago. That report indicates he spent time at Ascension Catholic Church.
The Palm Beach Diocese claims that the Diocese in Pennsylvania not once, but twice sent a Certificate of Aptitude for Benestad, indicating several things, including that he had never been suspended or disciplined, never had criminal charges brought against him and never showed behavioral problems that would indicate he might deal with minors or adults in an inappropriate manner.
Years later in 2011, when an allegation of sexual abuse surfaced, the Diocese of Palm Beach says Benestad was immediately ordered by both dioceses to refrain from all public ministry, including wearing a clerical collar. He also reportedly has not functioned as a priest in any parish in the Diocese since 2011.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Allentown sent CBS12 News this statement regarding Thomas Benestad:
Retired in 2009. The Diocese attempted to laicize Benestad, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (a Vatican office) found that there was not enough evidence to dismiss him from the clerical state. The Diocese has renewed its request to laicize Benestad. Benestad now resides within the Diocese of Palm Beach. The Diocese of Allentown has not authorized Benestad to engage in active ministry in the Diocese of Palm Beach or any other diocese. Benestad was advised in writing that he cannot present himself as a priest. The Diocese reported the allegation to law enforcement.
- Matt Kerr