Assignment Record – Bishop Joseph Keith Symons

Summary of Case: A Michigan native, Joseph Keith Symons was ordained in 1958 for the St. Augustine diocese, where he became a member of the diocesan Tribunal and an Episcopal Vicar. Symons was known for recruiting young people to the church and for his progressive outreach programs. He directed several camps for children, one of which he had founded. When the diocese split in 1968, Symons ministered for the diocese of St. Petersburg. He held numerous chancery positions in his new diocese. While serving as St. Petersburg's Chancellor in the early 1970s, he accepted into the diocese a known perpetrator of sexual abuse of children; Symons quietly left cash for the mother of two of that priest's victims when she confronted him years later. He denied knowing the priest was a perpetrator. Symons was elevated to Auxiliary Bishop in 1981, and was appointed Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee in 1983. In 1990 he became Bishop of Palm Beach. In 1995 Symons admitted to having sexually abused a boy years earlier, after the victim came forward; Symons said he this was his only victim and was allowed to remain in ministry. Another man disclosed sexual abuse as a child by Symons in 1998. Symons resigned several days later and admitted to having sexually abused five boys early in his career. Bishop Symons returned to his home state of Michigan where he lived in a convent and led adult spiritual retreats.


: 1958
Ordained bishop: March 19, 1981.


Start Stop Parish/Assignment Town/Accusations State Position Notes


St. Augustine bishop was Joseph Patrick Hurley (1940-1967)

1959 St. Monica's


Symons admitted in 1998 that he had molested five altar boys four decades earlier. The admission came after a man in his 50s surfaced with an accusation that Symons molested him over a three year period, begining when the man was 13 years old.

FL 2/2  
1958   St. John Manor   FL Director This was an overnight camp and retreat for children and youth of the diocese.
1958 1959 St. John's Crescent City FL   This was a mission of St. Monica's in Palatka.
1958 1959   Interlachen FL   This was a station of St. Monica's in Palatka.


Hurley was succeeded by Paul Francis Tanner (1968-1979)

1968 Diocesan Tribunal St. Augustine FL    
May 1959   Good Counsel Camp Floral City FL Assistant Director Symons founded this camp for children.
    St. Jude's St. Petersburg FL   This assignment is per news articles.
    St. Ignatius Tarpon Springs FL   This assignment is per news articles.
1959 1961 St. Patrick's Pinellas Park (Largo) FL 2/2 St. Patrick's had a school with 87-198 students.
1959 1961 Espiritu Santu Safety Harbor FL   This was a mission of St. Patricks in Pinellas Park.
1961 1962 Sacred Heart Pinellas Park FL 1/2 Sacred Heart had a school with 161 students.
1962 1966 St. Paul's Leesburg FL 1/1 St. Paul's had a school with 98-165 students.
1962 1966 St. Lawrence Bushnell FL    
1966 1968 Episcopal Vicars St. Augustine FL    


The diocese split in 1968. St. Petersburg bishop was Charles Borromeo McLaughlin (1968-1978)

1971 St. Joseph's Bradenton FL 1/2, 1/3 St. Joseph's had a school with 202-417 students.
1966 1969 St. John the Apostle Samoset FL   This was a mission of St. Joseph's in Bradenton.
1968 1969 Sacred Heart Bradenton FL    


McLaughlin was replaced as St. Petersburg bishop by William Thomas Larkin (1979-1988)

1981 St. Mary Our Lady of Grace St. Petersburg FL 6/6, 7/7, 6/8, 5/8, 4/7, 3/5, 3/6, 5/6 In residence. "Very Rev."  
1968 1983 Building Commission

St. Petersburg FL    
Liturgical Commission St. Petersburg FL    
1968 1983 Liason Commission for Interdenominational Affairs/Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs St. Petersburg FL    
1968 1983 Commission for Communications Media St. Petersburg FL Chair/Director 1970-1975  
Realty Board St. Petersburg FL    
1971 1983 Vicars General St. Petersburg FL    
Diocesan Consultors St. Petersburg FL    
1971 1974 Vicar for Religious Women St. Petersburg FL    
1971 1981 Financial Advisory Board St. Petersburg FL Chair  
1981 1983 Financial St. Petersburg FL    
1981 1983 Financial St. Petersburg FL    
1973 1981 Chancellor St. Petersburg FL   While he was Chancellor, in the early 1970s, Symons accepted into the diocese admitted perpetrator of child sexual abuse, Rev. Rocco Charles D'Angelo. D'Angelo remained there as an active priest for 25 years. The mother of two of D'Angelo's victims confronted Symons when he was Palm Beach bishop in 1995. Symons denied knowing about D'Angelo's abuse history, and subsequently began to leave weekly allotments of cash for the mother, for her sons' needs.
1974 1980 Master of Ceremonies St. Petersburg FL    
1981 1983 Incardination Commission St. Petersburg FL    
1978 1983 Priests' Personnel Committee St. Petersburg FL    
1981 1983 Diocesan Advisory Board St. Petersburg FL    
1981 1983 St. Catherine of Siena Largo FL 1/3 Symons was elevated to Auxilliary Bishop in 1981.


Pensacola-Tallahassee bishop was Joseph Keith Symons (1983-1990)

1990         Symons was appointed Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee Sept. 29, 1983, and installed Nov. 8, 1983.


Palm Beach bishop was Joseph Keith Symons (1990-1998)


Symons was appointed Bishop of Palm Beach June 2, 1990, and installed July 31, 1990.

In 1995 a man came forward to Bishop John Smith of the Pensacola-Tallahasee diocese with an accusation that Symons had sexually abused him when he was a boy. Symons admitted the abuse, said there was "only" one victim, and was allowed to continue in ministry.

Symons resigned in 1998 after admitting to sexually abusing five boys early in his career. He said his abuse of boys ended twenty-five years earlier.

1998   St. Luke Institute Suitland MD patient  
1999     Alma MI   Symons was back in ministry in Michigan by 1999, living in a convent and conducting retreats for adults.


Sources: Official Catholic Directory (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1959-1998)

Catholic Bishop Resigns after Admitting to Sexual Abuse of Children, By Lori Rozsa and April Witt, Miami Herald, June 2, 1998
Bishop Symons Resigns, Diocese Leader Admits "Inappropriate Sex" with Children Early in Career, By Dan Moffett, Palm Beach Post, June 3, 1998
Highlights of Symons' Life, Career, Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News (Stuart, FL), June 3, 1998
After Bishop's Resignation, 2 More Victims Surface, By Sarah Lundy, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), June 5, 1998
Symons Left Cash for Priest's Victim, His Mother Claims, By Dan Moffett and Eliot Kleinberg, Palm Beach Post (Florida), June 5, 1998
Bishop's Fall Unlocks Past Cases, By Scott Gold, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), June 6, 1998
Family of Fallen Bishop in Despair, By Scott Gold, Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), June 7, 1998
Bishop Symons: Sinner and Saint, By Jeff Houck, Palm Beach Post (Florida), June 7, 1998
Sins of the Fathers, Pedophile priests and the challenge to the American Church, By Rod Dreher, National Review , February 11, 2002
Pope Apologizes, Problem Priests Make Way to South Florida, By Peter Franceschina , Fort Lauderdale (FL) Sun-Sentinel, April 24, 2002
Special Reports: Catholic Bishops and Sex Abuse, Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2002
Turbulent Year for Diocese, Church, By Mary McLachlin, March 9, 2003
Forever Altered, By Stephen Nohlgren, St. Petersburg Times, March 22, 2003
Six Abuse Cases Reported by Palm Beach Diocese, By Elizabeth Clarke, Palm Beach Post, February 28, 2004
Diocese Has Abuse Record, By Thomas Hargrove, Detroit News [Florida], October 20, 2006 list of U.S. Bishops Accused of Abuse, April 14, 2008

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Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Symons's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with allegations as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegation we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on Aug. 10, 2012