St. Petersburg Bishop Denies Allegation
Bishop Robert N. Lynch Called A News Conference To Fight A Man's Claim Of Sexual Misconduct

By Jason Garcia and Christopher Sherman, Sentinel Staff Writers
March 23, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- A second Florida bishop has been accused of sexual misconduct, after his former top aide claimed the bishop repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward him while the two were on business trips.

Bishop Robert N. Lynch, who has run the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg for six years, denied the claims and said an internal investigation proved the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Bill Urbanski, 42, the diocese's former communications director, said Lynch would book a single hotel room for the two when they traveled together on church business.

At locales such as West Palm Beach and Santa Fe, N.M., Lynch would frequently touch Urbanski, including one instance when the two were alone in a swimming pool, said Geoffrey Bichler, Urbanski's Winter Park-based attorney.

"There were a couple of incidents of unwanted touching," Bichler said. "Nothing that anyone would consider overt sexual actions, but touching of a leg, or a thigh, something like that."

Lynch vehemently denied any physical sexual contact or advances toward Urbanski at a news conference he called Friday when he learned that a local media outlet planned to publish a story about the allegations.

"I have faithfully and fully lived the celibate vow since the day of ordination," Lynch, 60, said. "I have always denied the substance of the harassment allegation, and I continue to do so."

Bichler said he did not know how the story leaked to the media, and Urbanski told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that he never intended for the story to become public.

"I was always going to keep it my dirty little secret," he said.

At his home in Tampa, where large paintings of his children -- a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter -- hang in his living room, Urbanski referred reporters to a written statement.

"My family and I pray every night that the bishop has the strength to now guide his actions just as he conscientiously shepherded his congregation," Urbanski's statement read. "And that the community demonstrates the powers of understanding and forgiveness that nourishes -- and sustains -- faith."

The claim comes two weeks after a Palm Beach bishop confessed to inappropriately touching a teenager more than two decades ago.

Bichler said Urbanski first confronted Lynch in August and the bishop turned the matter over to the diocese to investigate. A church spokeswoman said Urbanski took a paid leave of absence during the three-month investigation.

"It was thoroughly done," said Mary Jo Murphy, the diocese's current communications director.

After Lynch was cleared of any wrongdoing, Murphy said, Urbanski was offered another job in the diocese where he would not be under the bishop's supervision. Urbanski declined.

"I don't think Bill felt that the investigation was fair," Bichler said. "At that point, Bill had decided he was going to leave employment with the church."

Urbanski and the diocese agreed on a $100,000 severance package, Murphy said. Bichler said the package also included an agreement that Urbanski would not seek any legal action.

"I think people have to draw their own conclusions about why they would have paid that kind of money," he said. "The accusations were made and they began negotiating."

Murphy disputed that.

"That is not at all what happened," she said. "This is a severance pay."

The Diocese of St. Petersburg covers five counties and has 372,000 members.

The case is the latest allegation of sexual impropriety to surface against the church since a sex scandal began in Boston.

Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell resigned from the Diocese of Palm Beach two weeks after admitting he sexually abused a former seminarian in the 1970s.

Another man has sued church officials over allegations of sexual exploitation by O'Connell at a Missouri seminary from 1967 to 1971. The name of the 47-year-old accuser, who lives in Minnesota, has not been made public .















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