Former priest, accused though not convicted of abuse, settles quietly into Barefoot Bay
A USA TODAY Network Investigation found nearly 700 former Catholic priests accused of abuse. Some have moved on, while their victims seek justice. Paul Kuehnel, USA TODAY Network
BAREFOOT BAY, Fla. — It may be primarily a retirement community, but the residents of Barefoot Bay have a keen interest in protecting their children.
Hundreds of school-aged children live in the manufactured-home community just north of the Brevard and Indian River county line. And many more visit their grandparents there throughout the year.
But about a dozen of the homes in Barefoot Bay have registered sex offenders, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Then there's Bryan Mead.
He's a former Catholic priest, once credibly accused of sexual misconduct.
Mead was never charged. That means his movements, including his arrival in Barefoot Bay, are not tracked by authorities.
Mead was the subject of a 1996 accusation made to the Burlington, Vermont, bishop, according to BishopAccountability.org, a database of publicly accused priests that also includes files on bishops, and documents from church leadership on the abuse crisis.
The man who said he was Mead's victim said the abuse began when he was 11 years old and continued for six years. The church agreed to a settlement for the man with a confidentiality requirement.
In 2002, the Attorney General's Office in Vermont received records from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington about its reports of priest abuse. Mead was one of 21 clergy named.
Officials said Mead could have faced charges for the accusations, but the statute of limitations had expired.
Mead remained in ministry until 2004.
Ten years later, Mead purchased a home in Barefoot Bay, according to property appraiser records. Barefoot Bay has 10,000 residents and 5,000 homes, packed within a 3-square-mile area.
"It's not a retirement community, but about 95 percent of the people living here are 55 years old or older," said Randy Loveland, a member of the Barefoot Bay Recreation District Board of Trustees, the community's elected governing body.
But there are plenty of kids there too.
The Brevard County School District said it is picking up 218 students from Barefoot Bay on its buses for the 2019-20 school year. And a 2017 survey by the Barefoot Bay Recreation District showed more than 5,800 children visited family there that year.
Catholic sex abuse: Why don't accused priests go to jail?
Mead is one of nearly 700 former priests who have been publicly accused of abuse. Reporters for the USA TODAY Network, participating in an investigation, knocked on more than 100 doors across the country to talk with those priests.
In building its review of priests, the USA TODAY Network worked initially from information gathered by BishopAccountability.org. Reporters used this database in addition to information made available by dioceses because the church has a history of leaving priests off of lists of credibly accused clergy, an issue that has drawn scrutiny from survivors’ groups and victims’ advocates.
Mead appeared at his front door on Sept. 25.
Attached to the screen door was a placard featuring a target practice silhouette and the words "Nothing Inside Is Worth Dying For."
Mead refused to comment for USA TODAY about the allegations made against him while he was a priest.
Neighbors within a block of Mead's home said they were unaware of him or the abuse allegations. They would not comment.
In 2017, Barefoot Bay expanded the label of "parks" to all of its facilities, which includes a golf course, multiple pools, a fishing pier, private beach and playground. That wording places those facilities under the areas where a registered sex offender would be prohibited to be by state law.
"There was not any specific incident prompting the change," Barefoot Bay Community Manager John Coffey said. "It was merely closing a loophole that we had become aware of."
But Mead himself, who has never been convicted of a crime, would not be subject to restriction of movement in Barefoot Bay or anywhere else in the country.
"Regarding the individual in question, we are a recreation district and have no authority over who lives in the district (with the exception of the enforcement of the Deed of Restrictions) as it is an unincorporated part of Brevard County," Coffey said.
"We do work closely with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office in providing them supplemental information to assist in their enforcement of Florida laws and Brevard County codes."
Stancil is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm.
Contact Stancil at 321-987-7179