Retired Catholic priest named in sex-abuse suit

A retired priest, already in jail on sexual-abuse charges, was named in a new lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami

Miami Herald/February 16, 2011

A retired Roman Catholic priest, who is in jail in Broward County awaiting trial on sexual-abuse charges and already named in 25 sex-abuse lawsuits, has been named in a new lawsuit.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Miami-Dade County against the Archdiocese of Miami, a 29-year-old man identified only as "John Doe No. 71" says the Rev. Neil Doherty, 68, repeatedly drugged and raped him in the early 1990s.

The lawsuit says the accuser was 8 years old when he met Doherty near his home at Keystone Trailer Park in Miami, where Doherty would don a priest's collar and cruise the area in his car. The accuser was given drugs and abused "on more than 50 occasions" until he was 11.

At the time, Doherty was assigned to Holy Redeemer Church in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood.

The lawsuit says the archdiocese knew Doherty was abusing boys in the 1970s, but that the church "continued to place Doherty in positions where he had total access to minors."

The archdiocese's knowledge of past accusations against Doherty surfaced in a 2003 memorandum by the Broward state attorney's office in which a sex-crimes prosecutor disclosed a $50,000 settlement in 1994 with a student who had been enrolled decades earlier at Chaminade High School in Hollywood.

Attorney Jeffrey Herman filed the latest lawsuit. He has represented dozens of clients in cases against the archdiocese, including most of the ones that name Doherty. Several cases involving the priest, who served in South Florida parishes and schools for three decades, have been settled.

Doherty was assigned to St. Vincent's Church in Margate in 2002 when the archdiocese put him on administrative leave.

"Rev. Neil Doherty retired in 2002 without faculties; he is not permitted to wear clerical garb, celebrate the sacrament, have an assignment nor is he listed on the archdiocesan website," archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said Wednesday.

Doherty, who lives in Lake Worth, was arrested Nov. 4 on charges of violating terms of a pretrial release. Those terms stemmed from a 2006 arrest on charges of sexually abusing a boy in the 1990s. The man, now 24, settled a civil case with the archdiocese in 2007.

Doherty had been under house arrest with electric monitoring while awaiting trial, but his GPS monitor lost contact for 17 minutes in October. Doherty claimed he was attending a funeral at the time, one of eight times when he had disconnected from his GPS device since 2009. Because he had disconnected from the monitoring system, a Broward judge jailed him until trial. A hearing is set for March 2.

Separate from the lawsuit, a national sexual abuse victims' organization on Wednesday called on Archbishop Thomas Wenski to change the way the church deals with reports of abuse.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, held a press conference outside the archdiocesan chancery in Miami Shores, where a representative said that Agosta, who also directs the church's Safe Environment Program, should be replaced in that capacity. Under the program, the archdiocese conducts training in parishes about how to spot abusers, operates a hotline where victims can report abuses, does background checks and fingerprints employees.

"With Mary Ross Agosta making statements defending the handling of these abuse cases, how can victims feel confident in coming to her office?" said Barbara Blaine, president of Chicago-based SNAP. "There's no question it's a conflict of interest."

In an interview, Agosta said that her job is to "communicate safe environment work to the public, clergy and parishioners" and that she does "not get involved with victims." Agosta said that another Safe Environment Program employee, Deacon Richard Turcotte, communicates with abuse victims who come forward. Turcotte is also CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.