Two more sexual abuse cases filed against Archdiocese of Miami

The Archdiocese of Miami was hit with another two lawsuits by alleged victims claiming that a priest abused them when they were boys. The suits also claim that the archdiocese knew about and covered up the abuse

The Miami Herald/November 4, 2011

Two new victims have filed negligence suits against the Archdiocese of Miami saying that the Rev. Neil Doherty – who has a long list of accusers – drugged and raped them when they were boys and that the archdiocese tried to cover up his abuse.

Doherty, 69, is currently in prison awaiting trial for a criminal sexual assault charge against a minor in Broward.

The two new allegations made public Thursday now brings the number of civil cases against the archdiocese naming Doherty as the abuser to at least 26, making him the worst accused sexual predator in the archdiocese's history.

The latest victims, who are now 50 and 37 years old, are each seeking compensation from the archdiocese in excess of $5 million.

"I kept it inside, I kept it a secret, it's not easy to come here and do what I'm doing," said Benjamin Fisher, 50, speaking at a press conference in front of the Cathedral of St. Mary's in Miami— where he claims Doherty first abused him. Fisher's suit claims the abuse began when he was 16 and lasted for five years.

The archdiocese released a statement Thursday on the two new suits saying that the matter has been referred to the State Attorney's office and that it will be conducting an internal investigation.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said the archdiocese had not yet reviewed the lawsuits and would not comment beyond the issued statement.

The other victim, who is unrelated to Fisher's case, has not come forward publicly. He was just nine years old when the alleged abuse first began, according to court documents.

Jessica Arbour, one of the attorneys representing the two plaintiffs, said she is also asking the archdiocese to release the names of all priests who have had allegations of sexual abuse lodged against them. She said that since the Archdiocese of Miami was founded in 1957, there have been 35 priests publicly-accused of sexual abuse of minors.

Arbour asserts the number is actually closer to 400 – roughly 10 percent of all the clergy who have worked in the archdiocese. She further alleges that the archdiocese often protects members of the clergy who have been accused of sexual abuse.

Both suits say that the archdiocese knew of Doherty's history, but continued to put him in positions where he could abuse boys like Fisher and the other unidentified accuser in later years.

According to their lawsuits, Doherty's supervising pastor in 1972 reported to the Archdiocese that Doherty "legally adopted" a young teenager who often slept in his bedroom with him. The archdiocese did not investigate the matter and instead transferred Doherty out of the parish saying that he was unable to get along the with the pastor.

Seven years later, officials at the archdiocese reportedly received a complaint that Doherty drugged and molested an unidentified 16 year old boy who was being treated in a mental hospital. Again, the suit says that the archdiocese launched no investigation and instead concealed the documents related to the report in a "secret file" that only the archbishop and his designees could access.

"He viewed his collar as a license to abuse people," Arbour said.

In the early 1990s, then-Archbishop Edward McCarthy ordered an investigation, including a mental-health evaluation of Doherty. The evaluator recommended that Doherty be temporarily suspended, but it didn't happen.

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

The archdiocese didn't notify authorities about the matter until 2002, according to the prosecutor's memo. That was the year Doherty was placed on leave. He voluntarily retired in 2004.

Doherty's criminal case has dragged on for four years, delayed by issues of Doherty's competency and trial witnesses. The judge has ruled Doherty is competent to stand trial.

Doherty's attorney for the criminal case, David Bogenschutz, said the case will eventually go to trial, but not before the end of the year.

Although he currently sits in jail awaiting trial after he violated his bond, Doherty remains an ordained priest.

"To call him a monster is not inaccurate," Arbour said.

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