The Archdiocese of Miami knew one of its priests had been accused of sexually abusing at least three boys and young men, but allowed him to continue his clergy work involving children, its own records show.
The church records were cited throughout a case-closeout memo following a 17-month Broward state attorney's investigation of the Rev. Neil Doherty. The controversial priest served in Miami-Dade and Broward counties for more than three decades, most recently as pastor of St. Vincent's Church in Margate.
Their release on Wednesday marks the first time internal archdiocese documents about a priest's behavior have become public since the nationwide clergy sex-abuse scandal broke open last year in the Boston archdiocese.
Miami church leaders ''could be considered criminally culpable for failing to report'' the allegations of child abuse, Broward prosecutor Dennis Siegel wrote in his memo. ``However, because the statute of limitations has expired on this matter, no action can be taken by this office.''
Siegel was investigating an allegation that Doherty, 60, drugged and sexually abused a 17-year-old boy in 1978 while the priest worked for Catholic Family Services, the archdiocese's social-service arm. The boy's parents had brought the teenager, a senior at Chaminade High School in Hollywood, to Doherty for counseling.
No charges have been filed against Doherty. Florida law allows prosecutors to bring charges only up to four years after such an incident if a victim is 12 or older. There is no statute of limitations for a victim under 12.
Archdiocese officials declined comment, saying the case remains the subject of an internal church investigation. Kristin West, attorney for Doherty, could not be reached for comment.
Siegel's memo, however, indicated the archdiocese paid a $50,000 settlement in 1994, but didn't notify authorities until last year.
Siegel said church records showed the archdiocese investigated the allegations and concluded by questioning the credibility of Doherty's accusers.
''It is noteworthy that [the archdiocese] went from calling the accusations baseless to resolving the matter for a $50,000 payout to the victim's family . . . despite the possibility that the statute of limitations had expired,'' Siegel wrote.
The victim's lawyer said church officials seemed to care more about their own priests than about the victims.
''The archdiocese did basically what they've always done in these cases,'' said attorney Richard Roselli, who once played football with the alleged victim at Chaminade. ``They feel some empathy and even compassion for these people, but the bigger picture compels them to protect their own.''
Years before the Chaminade settlement, internal church documents revealed the archdiocese knew of at least two other abuse allegations involving Doherty -- one lodged in 1979 and the other in 1987. But the archdiocese didn't remove Doherty from his priest duties until 2002.
A fourth allegation, that Doherty doped and raped a boy of about 12 in the late 1970s at St. Anthony's parish in Fort Lauderdale, surfaced last month in a civil lawsuit. Those allegations are still under investigation by Siegel, the head of the Broward state attorney's sexual crimes and child abuse unit.
Both the former St. Anthony student and the former Chaminade student offered independent but similar accounts that Doherty took them on trips on the pretext of visiting his mother. But instead, they said he took them to hotel rooms, plied them with Quaaludes, marijuana and beer, and then raped them.
''The allegations are the same,'' said Jeffrey Herman, attorney for the alleged St. Anthony's victim. ``The cases are strikingly similar, and it's obvious that Doherty had a modus operandi.''
After the Chaminade student's parents contacted then-Archbishop Edward McCarthy in an August 1992 letter, the church quietly initiated its own investigation. The alleged victim gave this account to the late Monsignor Gerard LaCerra, chancellor of the archdiocese:
Doherty invited him to go to Lake Worth to visit the priest's mother and then took him to a bar and bought him beer. Doherty took the teen to a hotel and gave him two Quaaludes and more beer. They smoked marijuana. Intoxicated, the teen lay on a bed, and Doherty raped him.
Church documents also indicated Doherty volunteered to undergo a mental health evaluation after meeting with his superiors about the Chaminade family's allegations. A letter sent by LaCerra to a Connecticut mental-health program acknowledged that the archdiocese knew of the two previous allegations of sexual impropriety by Doherty.
One complaint from 1979 alleged that Doherty sexually abused an 18-year-old patient at the South Florida Mental Hospital after supplying drugs to the teen. Doherty denied knowledge of the incident, and archdiocese files revealed no police report or other pertinent records.
The second complaint came in 1987 from a psychologist who advised the archdiocese a number of priests, including Doherty, were abusing children. It alleged Doherty consorted with a young male prostitute he met at a halfway house where he did some work. Church records show the archdiocese contacted the man, who denied the allegations.
The Connecticut evaluator recommended that the archdiocese should suspend Doherty from his duties pending further investigation. But a subsequent letter from LaCerra stated that neither he nor an archdiocese attorney 'gave much credence to the parents' story'' of abuse.
In his nine-page memo, Siegel implied that church officials overlooked the similarities of the cases.
Said the prosecutor: ``It is noteworthy that three of the allegations contain similar allegations of Father Doherty interacting with young males in a counseling context, providing drugs to them and then sexually abusing them.''