Saturday, November 13, 2010

Miami archdiocese accused of "predator" priest cover-up

MIAMI Nov 12 (Reuters Legal) - The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami was accused on Friday of covering up the activities of a U.S. priest facing child sexual abuse charges and described by a victim's lawyer as a "serial predator."

A Florida man filed a complaint in Florida state court seeking damages "in excess of $5 million" from the archdiocese. He alleges the archdiocese is liable for employing a priest who allegedly sexually molested the man when he was a teenager.

The case is one of dozens of similar suits filed against the Miami archdiocese in recent years, against the backdrop of an international outcry over the way the Catholic Church has handled clerical sex abuse scandals.

The complaint names Florida priest Father Neil "Gus" Doherty, 67, saying he abused the victim, who had run away from home and was aged 14-15 at the time, on multiple occasions in the mid-1980s.

The abuse included sodomy and oral sex, the document alleges, identifying the plaintiff only as John Doe.

It says Doherty, wearing his priest's collar, would cruise the area of a Miami trailer park, where he befriended the boy, and plied him with cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.

Doherty is in jail awaiting a criminal trial on charges he drugged and molested another youth repeatedly in Florida's Broward County. A judge had ordered him jailed for violating the terms of his pre-trial release.

Friday's complaint accuses the Miami archdiocese of ignoring and concealing reports about Doherty's alleged sexual abuse as far back as the 1970s.

"I think this particular case highlights a long-standing problem with cover-up of sexual predators in Miami," said Jeffrey Herman, the lawyer who filed the suit. He called Doherty "one of the worst Catholic priest serial predators that I'm aware of."

The archdiocese "kept covering it up and moving him around," Herman said. "The church unfortunately put their reputation ahead of protecting kids."

The archdiocese referred callers to a statement on its website saying Doherty retired in 2002.

"He is not permitted to wear clerical garb, celebrate the sacrament, have an assignment nor is he listed on the archdiocesan website," it said, without addressing in detail the accusations against the archdiocese or Doherty.

During his 2008 visit to the United States, Pope Benedict met victims of abuse by priests, and in a visit to Britain in September this year he made one of his strongest apologies to abuse victims, referring to "these unspeakable crimes".

The Catholic Church in the United States has paid $2 billion in settlements to victims since 1992.

The case is: John Doe no. 69 v. Archdiocese of Miami et al, Circuit Court of the 11th Judicial Circuit (Miami-Dade Country), no. 10-59494-CA-06. John Doe is represented by Jeffrey Herman of Herman, Mermelstein & Horowitz of Miami. (Reporting by Pascal Fletcher of Reuters; Additional reporting by Jeff Roberts of Reuters Legal)

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