Ex-Altar Boy Says Ex-Priest Molested Him
Retired Naples Pastor Now Faces Three Suits

By Joan D. Laguardia [Fort Myers FL]
October 3, 2003

A former altar boy has accused William Romero of LaBelle of sexually molesting him while Romero was a priest at St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples 28 years ago.

The plaintiff, who still resides in Southwest Florida and is now 39, is identified in the lawsuit as "A.B."

This is the third lawsuit filed against Romero, who has been under investigation by the Diocese of Venice since May 2002.

Romero retired from the diocese in 1995.

In December 2002, he voluntarily asked to be removed from any priestly obligations. Catholic officials in Rome granted the request.

Thursday, Romero said he had not been informed of the lawsuit attorney Ted Zelman filed by mail Thursday in the Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County.

As in the past, Romero denied the allegations.

"I donít know who this would be. I know nothing more," he said.

"Itís people trying to collect money from the church. Thatís all I can say. I donít know what motivates them," Romero said.

Zelman named Romero, the Archdiocese of Miami and Archbishop James Favarola as defendants.

In 1975 and 1976, St. Ann, a church in Naples, was part of the Archdiocese of Miami when Romero was assistant pastor at the church and a teacher at its school.

The suit alleges "A.B." was a seventh- or eighth-grader at the time.

"A.B." claims the priest engaged him in an escalation of physical contact beginning with a game of leap frog and culminating in masturbation during a nude shower.

When "A.B." told his parents about the shower incident, they discussed it with representatives of the archdiocese.

The suit claims "A.B.ís" family was persuaded "to be good Catholics and to protect the church." They agreed to forego legal action in return for the promise that Romero would be removed from St. Ann and sent where he would not have unsupervised access to children.

It was not until June 2002 that "A.B." and his family learned that Romero had been sent to other churches where he was again accused of molesting children, the suit says.

Romero has been sued by alleged victims at churches where he served before and after St. Ann.

In August, attorney Jason D. Weisser of West Palm Beach sued Romero, the Archdiocese of Miami and the local Diocese of Venice.

That suit claimed Romero sexually abused two brothers and a sister while having an affair with their mother. This allegedly occurred while Romero was a priest at St. Christopher Church in Hobe Sound and St. Joseph the Worker in Moore Haven.

When asked about that suit Thursday, Romero said, "I cannot comment on that."

In June, attorney Ron Weil of Miami sued Romero and the Archdiocese of Miami on behalf of a man who said Romero sexually forced himself on the plaintiff in an office at St. Augustine in Coral Gables. That occurred in the early 1970s, before Romero was transferred to St. Ann.

Gail McGrath, spokeswoman of the Diocese of Venice, declined to comment on the most recent case because she has not seen the lawsuit.

"Sexual abuse of a minor is not only criminal but particularly devastating when the abuser is a person in a position of trust," she said. "Bishop John Nevins continues to encourage anyone who may have been abused at any time by any representative of the church to report the abuse to civil officials and also to the diocese."

The Archdiocese of Miami did not return a telephone call to discuss the newest lawsuit.

So far, at least 25 lawsuits claiming sexual misconduct by priests have been filed against the archdiocese.

Zelman said he will pursue his lawsuit independently of the previous two against Romero.

"This is a very sad chapter in local history," Zelman said, "one that I hope this lawsuit can go a small way toward reconciling."


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