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  Priest Speaks out against Accusers

By Noaki Schwartz nschwartz@sun-sentinel.com
South Florida Sun-Sentinel [Miami FL]
January 1, 2004

Miami· For half his 34 years in the priesthood, the Rev. Alvaro Guichard has been dogged by suspicions that he is a child molester.

Guichard has fought hard to stay behind the pulpit at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Miami Beach, despite persistent allegations that he abused teenage boys in the 1970s and 1980s -- and decisions by the Archdiocese of Miami to suspend him twice.

For much of his career, Guichard was successful, but his latest suspension has kept him from active ministry since Dec. 8.

Now the 63-year old priest is going on the offensive, breaking with the Miami archdiocese and his fellow clergy.

"I am speaking out for all the other priests," he said. "We need a charter to protect the priests under false allegations. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty."

Guichard said he thinks the priesthood has been tarnished by the crisis -- and that accused priests like him have been too hastily judged.

"The image of the priest is destroyed," Guichard said. "The image now is that all priests are child molesters. I am angry."

For 15 months, Guichard has investigated his own accusers and now carries around a soft black briefcase of worn affidavits, frayed articles and books.

Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Guichard has the right to express his anger but church officials are taking necessary actions to address the scandals.

"The archdiocese must adhere to its policy," Agosta said. "Placing him on leave allows us to resolve any doubt regarding this accusation."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, calls Guichard's behavior "pathetic."

"The odds that three different individuals would both falsely accuse the same priest and persuade an attorney they are credible -- those odds are laughably slim," Clohessy said. "The victims were not only persuasive enough to a civil attorney but they were credible enough that the archbishop himself took action."

A native of Cuba, Guichard said he spent three years in law school there and after Fidel Castro came to power was arrested several times for defending the Catholic Church in an increasingly communist country.

"I have always reacted against injustice," he said.

Just days before the U.S.-led Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, he fled to Spain and joined the Dominican Order of priests. In 1968, Guichard moved to Rome and three years later to Miami, where he began working at St. Thomas the Apostle.

The priest was first accused of sexual abuse in 1986. A churchgoer filed a complaint with the then Miami Archbishop on behalf of Miguel Chinchilla Jr.

Guichard, who was cleared at the time, carries a photocopy of a 1989 affidavit in which Chinchilla called the allegations an "unfortunate misunderstanding."

Years later, in April 2002, Chinchilla's parents sued the archdiocese, alleging their son was sexually abused by Guichard and another priest in the mid-1970s.

A second civil suit against the archdiocese was filed in May 2002 by 46-year-old Jose Albino Currais Jr. who alleged Guichard and another priest participated in orgies with boys and in a sex ring that serviced visiting seminarians from Rome in the early 1970s. Guichard dismisses the accusations, saying he was in a seminary in Rome then, but the priest acknowledged he was working in Miami at least part of that time.

The archdiocese immediately suspended Guichard after the second lawsuit was filed. More than a year later, he was reinstated and cleared by the archdiocese's internal review team in August 2003.

"I am treated like a trash bag. I'm put into a container, taken out and now I'm in the container again!" he said of his suspensions. "We priests are at the mercy of our accusers. Oh, yeah, I pray. But at the same time I fight."

Noaki Schwartz can be reached at nschwartz@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5004.
 
 
 

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