Lawyers Claim Vatican Knew about Troubled Past" of Former Miami Priest

By Jay Weaver
News & Observer
March 29, 2010

The Archdiocese of Miami, along with top Vatican authorities, knew as far back as 1968 that the Rev. Ernesto Garcia-Rubio, a priest later defrocked amid child sex-abuse allegations, had a troubled past in Cuba before transferring to South Florida, lawyers representing victims claimed Monday.

The lawyers say the Vatican's role is similar to what is alleged in the scandal now unfolding in Wisconsin, where top Catholic officials are accused of failing to defrock a priest accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys in a long career that paralleled the Miami cleric's. Pope Benedict XVI was in charge of the Vatican office that reviewed such cases when he served as Cardinal Ratzinger.

"It was a longstanding and well-known secret that the Vatican and Archdiocese of Miami knew exactly what Ernesto Garcia-Rubio was capable of," said attorney Jessica Arbour, who with lawyer Stuart Mermelstein, has filed several suits against the archdiocese involving Garcia-Rubio.

Garcia-Rubio, now 72, was celebrated as the Archdiocese of Miami's "patron saint" of young Central American and Cuban refugee boys who flocked to his Our Lady of Divine Providence in Sweetwater in the 1980s. He served there from 1975-88.

In the confidential, Sept. 3, 1968, letter, Washington-based Apostolic Delegate Luigi Raimondi warned then-Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll that Garcia-Rubio "was forced to leave Cuba because of serious difficulties of a moral nature (homosexuality)." Raimondi inserted the parentheses around the word homosexuality.

Some experts say the term was used by the Catholic Church then to describe priests involved in pedophilia or child abuse.

Raimondi urged Carroll "to protect this priest with your accustomed paternal charity."

Three days later, Carroll replied the information was "a surprise indeed to me. I had made what I thought were sufficient inquiries regarding his reason for having left Cuba. At no time did anyone indicate that the problem was of such a nature as that described in your letter." Carroll concluded: "I assure you that I will do what I can in every way to protect him and also to do so with charity in my heart."

Miami archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said Monday that back in the 1960s, the term "homosexuality" meant just that.

"Clearly, it doesn't mean that a homosexual is a child sex offender," Agosta said. "I don't think there's a double code in there. My interpretation is what it is in the letter. To think of it as coded letter is incorrect."

She added that the 1968 correspondence between the papal delegate and the Miami archbishop was necessary because after the Castro revolution there were no formal communications between the Catholic Church in Cuba and the United States.

An expert in a similar lawsuit alleging child sex abuse by Garcia-Rubio said in a sworn statement that among ecclesiastical leaders during the time of the alleged abuse, "'moral problems' generally referred to sexual issues.

"'Homosexuality' most often referred to same-sex issues between clerics and young adolescent males," said Thomas P. Doyle, a Maryland Canon Lawyer and Dominican priest.

The Miami Herald first broke the story about allegations of child sexual abuse by Garcia-Rubio in 1988 - provoking condemnation from the Miami archdiocese. Top church officials denounced the story as an "inquisition."

But privately Archbishop Edward McCarthy had already insisted that Garcia-Rubio be evaluated for pedophilia, according to investigative records obtained by The Miami Herald.

Six months before the paper's November 1988 story ran, the archbishop told Garcia-Rubio, then on sabbatical in Colombia, that he shouldn't return to Miami for a visit to celebrate his 25th year in the priesthood.

"I also must insist that following your sabbatical, but prior to your return, you receive a psychiatric evaluation in a setting determined by the archdiocese," McCarthy wrote him on May 11, 1988.

"Ernesto, this is as much for your protection as that of the archdiocese," said McCarthy, who is now deceased.

The complaints against Garcia-Rubio - first lodged at the Sweetwater church - eventually surfaced in The Miami Herald story, which highlighted four sex-abuse allegations by teenage Nicaraguan and Salvadoran refugees from 1983 to 1988.

In late 1988, Miami archdiocese officials sent Garcia-Rubio to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland for a pedophilia evaluation.

The archdiocese's chancellor, the Rev. Gerard LaCerra wrote McCarthy that St. Luke's found "insufficient" information to confirm pedophilia. But he added: "This does mean that great caution and monitoring will be necessary in the future. . . . They had said to me that everything was borderline."

But six years would pass before Garcia-Rubio formally applied to the Vatican to be laicized, or defrocked. In his 1994 application, he noted he left the active priesthood in 1989 because "three couples in Miami made allegations in regard to unaccompanied children coming from Central America."

But Garcia-Rubio's troubled past in Miami caught up to him after his transfer to Honduras, so he was forced to leave the priesthood in 1991.

The allegations triggered a criminal investigation in Miami-Dade, but no charges were filed.

In late 1999, Archbishop John Favalora wrote the Vatican to reactivate Garcia-Rubio's petition to be defrocked, saying his original request was "apparently" lost. Favalora noted that Garcia-Rubio married in 1992, had a child the following year and was living in the Miami area.


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