|Father of Abuse Accuser Sues Religious Order
March 31, 2011
A Nokomis man filed a lawsuit against The Order of Carmelites on Friday, accusing the religious group of failing to supervise a priest now charged with repeatedly sexually abusing his son.
The lawsuit claims the Carmelites were aware of Father William Wert's past conviction for touching a 14-year-old boy on the inner thigh when they allowed him to move to the Carmelite home in Venice while on a leave of absence.
Wert now faces criminal charges he had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old Nokomis boy from September to January, including at the order's home, where Wert lived, and in a motel room.
The father of the Nokomis boy, listed in the lawsuit only as John Doe Sr. to protect his son's identity, first contacted authorities when he found inappropriate messages on his son's cell phone.
The lawsuit states that the Order of the Carmelites had a duty to supervise Wert and prevent him from engaging in sexual abuse on its property, which is close to the Epiphany Cathedral and School in Venice.
"They were well aware this man was an abuser and they put him in a position where he could abuse some more," said one of John Doe Sr.'s attorneys, Venice lawyer Bob Widman. "Here's a guy who abused a 14-year-old boy, and you put him in a house that's within walking distance of a school."
The Carmelites, based in Illinois, did not immediately return a call for comment.
Father John Welch, a prior who oversees Wert and 190 Carmelite priests in the continental United States and South America, previously told the Herald-Tribune that he took steps to keep Wert away from children.
Welch said he sent Wert to the church-owned retirement home in Venice because it had "no proximity" to a school, mission or any other Carmelite-run ministry.
Welch did not notify the Catholic Diocese of Venice about Wert's presence or about his conviction. Welch said that was not necessary because Wert was not authorized to perform ministry for the diocese. The diocese is not named in the suit.
Widman said the case was somewhat unusual because there is an entire 2007 criminal case with accusations of sexual conduct by Wert that put the religious order on notice of his dangerous behavior.
That year, a 14-year-old boy at a transit station in Washington complained to police that Wert had followed him, asked for his name and touched his thigh after suggesting they "hide" somewhere. Originally charged with a misdemeanor sex offense, Wert was convicted of simple assault after a two-day trial; he was sentenced to 15 days in jail and five years of probation. An appeals court upheld his conviction.
Yet Wert then lived with other Carmelites in Sarasota County and had access to a new Ford Mustang and the Internet, Widman said.
"They knew that and they had him on probation, and they had him on a house here in Venice and he was using that house to perpetrate abuse on one child and maybe others," Widman said.
Wert remains in the Sarasota County jail on $190,000 bond for 11 charges of sexual abuse against the Nokomis boy.
The boy is in the process of getting evaluation and treatment, Widman said.
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