Another Priest Hit with Abuse Lawsuit
Ex-Altar Boys Detail Sex Acts
By Amy Driscoll, Jay Weaver and Lisa Arthur
May 14, 2002
Two ex-altar boys sued their former priest and the Archdiocese of Miami on Monday, accusing the Rev. Ronald John Luka of repeatedly sexually abusing them in the late 1970s while they attended St. Helen Catholic School in Lauderdale Lakes.
Stephen Calvert and Scott Melanson, both 37, filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against their former priest and the archdiocese -- which owns and operates the school -- alleging assault, battery, infliction of emotional distress and other harm.
The suit accuses Luka of ingratiating himself with the boys' families and then molesting them, starting in 1976 at his Fort Lauderdale home, and then during overnight religious retreats and a summertime cross-country trip in 1978.
"They've gone through a lot of suffering. We hope this is the start of the healing process," said Miami attorney Joel Magolnick. "This is the one person they were always told to trust and he turned out to be the one person they couldn't trust."
Magolnick, who is representing the two men along with attorneys Jane Moscowitz and Norman Moscowitz, said his clients would not be commenting publicly on their case.
Luka could not be reached for comment. His brother, Robert J. Luka, interviewed at his Coral Springs home Monday, said he was estranged from his brother and had cut off communication three years ago. He said he had "no clue" about the allegations.
Richard Leamy, attorney for Luka's religious order, the Claretian Missionaries, headquartered in Chicago, said Luka is no longer considered an active priest.
"Father Luka has not been acting as a priest for several years," he said. He would not explain further.
"We just learned of this litigation today," he said, "and I have no further comment at this time."
Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami, said she had no information about Luka, noting that he reports to a superior within his Catholic religious order.
According to the suit, Calvert and Melanson were both 12 and in the sixth grade at the school when Luka, now 65, was transfered there to replace another priest in 1976. The new priest took a "special interest" in both boys, befriending them and their families.
At separate times, both boys were invited to his house after school, which is where the initial abuse took place, the suit said.
In Calvert's case, the priest would obtain permission from the boy's parents for Calvert to stay overnight at his home in Fort Lauderdale.
At first the priest would lie in bed next to the boy and ask the boy to scratch and massage his back. "At times, Luka had his underwear on. At other times, he was naked," the suit says. "Additionally, Luka repeatedly kissed Calvert on his face and upper body."
Eventually, the suit says, Luka took the boy on an archdiocese-sponsored, marriage weekend retreat at a campground. The boy, Luka allegedly told the parents, would assist him in the seminars and at Masses.
Once there, the priest and the boy shared Luka's pop-up camper, which had two beds. Both nights of the retreat, Luka climbed into the boy's bed, the suit says, "committing numerous acts of sexual battery and abuse" on the boy and forcing the boy to fondle him in a series of "degrading and abusive encounters."
A second retreat followed, with more abuse. The overnight stays in the priest's house also continued, according to the suit.
At the same time, the other plaintiff in the suit, Melanson, says he was being similarly abused at Luka's home during after-school hours. Back-scratching and massages also gave way to genital fondling and masturbation, the suit says.
"Like Calvert, Melanson was confused as to what was happening, but he, too, had been conditioned to fully comply with Luka's directions and to submit to his authority without question," the suit states. "Melanson himself wanted to be a priest, and given that Luka was a trusted priest and represented God, Melanson naturally assumed that Luka had reasons for his actions -- reasons that Melanson accepted blindly."
At the end of seventh grade, the priest invited both boys -- and an unnamed third boy who has not filed suit -- to join him on a cross-country trip sponsored by the archdiocese, the suit says.
Calvert and the third boy traveled with Luka in the pop-up camper, while Melanson would join them in Chicago after a trip with his family. During the first four weeks of trip, Calvert and Melanson say, Luka repeatedly took his clothes off and forced them to watch behavior that included "stripping, dancing naked and self-stimulation."
The boys -- who were 13 by then -- also were sexually abused by Luka, the suit says.
At one point on the trip, he left the boys unaccompanied at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Frightened at being left alone, Calvert called his parents, who contacted a family member in Fairfield, Conn., the suit says.
Luka did return, and drove the boys to Fairfield. From there, Calvert returned to Florida along with the unnamed third boy. Melanson, whose parents were still traveling, stayed with the priest until the end of the trip, the lawyers said.
After the boys' return, according to the suit, someone complained about Luka's erratic behavior to the Rev. Patrick J. Murnane, then-pastor of St. Helen Catholic Church and School in Lauderdale Lakes. Murnane "promised to take appropriate action," the suit says. When the boys started school in fall 1978, Luka was gone. The suit accuses the archdiocese of intentionally moving Luka "to avoid public scandal and criminal prosecution."
Prosecutor Dennis Siegel, head of the child-abuse and sex-crimes unit in the Broward State Attorney's Office, said he could not comment on whether his office is investigating the allegations against Luka.
Murnane did not return two calls to his parish on Monday. He is now pastor of Nativity Church and Catholic School in Hollywood, where a substitute teacher was accused of molesting children, resulting in a $1.65 million settlement with six elementary school students in 1990, court records show.
The current pastor of St. Helen, the Rev. William Dever, also could not be reached for comment Monday.
Lawyers for Calvert and Melanson say in the suit that both men developed coping methods over the years that until recently prevented them from fully understanding the link between Luka's behavior and their current problems, including alcohol abuse and difficulty maintaining relationships and trusting people.
Herald staff writer Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.
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