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  Two Men Accuse Priest in Miami of Abuse in '70s
Ex-Altar Boys' Lawsuit Details Events in '76-78

By Noaki Schwartz
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
May 15, 2002

The Rev. Ronald John Luka, a local priest who now resides at a long-term treatment center for troubled clergy in Missouri, has been sued by two former altar boys alleging he molested them over several years in the late 1970s.

Stephen Calvert and Scott Melanson filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on Monday against their former priest and the Miami Archdiocese. The 37-year-old men claim in their lawsuit that Luka fondled them and exposed himself to them during sleepovers and field trips when they were both students at a Catholic school in Lauderdale Lakes. They are seeking damages of more than $15,000 for the abuse the lawsuit says occurred from 1976 to 1978.

"It was something [Calvert and Melanson] suppressed in their minds," said their attorney, Joel S. Magolnick, adding that something triggered their memories of the event.

Over the past two decades, it appears that Luka, 65, has lived in South Florida, Chicago and is now in Missouri. He could not be reached for comment, but those who answered the phone at the Wounded Brothers Project in Robertsville, Mo., confirmed Luka is a resident. Tucked in the Missouri woods, the center is described on religious Web sites as a halfway house where priests suffering from mental disorders, alcoholism and pedophilia are treated.

Luka was a member of Claretian Missionaries based in Chicago but in 1976 arrived at St. Helen's, a private school owned by the Miami Archdiocese.

Attorney Richard Leamy, who represents the Claretian Missionaries, said Luka has "not practiced as an active priest for two years" and "is not permitted to act as a priest currently."

Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese, said Luka reported to the Claretian Missionaries and added that "this is a difficult time for the church."

The abuse began when the two boys were about 12 and 13, court documents say. Luka took a special interest in Calvert, becoming friendly with the boy's family, who invited him to dinners and celebrations, the lawsuit says. Calvert's mother, a devout Catholic, allowed her son to stay overnight at Luka's Fort Lauderdale home. There, according to court documents, a scantily clad Luka would bring Calvert into his bed for a massage, proceeding to kiss and fondle the boy. Luka repeated the same activities when he took Calvert on weekend retreats, the suit says.

More than a year into the alleged abuse, Luka arranged for Calvert, Melanson and a third boy to take an Archdiocese-sponsored cross-country trip, documents say.

During the trip, the suit claims similar instances occurred, including one in which a drunk Luka took off his clothes and ran around naked in front of the boys touching himself. A month into the trip, Luka left the boys alone, and a frightened Calvert called his parents from the Bronx Zoo, documents said.

When the boys returned to Florida, a complaint was made to St. Helen's head priest, the Rev. Patrick Murnane, documents said. Murnane, now pastor of Nativity Church and Catholic School in Hollywood, could not be reached for comment.

"He said it would be taken care of and they never saw Luka again," Magolnick said.

The current pastor at St. Helen's, the Rev. William Dever, arrived after Luka and Murnane had moved on and could not comment on the situation but said he is "very sad to hear these stories."

Following Luka's departure, Magolnick thinks the pastor was moved around from state to state. In 1984 Luka took on missions in which he went to a different parish every week for years.

A Web site for the Claretian Missionaries describes the order as a Roman Catholic community devoted to social concerns who work in parishes and publishing. Luka wrote at least two books, including Hangups in Religion in 1970. He also published articles in the 1990s for a Claretian magazine called U.S. Catholic.

As late as 1998, Luka was mentioned in a Pennsylvania newspaper for a lecture he gave on interfaith marriage and in 1999 when he preached at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Cloud in Central Florida.

 
 

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