Church Reveals Sex Allegations
7 South Florida Priests Were Suspended, 4 Have Retired Amid Complaints since 1998
By Jay Weaver, Lisa Arthur and Amy Driscoll
May 24, 2002
Seven South Florida priests have been suspended and four others have retired since 1998 because of sex-abuse allegations lodged against them, the Archdiocese of Miami disclosed for the first time Thursday.
The archdiocese also said it has turned over molestation complaints against four Broward priests to prosecutors in that county.
Church leaders also are working on a request by Miami-Dade County prosecutors to hand over information on similar complaints against priests by next week.
The archdiocese did not identify the suspended and retired priests in a statement supplied to The Herald. But some of them have been sued in recent weeks as the clergy sex-abuse scandal has spread here and across the country.
For months, the Archdiocese of Miami has refused to discuss any sex abuse allegations against its priests, at the same time other archdioceses nationwide have been baring their souls.
And as late as March, a church spokeswoman insisted the Miami archdiocese would not "release personnel information" of past allegations.
The very public release comes at a time when prosecutors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are seriously pressing senior church leaders to cooperate with their investigations.
The archdiocese, which serves 800,000 Catholics in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, hired the Miami public relations firm Wragg & Casas this week to deal with the controversy and media.
There are 430 priests in the archdiocese, according to its website.
"They are being open and forthcoming," said Ray Casas, whose firm has specialized in public relations crises -- including representing U.S. Sugar Corp. in its successful fight against an industry tax to help clean up Everglades pollution.
Casas said the archdiocese is paying his firm, but declined to say how much.
Casas said he disclosed the latest information on priest suspensions and retirements after talking with archdiocese attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald.
Casas said he did not know how many of the seven suspended priests have been removed or reinstated following archdiocese probes into the accusations.
In April, Archbishop John C. Favalora videotaped a statement for parishioners to reassure them the diocese did not have problematic priests. Now the archdiocese finds itself investigating some of its priests.
"This does not mean the person is guilty of the accusation, but we suspend them in the interest of avoiding any possible further incidents," Casas said in the statement Thursday.
"We have no knowledge of any credible charge against an active member of the clergy in the archdiocese."
Currently, there are five sex-abuse suits against priests and the archdiocese -- four of them filed during the past month.
On May 8, the archdiocese publicly suspended two South Florida priests after a former Miami altar boy accused them of molesting him as a teen between 1970 and 1972.
Jose A. Currais Jr. alleges the Revs. Ricardo Castellanos and Alvaro Guichard abused him between the ages of 14 and 16 at St. Kieran Catholic Church in Miami, Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables and elsewhere.
Castellanos, 56, pastor of San Isidro Church in Pompano Beach, and Guichard, 62, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Miami Beach, have denied the allegations.
PLACED ON LEAVE
The archdiocese placed Castellanos and Guichard on administrative leave until the claims are investigated by a "response team" of lay people chosen by Favalora.
The Miami-Dade state attorney's office is reviewing Currais' civil complaint to decide whether to file criminal charges, sources familiar with the case said.
Currais' complaint follows a similar sex-abuse suit filed April 23 by the parents of a deceased former Little Flower altar boy, Miguel Chinchilla.
His family claims Castellanos and Guichard abused Chinchilla between the ages of 14 and 16 from 1975 to 1977.
This week, attorneys for the two priests filed motions to dismiss Chinchilla's suit, saying the four-year statute of limitations has expired.
Attorney Gonzalo Dorta, representing Castellanos, and lawyer Manuel Garcia-Linares, representing Guichard, plan to file similar motions against Currais' suit.
The archdiocese's statement said church officials will provide both Miami-Dade and Broward prosecutors with information about clergy molestation complaints, citing the Rev. Joseph Cinesi case.
In March, The Herald reported that the archdiocese paid five men to keep quiet about sex-abuse allegations against Cinesi.
Cinesi resigned in August 1999 but says he never abused anyone.
Two men accused Cinesi in the late 1990s, when he was assigned to St. Jerome in Fort Lauderdale.
The other three men claimed they were molested as boys by Cinesi at the Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah during the 1980s.
In another Broward case, the Rev. Jan Malicki faces claims by two women alleging the priest sexually assaulted them at St. David Catholic Church in Davie in the 1990s.
Malicki, suspended by church officials in 1998, denies the allegations.
Broward County prosecutors decided not to file charges against him after a two-year investigation.
And just last week, two ex-altar boys sued their former priest, Rev. Ronald John Luka, of sexually abusing them in the late 1970s while they attended St. Helen Church in Lauderdale Lakes.
Luka, a Claretian missionary father, had been the subject of "credible allegations" serious enough to end his public service in 1999, according to the Chicago-based order.
Also last week, a former altar boy accused the Rev. Francisco Carrera of molesting him in the early 1980s while Carrera was assigned to Our Lady of Divine Providence Church in west Miami-Dade.
In recent months, at least three priests have resigned.
In April, the Rev. Edward T. Olszewski, 68, known as "Father Ed," acknowledged in a farewell statement that he was accused of sexual misconduct in an allegation dating back more than 30 years.
"This accusation is completely false," he said then.
The Rev. Kenneth D. Whittaker of St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale also retired, citing a "host of illnesses."
Also, the Rev. Thomas Engbers, 61, of St. Martha's Church in Miami Shores retired citing poor health.
Casas, the church's public relations emissary, said the archdiocese wants to reassure parishioners that it does not tolerate sex abuse.
"The Archdiocese of Miami takes the issue of protecting our children very seriously," he said.
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