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  2 S. Florida Ex-Priests Sued
Allegations of Sex Abuse in '70s, '80s

By Amy Driscoll and Jay Weaver
Miami Herald
May 29, 2002

Two former South Florida priests were sued Tuesday -- one for the second time -- in separate sex-abuse cases accusing them of molesting boys entrusted to their care during the 1970s and 1980s.

The suits name former priests Ernesto Garcia-Rubio and Ronald John Luka, along with the Archdiocese of Miami, in cases filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

The suits come less than a week after the Miami archdiocese, under pressure from prosecutors, revealed that seven South Florida priests have been suspended and four others have retired since 1998 because of sex-abuse allegations.

Archdiocese officials also are working on a request by the Miami-Dade state attorney's office to hand over information on similar complaints against priests.

Tuesday's case against Garcia-Rubio was filed by a Salvadoran refugee who chose to remain anonymous. It accuses the priest of sexually assaulting the then-16-year-old in a church-run shelter for refugee boys at Our Lady of Divine Providence in west Miami-Dade County in 1984.

The man, now 35, separated from his wife and living in South Florida, alleges in the suit that he reported the abuse to the archdiocese and was threatened with deportation if he continued to pursue his case.

"They said I wouldn't be able to stay in the U.S. if I kept talking about it, and I didn't want to go back to my country for anything in the world," he said Tuesday. "Coming from a third-world country, you believe in the church and you believe in the priests, plus I didn't have that much education. I was very afraid."

His father had been killed by guerrillas in El Salvador, he said, and he feared he would die, too, if he were returned to his country.

"He was a thousand miles from his family and this priest preyed on him at his most vulnerable time," said attorney Patrick Noaker, who is handling the case along with attorney Russell Adler.

In 1988 -- four years after the boy allegedly reported the abuse to the archdiocese -- Garcia-Rubio left Our Lady of Divine Providence amid a second set of abuse allegations. He was transferred to Honduras the following year.

NO CHARGES

Prosecutors never filed charges in the 1988 case because none of the alleged victims said they were molested, according to a Miami-Dade state attorney's report.

Before his transfer to Honduras, Garcia-Rubio spent 10 months on a sabbatical leave in Colombia and underwent tests at a Catholic psychological evaluation center.

Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Tuesday that church policy does not allow her to comment on the lawsuit against Garcia-Rubio. She said she did not know whether Garcia-Rubio was among the 11 priests who have been suspended or have retired since 1998, but confirmed that he had been "laicized" -- returned to lay status -- by the Vatican during the past decade.

Garcia-Rubio, 65, could not be reached for comment.

He was ordained in Miami in 1963, and returned to live in Cuba. He was one of several priests asked by the Cuban government to leave in 1969.

Church records indicate he was a priest at Sts. Peter & Paul in Miami in 1969. He also was a priest at St. Brendan in Miami from 1970 to 1972, and was spiritual director at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami from 1969 to 1972, the records indicate. He joined Our Lady of Divine Providence in 1976.

The second case filed Tuesday names another ex-priest who has been the subject of previous sex-abuse allegations.

Luka -- sued earlier this month by two former altar boys -- is again named in a sex-abuse suit filed by a former student at St. Helen Catholic School in Fort Lauderdale, which is owned and operated by the archdiocese.

RESPECTED STATUS

Thomas Murphy, 36, alleges in his suit that the priest abused him two or three times between 1976-78 while Luka worked at St. Helen's. The boy, who was in sixth and seventh grades then, was also an altar boy. "It was precisely because of his status as a priest and representative of the archdiocese that Luka won the family's trust and confidence, enabling Luka to perpetuate the horrific acts committed against Murphy," the suit says.

Murphy, who is married, has a child and lives in Palm Beach County, is accusing the former priest of molesting him during sleepovers requested by Luka.

In the previous suit, former altar boys Stephen Calvert and Scott Melanson, both 37, accused Luka of a similar pattern of behavior in the same period of time.

Luka was gone from the school in fall 1978, according to the earlier suit.

ARCHDIOCESE'S ROLE

Both suits accuse the archdiocese of deliberately moving Luka to avoid scandal and criminal prosecution.

In 1999, when additional allegations surfaced against Luka -- allegations reaching back more than 20 years in New York -- he was sent by his religious order to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, a treatment center for priests.

He is now at the Wounded Brothers Project in Robertsville, Mo., a halfway house for priests dealing with pedophilia and drug or alcohol abuse, according to an attorney for the Claretian Missionaries.

 
 

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