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  Former Altar Boy Accused Priest, Church Says

By Jay Weaver and Amy Driscoll
Miami Herald
June 6, 2002

The Rev. Jose Nickse, pastor of St. Brendan Catholic Church, was put on leave after the Archdiocese of Miami received a sex-abuse complaint against him from a former altar boy, church officials confirmed.

The accuser, now in his 30s, claims Nickse molested him in 1982 when he was 15, according to his lawyer, Sheldon Stevens, of Cocoa Beach.

Nickse, 56, a popular South Florida priest, denied the allegations through the archdiocese's attorney.

"It's his intention to fight them," lawyer J. Patrick Fitzgerald said. "And we support him in that endeavor."

Stevens, in a May 31 letter to the archdiocese, told the church that his client had also been molested by the Rev. Ricardo Castellanos in 1980 when he was a priest at St. Brendan.

A veteran lawyer who has previously sued the Miami archdiocese, Stevens has not filed a court claim against the two priests. He declined to reveal specific details of the complaint.

SECOND PRIEST

Fitzgerald confirmed Stevens named a second priest in that letter but would not say it was Castellanos.

Last month, the archdiocese removed Castellanos, 56, as pastor of San Isidro Church in Pompano Beach after two other former altar boys accused him in lawsuits of sexually abusing them in the 1970s. The archdiocese also suspended the Rev. Alvaro Guichard, 62, pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach, based on the same accusations. Both priests deny wrongdoing.

The latest salvo against the Miami archdiocese comes against the backdrop of a national Roman Catholic bishops meeting next week in Dallas to address the issue of sexual abuse.

Prosecutors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are also investigating sex-abuse allegations against current and former South Florida priests.

Locally, Archbishop John Favalora -- who remained mum as suits began to be filed against the church -- has taken a tougher stance in recent weeks, calling for a no-tolerance policy in abuse cases.

TOTAL OF 12

Favalora recently disclosed that at least 11 priests have been suspended or retired since 1998 because of past sex-abuse allegations. Nickse's suspension brings the total to 12, Fitzgerald said.

Ray Casas, an archdiocese fundraiser and public-relations expert hired by the church, said Favalora chose to go public with the information and assist prosecutors as best he can.

"The archbishop deserves all the credit," Casas said.

The archdiocese, which represents 800,000 Catholics in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, has begun sharing current and past complaints with state prosecutors.

On Wednesday, one day after Nickse was placed on leave, Favalora sent a memo to all parish priests about the sex-abuse accusations.

"For your information, both Miami-Dade and Broward state attorneys are requiring us to report information regarding all accusations of sexual abuse occurring in the Archdiocese of Miami," Favalora wrote. "That information will be delivered to them this week."

STARTED WEDNESDAY

Fitzgerald said the archdiocese started turning over complaints to Miami-Dade prosecutors Wednesday.

"They've asked us to be quiet, and we're going to remain quiet," Fitzgerald said.

Said Miami-Dade state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith: "All commentary regarding issues relating to the Catholic church investigation is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, and it would be inappropriate to comment."

Nickse's leave shocked church parishioners and students at St. Brendan High School, where he is supervising principal.

Mari Faraldo, whose son and daughter are altar servers at St. Brendan, said she and other parishioners fully support Nickse.

"He has done incredible things for this community," Faraldo said. "He's a huge leader, and he's dearly loved."

Nickse, pastor of St. Brendan since 1982, led a televised Mass honoring the 30th anniversary of the archdiocese in 1988.

He also helped found Operation Guardian Angels, a 1994 relief effort for Cuban and Haitian children in Guantanamo. It placed hundreds of refugee children in private schools and Catholic church-sponsored educational centers.

Nickse will be temporarily replaced by St. Brendan's associate pastor, the Rev. Charles Peterman.

 
 

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