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  Accused Priest Faced an Earlier Complaint

By Jay Weaver
Miami Herald
June 11, 2004

The Rev. Trevor Smith, charged with fondling a 12-year-old boy at a nursing home three years ago, was accused of sexual misconduct long before the recent incident that led to his arrest this week, an Archdiocese of Miami spokesman said Thursday.

"It was a much earlier allegation," the Rev. Mark T. Reeves told The Herald. "I have no knowledge of how the earlier allegation was dealt with by the archdiocese."

But Reeves said that allegation was unrelated to the criminal complaint filed by the boy. The youth, now 15, claimed he was sexually assaulted by Smith in 2001 at the Villa Maria Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Miami.

Reeves said he would not discuss any aspect of Smith's 35-year career with the Miami Archdiocese, saying his personnel records were confidential.

Smith's attorney, David Raben, did not return three calls to his office, but in the past, Smith, 67, has proclaimed his innocence regarding the alleged nursing home incident.

Smith, who retired from the archdiocese in April 2002, was charged Wednesday with two counts of lewd and lascivious assault on a minor. The priest, born in South Africa and a naturalized U.S. citizen, is living in Pompano Beach under house arrest and must wear an electronic ankle bracelet that monitors his movements.

In July 2002, the boy told North Miami police that Smith fondled him while he was visiting his ailing grandmother at the nursing home. In September, the boy's civil attorney, Jeffrey Herman, filed a negligence suit against the archdiocese, which settled the case for $500,000 last fall.

FROM THE 1970S

Herman, who fought the archdiocese to turn over Smith's personnel records and related church documents, said he believes the other sexual-misconduct allegation Reeves referred to stemmed from the early 1970s.

"It is my understanding that Father Smith was accused of inappropriate conduct with boys in and around the 1970s, around the same time that he was sent for treatment to the House of Affirmation," Herman said. "It was the place where the Catholic Church sent their pedophile priests for treatment."

In the civil case, both the archdiocese and Smith's attorney, Douglas McIntosh, filed a so-called "privilege log" with the court that listed two dozen internal church documents that they maintained were protected personnel and medical records.

The judge in the case never ruled on disclosing those documents because the case was settled before trial.

Among the records in the log was correspondence showing Smith underwent evaluation in 1973 by the Rev. Thomas Kane, a psychologist, and Sister Anna Polcino, a psychiatrist. They co-founded the House of Affirmation, a Massachusetts treatment center for priests with a variety of psychological problems, primarily pedophilia.

The log, in which 18 of the 24 records involved the 1973 evaluation, does not specify the reason the priest saw Kane, Polcino and another psychiatrist, Conrad Baars. Nor does the log disclose what was in a series of letters the three specialists sent to Miami church leaders about Smith's evaluation and psychotherapy.

The only notation in the log summarizing Smith's sessions was a reference to a "penitent clergy."

Following the sessions, Smith was assigned to work in several archdiocese parishes and hospitals around Miami-Dade and Broward counties over the next two decades. He ended up as chaplain at Villa Maria in 1995 and remained there until he retired in 2002.

Reeves, the archdiocese spokesman, said he could not comment on the privilege log filed in the nursing home civil suit.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state attorney's office, declined to comment about a possible earlier allegation of sexual misconduct involving Smith. Griffith cited the confidentiality of the current investigation of the nursing home criminal case.

Smith's prosecution is the first involving a Miami Archdiocese priest since the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal broke in early 2002. That spring, the Miami-Dade state attorney's office launched its own clergy-abuse investigations, asking the archdiocese to turn over all sexual-misconduct complaints.

"During this entire investigation, the Archdiocese of Miami has cooperated fully with the state attorney's office," the archdiocese said in a prepared statement. "As requested by the state attorney's office, every accusation since 1958, regardless of the criminal statutes of limitations or the credibility of the claim, was reported."

35 CASES CLOSED

On Wednesday, prosecutors closed out about 35 cases - involving 20 priests, two nuns, one eucharistic minister, a teacher and others - without pursuing further criminal action because the statute of limitations had expired. Most of the incidents were decades old and reported too late to clear that legal barrier, prosecutors said.

The only exceptions were the charges brought against Smith and a former volunteer at St. Agatha Church in West Miami-Dade. Juan M. Sastre Sr., 86, of Hialeah, was charged with one count of capital sexual battery on a girl under 12 years old stemming from an incident in the church's sacristy in 1989.

In 2002, after the girl and her two older sisters accused Sastre of sexually assaulting them, Sastre denied the allegations. But later in a statement to a state attorney's investigator, Sastre "admitted to touching the buttocks [of the girl] and admitted that he forced [her] to touch his penis."

The state attorney's charge involved only the youngest of the three sisters because the statute of limitations prevented prosecutors from filing additional charges on the other sisters' complaints.

Sastre's attorney, Miguel San Pedro, said he could not comment on the allegations because "we haven't gotten into the crux of the case."

 
 

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