Former Priest Admits Abuse of Boy
By Jay Weaver
December 4, 2004
The only Catholic priest to be charged with sexually abusing a child in South Florida pleaded guilty Friday to fondling a 12-year-old boy while he was visiting his grandmother at a nursing home.
The Rev. Trevor Smith, who served in the Archdiocese of Miami for 40 years, faces no jail time but had to apologize to the victim, now 16, and his mother, as part of his plea agreement.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola sentenced Smith, 67, to two years of house arrest in Miami.
He must continue to wear an electronic ankle bracelet so authorities can monitor his movement. That will be followed by eight years' probation.
Smith, now retired, also must pay a $1,000 fine, continue his therapy with a psychologist and have no contact with minors.
"Today is about acceptance of personal responsibility," Smith said in a prepared statement. "By my plea, I have publicly acknowledged my wrongdoing.
"I have communicated my contrition and remorse to the young man and his family in a private fashion.
"I truly hope and pray this is the first step in a healing process. I will try and move forward, humbly, hoping for forgiveness from God and the young man's family."
The victim's mother, who had reached a $500,000 civil court settlement with the archdiocese last year, said in a statement that the family accepted his apology and the plea agreement.
She said Smith created "chaos and turmoil" in her son and family's life, and that Assistant State Attorney David Maer helped "us regain the hope that we desperately needed."
"We can now move on and pray to God to forgive Trevor Smith's sins," said the mother, who did not want to be identified. "My son hopes that his experience will help others in the same position not to be afraid and to tell when someone has abused them."
Smith, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in South Africa, retired from the archdiocese in April 2002 after a career in various Catholic parishes and rehabilitation facilities. Three months later, the boy reported his sex-abuse complaint.
Smith was charged in June with two felony counts of lewd and lascivious assault on a child 12 to 16 years old. He could have faced up to 30 years in prison if he had been convicted on both offenses at trial.
Smith's attorney, David Raben, said he agreed to the plea deal because he didn't want to risk going to trial and possibly prison.
Smith was the only archdiocese priest prosecuted after the Miami-Dade state attorney's office reviewed upward of 35 clergy sex-abuse complaints involving about 20 priests and religious brothers, prosecutors said.
On Friday, Archbishop John Favalora said in a statement that Smith was "permanently prohibited from serving as a priest."
The church leader asked for prayers for the victim and his family.
Smith was accused of inviting the boy into his living quarters at the Villa Maria Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Miami in 2001 and showing the child a picture book of naked youths. The priest - the center's chaplain - allegedly persuaded the boy to fondle him and he fondled the boy, according to North Miami police.
The victim immediately told his younger brother about the incident and added that the priest "wanted to conduct the same activities" with the younger boy, the report said.
The victim thought Smith's conduct was strange and felt badly about it, according to the report, but did not realize it amounted to "sexual molestation" until later.
"I thought it was just weird," he told North Miami detectives.
It wasn't until he was in a hospital bed with a fractured ankle and under the effects of painkillers that he told his mother about the incident.
Prosecutors were able to charge Smith because the victim filed his complaint in July 2002.
Florida's statute of limitations gave prosecutors three years from that point to file lewd and lascivious charges.
Miami-Dade prosecutors said they were frustrated in pursuing charges in other Catholic clergy sex-abuse investigations by the statute of limitations.
The other cases were reported many years after they allegedly occurred.
NOTES: Correction ran December 5, 2004; see end of text.
CORRECTION-DATE: December 5, 2004
CORRECTION: A report on page 1B of some editions of Saturday's paper did not specify that by pleading guilty to fondling a 12-year-old boy and being sentenced to two years of house arrest and eight years of probation, the Rev. Trevor Smith was convicted. He will have a felony record.
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