Homestead priest sentenced to nearly 8 years in prison for raping parishioner in rectory

Miami Herald

February 18, 2022

By David Ovalle

Father Jean Claude Philippe, convicted of raping a parishioner in the rectory of his church in Homestead, did not apologize when it came time for his sentencing. Instead, he complained about his time in jail and said he was preaching the word of God to inmates behind bars. “The devil is powerful but won’t change me,” he said. “I won’t change my ways. I will continue in my path.” That path, a judge ruled on Thursday, will nevertheless continue in state prison for nearly eight years.

Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga on Thursday sentenced Philippe, 67, to 94-and-a-half months in prison. It was the lowest permissible prison term under Florida’s sentencing guidelines for Philippe, who did not have any previous arrests or convictions. Cabarga did not explain her reasoning for the sentence, but rejected prosecutors’ call for a sentence of 15 years, the max allowed by law.

“The bottom line is the victim will have to live with what the defendant did to her for the remainder of her life,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Khalil Quinan told the judge before she pronounced the sentence. “There is no sentence … that will ever remove the pain.”

The sentencing unfolded four months after the trial for Philippe, whose arrest was an embarrassing scandal for the Archdiocese of Miami, particularly after the victim testified that she initially told another priest, Silverio Rueda, about the attack — and he told her to keep quiet.

The Archdiocese, in a statement on Thursday evening, said it hopes the sentencing “will bring closure to his victim, and we pray that she and her family, hurt by this betrayal of trust, can begin to heal.”

“The Archdiocese of Miami deeply regrets the harm perpetrated by this priest which extends not only to the survivor of this assault and her family but to the parishioners, to priests of integrity, and to the entire community of faith,” the statement said.

During the week-long trial in October, the woman testified that Philippe had become like a member of her family, serving as a godfather for her and two of her children. He’d also vacationed with the family.

But in October 2018, she told jurors, he invited her to his home, where he gave her a tea-like drink. She passed out and woke up fully naked in his bedroom. In an interview with Miami-Dade police, he later admitted penetrating her with his fingers, but insisted she grabbed his hand.

At trial, Philippe testified in his own defense, acknowledging that he invited the woman to his home, stripped down nearly naked and gave her a body massage with oil. But he insisted he never penetrated her and that his confession he had provided police was false.

Jurors deliberated about two hours in convicting him of sexual battery.

At Thursday’s sentencing, the woman tearfully recounted how the rape has shattered her life — and the lives of her husband and children.

“I want him to know how much he’s hurt me. I wish he will never forget it,” she said.

She also called Philippe’s supporters — some of whom testified on his behalf or showed up to watch in court — “hypocrites.”

“These people don’t have an idea of what I went through,” she said.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.