Sex Claims Divide Miami Parishioners
An Archdiocese of Miami Report on Sex- Abuse Allegations against Priests Is Met with Mixed Views Among the Faithful

By Richard Brand and Natalie P. McNeal and Kathleen Fordyce
Miami Herald [Miami FL]
December 15, 2003

With less than two weeks to go before Christmas, parishioners at South Florida churches are talking about the child sex-abuse allegations that have dogged the Miami Archdiocese.

On Sunday, the debate continued as churches released a report that says 38 priests have been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors since the diocese was founded 45 years ago.

Many of the parishioners say they don't believe that the priests they have known for decades could be guilty of such crimes. Others say they are horrified by the number of accusations -- worried that at least some might be true.

"It's very sad if the people who have the trust of these children treated them in this way," said Eduardo Castellanos, 46, visiting Our Lady of Charity, which overlooks Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove. "You hear of so many of these cases. Some might be motivated by people seeking money. But some are probably real."

At St. Francis de Sales Church in Miami Beach, rocked by abuse allegations against its pastor, the Rev. Alvaro Guichard, several parishioners defended their spiritual leader. He was suspended last week so that the most recent allegations could be investigated.

Guichard has denied the allegations, which were contained in lawsuits against the diocese.


"I have no doubt that there are problems in other parishes, but we have a wonderful priest in Father Guichard, who I have known for 20 years," said Marta Sanchez, 64, as she left Mass on Sunday afternoon. "He is a good man facing an accusation by an anonymous person looking for money."

Monica de Hernandez, 24, said she, too, did not believe the accusations.

Holding her son Jorge Mario's hand, she said: "I would feel comfortable leaving my son with Father Guichard."

In total, the Archdiocese of Miami is facing about 30 sex-abuse lawsuits involving 16 priests.

At Sunday morning Mass at Miramar's St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, the Rev. Paul Vuturo asked members to pick up a copy of the church's newspaper after the service. It contained a sex-abuse report titled "A Time to Heal."

"I'm glad they did a report," said parishioner Jean Auguste, 33, of Pembroke Pines, who like many others picked up a copy of the insert on his way out of Mass. "It helps clarify a lot of information people have had about priests and the Catholic Church."

Vuturo said extra copies of The Florida Catholic were delivered to the church in anticipation of the report.


"Many of the people hear about cases in Boston and other places," Vuturo said. "This summarizes what has happened here, in our territory. The people were wondering about the numbers here."

After Mass at St. Brendan Catholic Church in Westchester, the priests encouraged more than 400 parishioners to pick up a copy of the report, although they did not address the report directly in their sermons.

Margaret Rodriguez, 52, a member of St. Brendan for more than 10 years, said she is happy the archdiocese issued the report.

"There's good people and bad people, and it's unfortunate it happened in our church," she said. "But I think it's a good idea that they are giving out all the information."

Not everyone agreed that releasing the report was a good move. Some suggested it was unfair to the priests who may be the subject of false accusations.

"I think they need to investigate further," said Berta Onate, 34.

For Onate and the other parishioners at St. Brendan, concern about the sex-abuse accusations hits home.

The Rev. Jose Pablo Nickse, a priest at St. Brendan for two decades, was suspended last year amid allegations that he sexually abused three people, including two altar boys. Nickse died -- of natural causes -- last December, before all the facts about the case came out. Hundreds of parishioners attended the funeral, at which Archbishop John C. Favalora officiated.

"They suspended him while they were investigating and kept him away from the children, but then he passed away, so we will never know," Onate said.


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