Suit: Church Knew of Sex Claims
A Fort Lauderdale Man Has Filed Suit against the Archdiocese of Miami Alleging a Priest Raped Him When He Was 9 Years Old

By Wanda J. DeMarzo and Jay Weaver
Miami Herald
September 7, 2005

After settling a $50,000 sexual-abuse claim against the Rev. Neil Doherty, the Archdiocese of Miami kept the priest in a Broward parish where he allegedly doped and raped a different boy over a five-year period, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The suit, which seeks $25 million in damages, offers evidence that church leaders were aware of earlier sex-abuse allegations against Doherty, yet apparently did nothing to protect children from him.

The archdiocese's knowledge of Doherty's past pedophilia surfaced in a 2003 memorandum by the Broward State Attorney's Office in which a sex-crimes prosecutor disclosed a 1994 settlement with a student who had been enrolled at Chaminade High School in Hollywood decades earlier.

Now retired, Doherty, 62, could not be reached for comment. He worked for the archdiocese for three decades and was placed on administrative leave in April 2002.

In a statement, the archdiocese did not comment on the suit's allegations.

"It is a sad day for the Catholic Church when we receive an allegation of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy," according to the statement. "Every accusation is taken seriously by the Archdiocese of Miami.

"Unfortunately, despite all our efforts to have victims contact us directly, this case was brought to an attorney, so we are not aware of the circumstances. Due to this our efforts to begin pastoral healing are delayed."

In the latest suit filed in Broward Circuit Court, the unidentified alleged victim, now 19, claims Doherty, then a priest at Margate's St. Vincent's Church, sexually abused him in the 1990s when he was under 12 years old.

Under Florida law, there is no statute of limitations if the victim is under 12. Broward prosecutors can consider filing criminal charges such as sexual battery against Doherty.

In dozens of similar criminal investigations involving South Florida Catholic priests, the age limit has been a barrier because alleged victims were 12 or older.

Only one Catholic priest, the Rev. Trevor Smith, who worked at a North Miami nursing home, has been charged and convicted of sexually assaulting a child in South Florida.

According to Tuesday's lawsuit, Doherty befriended the boy, identified only as John Doe 22, when he was 8 or 9 years old after meeting him at St. Vincent's.

The priest encouraged the boy to attend Mass and confessions in the mid-1990s, said Jeffrey Herman, the alleged victim's attorney.

One day, the youngster told Doherty that he had been involved in a fight at school.

"The priest told him to start smoking pot, it would curb his aggressive behavior," Herman said Tuesday.

It wasn't long before John Doe began drinking beer with the priest, and smoking pot, Herman said.

Many of the sex acts, which occurred between 1996 and 2000, happened while John Doe was unconscious or semi-conscious from binging on drugs and alcohol, the suit states.

The suit is the latest of about 40 civil negligence complaints brought against the Miami archdiocese since the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal erupted in 2002. Most have been settled for between $75,000 and $500,000.


Two years ago, a former student at Fort Lauderdale's St. Anthony Catholic School alleged in a suit that when he was 12 years old, Doherty plied him with prescription drugs, then raped him more than a dozen times.

The assaults allegedly took place in 1976 at the priest's mother's home, in a hotel room and an apartment behind a parishioner's house. The suit, filed in Broward Circuit Court in September 2003, named the school and archdiocese as defendants, but not Doherty.

A month later, the Broward State Attorney's Office released its findings on Doherty after a 17-month investigation of a separate incident -- in which the priest was accused of drugging and sexually abusing a 17-year-old Chaminade senior in 1978. Doherty worked for Catholic Family Services, the archdiocese's social-service arm, at the time.

The teen's parents had brought him to Doherty for counseling.


Miami church leaders "could be considered criminally culpable for failing to report" the allegations of child abuse, according to Broward prosecutor Dennis Siegel, who investigated the allegation against Doherty and wrote up his findings in a memo.

"However, because the statute of limitations has expired on this matter, no action can be taken by this office," Siegel wrote.

The prosecutor's memo indicated the archdiocese paid a $50,000 settlement to the Chaminade senior in 1994 but didn't notify authorities until 2002.

Years before the Chaminade settlement, internal church documents revealed the archdiocese knew of at least two other abuse allegations involving Doherty -- one lodged in 1979 and the other in 1987.

Last month, a Fort Lauderdale man identified as John Doe 21 filed a lawsuit accusing Doherty of drugging and raping him several times in the late 1960s. According to the lawsuit, the boy was around 11 when the abuse began.

The archdiocese moved Doherty from one parish to another, until he was finally relieved of his duties in 2002.

Siegel noted in his 2003 memo that "Father Doherty volunteered to undergo a mental health evaluation" at a program in Connecticut after investigators questioned him about the sexual allegations.

The evaluator recommended that Doherty be temporarily suspended from his duties pending further investigation of the allegations, documents show.

Doherty was not suspended but transferred to St. Vincent's in 1992 as pastor, according to records.

Two years later, Doherty began befriending the boy who filed Tuesday's latest lawsuit.

The abuse allegedly continued for five years.

Herman said Doherty destroyed the boy's life.

His parents didn't know of the sexual abuse until two weeks ago, Herman said.

"His mother heard about Father Doherty and went and asked her son if he'd been abused," Herman said. "He broke down and told her everything."