Priest Charged in Abuse of Boy under 12|
A Former Archdiocese of Miami Priest Was Arrested on Charges He Sexually Abused a Young Boy He Befriended a Decade Ago at His Church
By Wanda J. Demarzo, Jay Weaver and Jennifer Lebovich jlebovich@MiamiHerald.com
January 27, 2006
The Broward Sheriff's Office on Thursday arrested a former priest who had served parishes in South Florida for three decades on charges he sexually abused a young boy.
The Rev. Neil Doherty, 62, is the first Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Miami to be charged with sexual battery on a minor younger than 12.
Alleged victims of Doherty have been coming forward ever since the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.
Broward authorities began investigating the latest case after the victim filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami, accusing it of allowing the priest to serve at a Margate parish despite having settled an earlier lawsuit involving previous alleged child molestation by Doherty.
While at the Margate parish, the priest allegedly drugged and raped the latest victim, now 19, over a five-year period beginning in 1996.
"The family is relieved that this man is off the streets and feels that the community is finally safe from him after three decades of terror," said Jeffrey Herman, the Miami-based attorney for the alleged victim.
Herman represents five men who claim Doherty molested them while he was a priest.
"We are encouraged that the legal system is working to protect the community," Herman said.
Only one South Florida Catholic priest, the Rev. Trevor Smith, who worked at a North Miami nursing home, has been charged and convicted of sexually assaulting a minor.
Late Thursday, the Archdiocese of Miami issued a statement on Doherty's arrest:
"Anytime an accusation of sexual misconduct becomes known, it saddens the Catholic Church, as well as the members of its community, for this is a most serious sin and offense. Such misconduct is contrary to Catholic morality and the celibate commitment of priests," spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta wrote.
Doherty, whose three decades of service to Broward and Miami-Dade parishes included serving as director of vocations for the archdiocese, was placed on administrative leave in April 2002. He is retired and has no ministerial assignments.
The archdiocese's knowledge of past accusations against Doherty 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.
A lawsuit filed in that case resulted in a $50,000 settlement with the Archdiocese of Miami.
In the latest case, the unidentified accuser claims in the lawsuit that Doherty, then a priest at Margate's St. Vincent's Church, sexually abused him starting in 1996 when he was 10 years old.
Under Florida law, there is no statute of limitations if the victim is younger than 12. If Doherty is convicted, he could face a life sentence.
In dozens of similar criminal investigations involving South Florida Catholic priests, the statute of limitations has been a barrier because alleged victims were 12 or older when the alleged incidents occurred.
According to the 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, Herman told The Miami Herald when the suit was filed.
One day, the youngster told Doherty that he had been involved in a fight at school. Doherty encouraged the victim to start 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 bingeing on drugs and alcohol, the lawsuit states.
More than 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.
These assaults allegedly took place in 1976 at the priest's mother's home, in a hotel room and in an apartment behind a parishioner's house.
That lawsuit, 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.
Agosta, the archdiocese spokeswoman, outlined the policy when allegations are made against against an employee of the church:
A report is made to the state attorney's office and an offer of counseling is made to the alleged victim. The Archdiocese's Miami Review Board conducts a review of the allegation independent of the state investigation. The priest is placed on administrative leave if such allegations are deemed credible.
"The Archdiocese of Miami is committed to full cooperation with the investigative authorities in this matter," Agosta wrote, adding: "The Archdiocese of Miami asks for prayers for this victim and anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse."
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