|Stop Blaming Accuser, Archdiocese Told
An Advocacy Group Criticized the Archdiocese of Miami, Saying It Is Blaming a Young Man for an Alleged Rape by a Priest in Its Response to a Lawsuit.
By Lisa Arthur larthur@MiamiHerald.com
February 10, 2006
A group for survivors of assaults by priests urged the Archdiocese of Miami on Thursday to stop blaming a young man for his alleged rape by the Rev. Neil Doherty -- a crime the man claims happened when he was a child.
Six members of the group tried to hand-deliver a letter to Archbishop John Favalora blasting the archdiocese's legal response to a civil lawsuit filed by the young man that suggested one possible defense could be that the alleged victim's "own negligence" caused the abuse.
The protesters were turned away by security guards who monitored closed gates around the archdiocese's headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami Shores.
"I'm a Catholic, too, so why am I being shut out," Ann Brentwood, a regional director of SNAP -- the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, yelled to the guard, who replied she wasn't authorized to take a letter or to let the protesters in.
Mary Ross Agosta, an archdioceses spokeswoman, said SNAP knows that the most appropriate way to deliver a letter to the archbishop is to mail it.
"They've been here before and know we can't have unannounced people on the property in these situations," she said.
Agosta disputes that the church is blaming the alleged victim.
"The responses to the civil suit that were given are called affirmative defenses, and we're required to list all of them we might use as the suit proceeds," she said. "We don't know anything about this alleged victim other than what is in the suit -- not even his name. We haven't been able to talk to him. As we learn more details, those possible defenses will be reviewed."
She stressed that the archdiocese did not intend to "cause any harm" to the alleged victim through the "routine, blanket legal responses."
When first contacted by The Miami Herald about the legal responses, Agosta declined to talk about the archdiocese's written legal defenses.
SNAP called the legal maneuver "hardball," "mean-spirited" and "vicious" in its letter to Favalora.
Doherty, placed on administrative leave by the archdiocese in 2002, was arrested Jan. 26 on charges of sexually battery of a child younger than 12. He remains jailed and has been denied bond.
In his civil lawsuit, the young man, who is now 19 and identified only as John Doe 22 in court papers, claims Doherty, while pastor of St. Vincent Catholic Church in Margate, repeatedly sedated and sodomized him almost a decade ago. Now retired, Doherty served parishes in South Florida for three decades.
The criminal case against Doherty is significant because he represents the first Catholic priest in the archdiocese to be charged with sexual battery on a child younger than 12. There is no legal limit on how many years lapse before prosecutors file charges when the alleged victim is that young.
Since the late 1970s, eight others have complained that the priest, now 62, slipped sedatives into their drinks and raped them when they were minors, civil, criminal and archdiocese records show.
The archdiocese's past knowledge of at least three abuse accusations against Doherty first surfaced in a 2003 memo by the Broward state attorney's office. Those allegations included one parent's letter addressed to the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy that led to a financial settlement in 1994, two years before Doherty allegedly began abusing the accuser in the latest lawsuit.
CHANGE IN STRATEGY
Victims advocates say such legal defenses -- like the latest one filed by the archdiocese -- were commonplace before the Roman Catholic Church's clergy scandal grabbed the nation's attention four years ago in Boston. Intense public outrage forced bishops to drop the strategy.
In Miami, where the Miami archdiocese has settled upward of 40 sex-abuse suits for millions of dollars since 2002, church officials have rarely accused an alleged victim of causing his own harm.
SNAP says it fears the church is sending a message that will keep other victims from coming forward.
'They should ask themselves, `What would Jesus do?' Jesus wouldn't blame the victim," said Brentwood, who says she was abused by a priest in Kentucky when she was a child.
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