Cuban Refugee Who Accused Deceased Priest of Abuse Protests Case Dismissal

By Jay Weaver
Miami Herald
September 14, 2009

A former Pedro Pan refugee from Cuba who has accused the leader of the Catholic relocation program, the late Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, of sexually abusing him took his legal case to the doorstep of the Archdiocese of Miami Monday afternoon.

Robert Rodriguez, 59, claims in a lawsuit he was repeatedly abused by Walsh at a provisional camp in Opa-locka in 1964 when he was 14 and under the care of the Catholic Welfare Bureau.

"He was one of the many who abused me and others," said Rodriguez, who arrived in Miami in late 1961, declining to identify other priests besides Walsh.

Walsh, who helped rescue 14,000 Cuban children under Operation Pedro Pan and started the archdiocese's vast human-services network, Catholic Charities, died in late 2001. He was revered by the Cuban community in South Florida, especially the children in the Pedro Pan program who always looked up to him as a father figure.

"He's defaming a widely respected priest who saved the lives of 14,000 children," Miami archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said.

Rodriguez, a salesman who lives in Puerto Rico, and his Miami lawyer Ronald Weil held the press conference conference at the archdiocese's South Florida headquarters off Biscayne Boulevard to protest the dismissal of his lawsuit. They plan to urge the Florida Legislature to consider a law that would give victims of sexual abuse a two-year window to file lawsuits.

"We're planning a campaign to urge the Florida Legislature to take up the cause of the victims," Weil said, citing similar laws in California and other states.

Rodriguez's negligence suit, originally filed against Archbishop John C. Favalora in 2005, was dismissed two years later by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Espinosa Dennis, who found the statute of limitations had expired decades ago. That decision was upheld by a state appeals court this year, but a dissenting opinion by the chief judge supported allowing Rodriguez's case to go forward -- citing a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2000.

Still, Rodriguez and his lawyer cannot appeal the case any further because the Third District Court of Appeal in West Miami-Dade did not state a reason in its majority opinion that upheld the trial judge's dismissal of the case. That leaves Rodriguez with nothing to challenge, such as a potential conflict in the law.

Rodriguez's lawyer, Weil, said the appellate court's ruling was wrong. He said his client's suit is based on Rodriguez's recollection as an adult of the alleged childhood abuse by Walsh.

Weil said Rodriguez recalled the childhood abuse and linked it to his psychological problems as an adult -- an exemption to the statute of limitations under a legal principle known as the "delayed discovery" doctrine.

Under Florida law, the statute of limitations doesn't begin to run until the plaintiff becomes aware that he or she has been injured, said Weil, who has brought other successful sex-abuse suits against Miami archdiocese under the doctrine.

Weil cited the 2000 Florida Supreme Court ruling that he and other plaintiff attorneys have used to bolster their sex-abuse claims against the archdiocese over the years.

Here's the Supreme Court case history: In 1991, an Alachua County woman sued her stepfather for sexually abusing her as a girl from 1968 to 1975. A state judge threw out her complaint, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

On appeal, the woman's lawyer argued that she did not link the abuse to her psychological problems until adulthood. Florida's high court agreed and reinstated her claim, noting that "application of the 'delayed discovery doctrine' to childhood sexual abuse claims is fair."

On Rodriguez's appeal, Third District Court of Appeal Chief Judge David M. Gersten, in his dissent, cited the high court's opinion in support of Rodriguez's negligence suit against the archdiocese.

"Here, the interests of justice and principles of fair play call for allowing Rodriguez' claim to proceed beyond a motion to dismiss," Gersten wrote in April.

"Rodriguez attributes his inability to timely file his claim to the general trauma associated with childhood sexual abuse and [the Catholic Welfare Bureau's] misconduct in giving him unknown drugs which affected his memory.

"Finally, the public policy weighs heavily in favor of allowing Rodriguez's claim to proceed."



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