Dismissal of Suit Protested
A Cuban Refugee Who Came to Miami As Part of the Pedro Pan Relocation Program Protested the Dismissal of His Lawsuit Accusing a Revered Priest of Sexually Abusing Him

By Jay Weaver
Miami Herald
September 15, 2009

A former Pedro Pan refugee from Cuba who has accused the leader of the Catholic relocation program, the late Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh, of sexually abusing him took his failed legal case to the Archdiocese of Miami headquarters on Monday to draw media attention.

Robert Rodriguez, 59, claimed in an unsuccessful lawsuit that he was repeatedly abused by Walsh at an Opa-locka camp 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. He declined to identify priests other than Walsh. "For me, all these years later, it's still hard."

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. "I have never heard of Msgr. Walsh physically abusing, let alone sexually abusing, any child over 48 years" since the rescue operation began, said Miami attorney Frank Angones, who arrived in Miami in June 1961 under the Pedro Pan program. "When I heard it, I couldn't believe it."

The Archdiocese of Miami said it first learned of the allegation in 2005 and reported it to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's office. The church noted that Rodriguez's lawsuit was dismissed and he lost his appeal over the summer. "He's defaming a widely respected priest who saved the lives of 14,000 children," archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said.

Rodriguez, a salesman who lives in Puerto Rico, and his Miami lawyer Ronald Weil held the press conference near the archdiocese's South Florida headquarters in Miami Shores to protest the dismissal of his suit. They said Florida should follow the lead of California and other states that have laws giving victims of sexual abuse a two-year window to file lawsuits, regardless of how long ago they were victimized.

"We're planning a campaign to urge the Florida Legislature to take up the cause of the victims," Weil said.

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.

Rodriguez's lawyer said the appellate court's ruling was wrong. Weil said Rodriguez recalled the childhood abuse four years ago and linked it to his psychological problems as an adult -- an exemption to the statute of limitations 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 the Miami archdiocese under the doctrine.

In his dissent in the Rodriguez appeal, Third District Court of Appeal Chief Judge David M. Gersten cited the high court's opinion.

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


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.