Priest Was Protected, Not the Children

By Fred Grimm
Miami Herald
April 4, 2010

MIAMI -- During the three years when sex offenders were banished to a life under the Julie Tuttle Causeway, no one down there saw the likes of Father Ernesto Garcia-Rubio.

Offenders forced into the colony of outcasts (until it was dismantled last month) would ask reporters, "Don't see no priests down here, do you?"

They assumed molester priests enjoyed special protection. How else to explain their absence?

About a dozen Catholic priests have been accused in various sex-abuse scandals in South Florida over the past quarter-century. Father Ernesto, once conferred with heroic status for his work with young refugees at his Sweetwater church, may have been the most notorious.

In 1987, The Miami Herald, with unwitting irony, dubbed Garcia-Rubio "the patron saint of Nicaraguan teenagers on their own."


A few months later, Miami Herald reporter Christopher Marquis characterized Father Ernesto in less-heroic terms, describing "a series of allegations of sexual abuse against a popular, outspoken priest -- charges that went unreported to the government but were widely known among parishioners."

The archdiocese first denied receiving abuse reports but later, in the face of contrary evidence, revised that to say the complaints had been too vague to warrant action. This despite Sweetwater Mayor (later Metro Commissioner) Jorge Valdes having warned church authorities that Garcia-Rubio was a menace to kids.

The priest was allowed to continue counseling teenage refugees. They slept in his room. Even shared his bed.


The archdiocese, rather than protect the children, attacked The Miami Herald, characterizing the story as "inquisition, not investigation." In those days, the church hierarchy regarded sex-abuse scandals as the exaggerated stuff of a sensationalist American media. Lately, that's a tough sell, with horrific stories erupting in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, with a paper trail suggesting a Vatican coverup.

Last week, lawyers representing local victims produced a document they claim shows that the church hierarchy knew of Garcia-Rubio's dangerous propensities as early as 1968, yet allowed him to minister to children until he finally left the priesthood in 1991. (He was transferred to a Honduras parish after the 1988 scandal).


In 2004, The Miami Herald's Jay Weaver obtained archdiocese records indicating that months before church official attacked the newspaper's credibility in 1988, church officials knew better. A prosecutor, shackled by the statute of limitations from pursuing criminal charges, concluded, "The number and types of complaints clearly indicated that this man was a predator whose modus operandi was to victimize troubled teenagers who turned to him for help."

Six months before The Miami Herald's 1988 story, Archbishop Edward McCarthy had notified the troublesome priest that before returning to the Miami parish he must undergo a psychiatric evaluation. "The nature of the complaints definitely warrant the concern I am manifesting."

The nature of the complaints required more. The nature of the complaints required church officials to call state authorities. Florida law provides no loophole for priests. The safety of children, under the law, comes first. Instead, the priest was protected. Under the Tuttle, the likes of Father Ernesto were nowhere to be seen.


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