Retired Catholic Priest Pleads No Contest in Sex Abuse in a Fort Lauderdale Court
By Kelli Kennedy
January 14, 2013
FORT LAUDERDALE | A retired Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing dozens of boys for decades pleaded no contest under a plea agreement in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom Monday.
A graying Father Neil Doherty appeared frail as he entered a plea reducing sex abuse charges from a capital felony to a second-degree felony, which could require him to serve up to 15 years in prison and register as a sex offender.
The plea comes after several other alleged victims came forward and were planning to testify in the case.
"It just came time for the case to be concluded," Doherty's lawyer David Bogenschutz said.
Lawyers for the victims said Doherty befriended troubled young boys for years, plied them with drugs and alcohol and paid them to run errands and do odd jobs. But the relationships often turned to sexual acts.
The victim in this case was about 10 years old when he said he first walked over to the church from his home, passed out after drinking a drug-laced soda and awoke with sodomy wounds. The scenario repeatedly occurred over a five-year period in the late 1990s, lawyer Jeff Herman said.
The victim, who is now in his early 20s, planned to take his secret to the grave, but was emboldened after several other victims came forward in lawsuits against Doherty. The victim was living in an institution when Herman met him, but is now married with a child.
Lawyers allege the Archdiocese of Miami turned a blind eye to Doherty's behavior and moved him to another church each time a new allegation surfaced.
"We have files going back to the 1970s showing that the Archdiocese of Miami knew that Doherty was sexually abusing boys for decades but did nothing about it," Herman said.
At one point, another priest complained to the archbishop that Doherty had a boy living with him in the rectory, but it was swept under the rug, Herman said.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami said Doherty has not been in active ministry since 2002 and noted the church has had policies in place since the mid-1980s about how to handle abuse allegations, including reporting it to authorities, setting up a hotline and meeting with the victim in a safe environment.
Spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said the church apologizes "for any abuse that has taken place" and stands "ready, willing and able to begin the healing process."
Doherty, 69, maintains his innocence. Bogenschutz said he disputed the facts of the state's case but declined to elaborate.