Man Sues Archdiocese of Miami, Claiming Abuse by Now-Dead Priest
By Tim Reynolds
Associated Press State & Local Wire [Fort Lauderdale Fla]
March 13, 2003
A 38-year-old man filed suit against the Archdiocese of Miami on Thursday, claiming he was sexually abused more than two decades ago by a priest who was his guidance counselor at a parochial high school. The priest has since died.
The alleged victim, identified in court papers as John B. Doe, claims that Fr. L. Yates Harris performed oral sex on him after the pair dined together at a restaurant in 1982. The man, then 17 years old, said he was intoxicated at the time. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $15,000 against the Archdiocese.
Harris was the boy's guidance counselor at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.
Russell S. Adler, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who has represented others who were sexually abused by priests from the Archdiocese of Miami, said he intends to present a circumstantial case to a jury, primarily basing the case on four photos of the alleged victim.
The photos show the alleged victim wearing only a pair of shorts, posing provocatively. Adler said Harris took the photos and wrote captions on the backs, including ones that read "Look at that chest and powerful legs" and "The girls love this picture of my son."
"If the priest isn't here to deny it, then it's the plaintiff's own word. And it's up to six people called a jury one day to decide whether they believe the plaintiff or not," Adler said. "We believe that the photographs we have produced are at least some good circumstantial evidence."
Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said to her knowledge, these are the first allegations ever made against Harris, who died in 1996 and was the chaplain at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale for 16 years.
"As with all allegations, these will be taken seriously and we will investigate them fully," Agosta said.
The lawsuit comes a day after the Archdiocese was dealt a legal blow in another sexual abuse lawsuit. On Wednesday, a circuit judge ordered Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman to give a pretrial deposition about alleged abuse by two other priests. That case was filed by a former altar boy who alleged he was sexually abused more than 30 years ago by the two priests.
Thursday's filing is the 21st lawsuit claiming sexual abuse against the clergy from the Archdiocese of Miami.
The man claiming he was abused by Harris said he repressed the memories of the incident until last year, when widespread disclosures of alleged sexual abuse were made against Catholic clergy. He said he never told anyone of the alleged incident until recent months.
"Where do you go? Who do you tell?," the alleged victim said.
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