Sex-Abuse Suit Names Dead Priest

By Noah Bierman
Miami Herald
March 14, 2003

A 38-year-old man filed suit against the Archdiocese of Miami on Thursday, claiming he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a student-athlete at St. Thomas Aquinas High School 20 years ago.

The man, who is keeping his identity private, said he was 17 at the time of the incident and had told no one until last year. He said he has suffered alcohol abuse and depression.

"He befriended me at a time when I had emotional issues with my family and basically tricked me," the accuser said.

The accused priest, the Rev. L. Yates Harris, died in 1996 at age 64. A former Maryland high school teacher and guidance counselor, Yates worked at Fort Lauderdale's St. Thomas for 16 years as a counselor and chaplain.

Mary Ross Agosta, of the Archdiocese, said attorneys for the church had yet to review the suit. As in all such cases, a review panel will examine the charges and the accuser would be offered pastoral counseling, she said.

The plaintiff said he came forward to his attorney last year after the national clergy scandal jogged his memory. This is the 21st suit against the Miami Archdiocese alleging sexual impropriety, the 17th involving a priest.

Attorney Russell Adler, who filed Thursday's lawsuit, said he had no proof that the Archdiocese knew of the alleged abuse, but that it was responsible as Harris' employer.

"This is a man who's passed away seven years ago and someone wants to file a sexual harassment suit against him?" said Stephen Brito, a friend of Harris. "It's just bogus."

Four of Brito's grown sons were counseled by the priest when they attended St. Thomas as teenagers. The pastor, considered part of the family, would stay at his family's home in Plantation. "If he did something to them, I'm sure they'd come to me right away," he said.

The plaintiff said the walls of Harris' guidance office should have tipped off school administrators that the priest had a problem. He said Harris lined them with shirtless photographs he had taken of his male students.

The plaintiff kept four of those photographs, each of which has a hand-written note on the back.

"Look at that chest. That is my son," reads one.

"Look at the chest and powerful legs," reads another.

Brito said everyone affiliated with the school knew about the pictures on the wall and did not consider them perverse.


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