Archdiocese of Miami Sued Over Alleged Sexual Abuse by Coral Springs Music Teacher
|Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski gives a press conference after a recent trip to Cuba|
A lawsuit filed this morning in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges that Miguel Cala, a former music teacher and youth minister at St. Andrew's Catholic School in Coral Springs, molested at least one student during one-on-one music lessons from 2008 until August 2010.
Cala is currently awaiting trial in Broward County on four criminal charges of molestation and lascivious conduct.
The lawsuit, John Doe No. 70 v. Saint Andrews Catholic Church, et. al, is the fourth filed against the Archdiocese of Miami in the past six weeks. A similar suit against Cala was filed last week.
Last month, Willard Trent, a former altar boy at St. John the Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, sued the archdiocese for $5 million claiming that now-deceased Father Thomas Dennehy repeatedly raped him in the late Sixties.
And last week, another lawsuit was filed against former priest Neil Doherty, who is awaiting trial on criminal charges of child molestation and sexual battery of a minor. Doherty is currently back in jail after he "failed to comply with pretrial-release conditions," according to the State Attorney's Office.
In 2008, New Times reporter Thomas Francis interviewed several of Doherty's alleged victims, who were between 13 and 15 at the time of abuse. They claimed Doherty plied them with drugs and alcohol before raping them and sometimes gave them money for sex.
The archdiocese could not be reached for a comment on the Cala lawsuit, but released a statement on Friday saying, "Rev. Neil Doherty retired in 2002 without faculties; he is not permitted to wear clerical garb, celebrate the sacrament, have an assignment nor is he listed on the archdiocesan website."
The statement continued:
When an allegation of abuse is brought forth, either via the victim or an attorney, the archdiocese's response is consistent. We offer pastoral and psychological counseling; in addition, law enforcement officials are notified and the allegations are reviewed by a five member Archdiocesan Review Board comprised of doctors, attorneys and one member of the clergy. The Archdiocese of Miami offers to assist anyone who has been a victim of abuse by a member of the church.Such lawsuits are perhaps the greatest challenge the new Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, faces. The lawyer in all four lawsuits, Jeffrey Herman, has at least a dozen more underway. In the past seven years, he has handled 86 cases of alleged sexual abuse involving the Archdiocese of Miami. The church has settled dozens of them, at an estimated cost of tens of millions of dollars.
The lawsuits and abuse claims are both a financial drain and a public relations disaster for the church. "Yes, I do make a lot of money out of it," Herman says. "But for the victims coming forward so many years later, the only justice they'll get is in civil court."
In 2002, Wenski's predecessor, John Favalora, issued rules for handling complaints of abuse, but Herman says the archdiocese has become more cynical and secretive since Wenski took over. "The difference that I've seen is that they've been really unsympathetic to the victims," he says. "Archbishop Wenski hasn't handed over a single file on these priests. They talk about being transparent, but still they hold all the files."
"Herman is a big lawyer, and he's certainly representing some legitimate victims," Wenski told New Times recently. "But he's also trying to stir the pot to see who he can pick up."
"We're committed to trying to heal those that have been victimized," he added. But Wenski, who has moved aggressively to shore-up the Church's finances and reshuffled dozens of priest assignments around Miami, has taken a characteristically hard line on the abuse cases.
"The whole system of justice is a sham if you're going to be presumed guilty every time there is an accusation," he said.
Later today, New Times will publish the most in-depth article to date on Wenski and the challenges facing the Catholic Church in Miami.