A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is blasting Miami’s Catholic archbishop for keeping a controversial priest on the job despite two child sex abuse and cover up lawsuits against him. And the priest’s own parishioners have started an on-line petition drive to get him ousted.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are writing Archbishop Thomas Wenski about Fr. Rolando G. Garcia of St. Agatha’s parish in Miami. SNAP is outraged that Wenski is keeping Garcia in the parish, especially because one lawsuit against him has been settled and another is pending.
“It’s supposed to be ‘one strike and you’re out’ when it comes to child molesting Catholic clerics,” said Barbara Dorris, Outreach Director for SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Wenski is deliberately breaking official church policy and endangering the safety of young lives.”
Last week, Garcia was sued – for the second time - for allegedly abusing a young boy. These alleged crimes took place over at least a year and a half in the 1980s. The victim, referred to in the suit as John Doe 94, also charges that the Miami archdiocesan officials actively hid an earlier abuse allegation against Fr. Garcia.
In 2007, through another suit, Garcia was accused of abusing an 11-year-old boy in 1989 at a parish in Little Havana. That case was settled out of court in 2009.
“Apparently, the national bishops’ so-called zero-tolerance policy is not zero-tolerance,” said Dorris. “How can Wenski justify such a dangerous move?”
Through litigation, the victims’ lawyer Jeff Herman has obtained a signed affidavit from another Miami priest, Fr. Hector Gonzalez-Abreu, who says that he was told by one young man that Fr. Garcia abused him in the 1980s when he was a boy.
Garcia denies the allegations. Wenski claims he has taken and passed a polygraph test.
But SNAP argues that such a test, if in fact it was given and given appropriately, is neither reliable nor germane to his ministerial status.
“Polygraph tests aren’t admissible in court because they are notoriously unreliable,” said David Clohessy, Director of SNAP. “To talk about – but now show – the alleged results out of such a test as proof of Fr. Garcia’s supposed innocence is misleading, reckless and hurtful to his victims and his parishioners.”
SNAP is urging Wenski to immediately suspend Fr. Garcia. To keep Fr. Garcia in ministry, SNAP says, is an egregious mistake.
“A case against him settled, another case against him was just filed, and one of his brother priests says he’s a child molester, yet Wenski keeps him on the job?” said Clohessy. “It is reckless and dangerous to keep a priest like this around children.”
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and email, is below.
September 13, 2012
Dear Archbishop Wenski;
We are members of a support group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org), the nation's largest support group for men and women who were sexually abused in religious or institutional settings. Our mission is to protect the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
We are writing to you today in the hope that you will take immediate action with one of your priests, Fr. Rolando Garcia. As you are surely aware, Fr. Garcia has recently been sued for childhood sexual abuse. As you are also surely aware, the Archdiocese previously settled another child sex abuse case against Fr. Garcia in 2007. http://miami.cbslocal.com/2012/09/06/lawsuit-against-archdiocese-of-miami-for-child-sexual-abuse/
The fact that Fr. Garcia is still in active ministry is in direct defiance of the USCCB zero-tolerance policy. It also violates common sense and common decency.
Your fellow bishops, in the Norms of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, require you to remove Garcia from ministry, alert all of his former parishioners of the allegations and risk, and reach out to those he has wounded. We are shocked and dismayed that even after a second lawsuit, you continue to put kids in harm’s way in such a callous and dangerous manner.
Fr. Garcia claims he is innocent because he has passed a lie detector test. But even the court system acknowledges that these tests are notoriously unreliable. A perfect example is the case of the Gary Leon Ridgeway, the Green River Killer. According to the ABA Journal, he "passed a polygraph early on in his killing spree and went on to kill 48 women. And CIA double agent Aldrich Ames passed two polygraph exams during the nine years he spent as a Russian spy." http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/true_lies/
To trot the alleged results out of such a test as clear proof of his innocence is not only misleading, but hurtful to his victims.
And in no Catholic church abuse policy – local or national – have we ever seen it written that a credibly accused child molesting cleric could stay in his parish if he passed a lie detector test. At best you are ignoring the bishops’ decade-old abuse promises. At worst, you are thumbing your nose at those promises.
As best as we can tell, at least two men have come forward to say that they were abused by Fr. Garcia when they were children. That alone should be enough to remove him from ministry. Your archdiocese even settled one of the cases, knowing that the victim had a strong case with merit. If Fr. Garcia were innocent, he would expect you to fight for his innocence. Yet you evidently didn't.
But you do have the opportunity now to help keep kids safe and help Fr. Garcia's victims know that what happened to them will not happen to another child. That's why we strongly urge you to do the following:
--Publicly suspend Fr. Garcia from active ministry immediately
--Publicly apologize to Garcia's earlier victim, who still must still suffer from knowing that Garcia has your permission to be around kids,
--Move Fr. Garcia to a remote and secure treatment facility where he will have no contact with children,
--Use your vast resources to reach out your flock, begging anyone who may have information on Fr. Garcia’s crimes and who may have suffered them themselves to come forward to police.
You have the chance to show that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated in or enabled by the Archdiocese of Miami. You have the chance to potentially deter future crimes and cover-ups. You have the chance to protect children. In fact, you have the chance to honor your Christian and civic to protect the weakest and most vulnerable. And right now, you are failing. You must change that.
We look forward to your response.
David Clohessy, St. Louis, MO
SNAP Executive Director
Barbara Dorris, St. Louis, MO
SNAP Outreach Director
Joelle Casteix, Newport Beach, CA
SNAP Volunteer Western Regional Director