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Accused Miami priests can't be charged with abuse
Incidents too old, prosecutors say

BY JAY WEAVER - The Miami Herald
August 27, 2003

The Miami-Dade state attorney's office said Tuesday that because of a legal technicality, prosecutors cannot pursue criminal charges against the Rev. Ricardo Castellanos, a high-profile Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing three former altar boys decades ago.

Prosecutors concluded the state's statute of limitations prevented them from filing possible charges in those cases, which date to the 1970s.

''If there were a crime, could we prosecute?'' Ed Griffith, spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, said Tuesday. ``The answer is no because we were barred by the statute of limitations. We knew that on the face of the circumstances presented to us.''

In a Aug. 13 letter to Castellanos' attorney, prosecutors did not say what they had found during their 15-month investigation. Griffith said Tuesday that he could not comment further.

Under Florida law, if a sexual-assault victim is 12 or older, but younger than 18, the statute of limitations to bring charges is four years. If a victim is under 12, there is no time restriction on filing charges.

Castellanos' accusers were 12 or older at the time of the alleged assaults, which they said included penetration and genital-to-genital contact.

The Archdiocese of Miami suspended him as pastor of San Isidro Catholic Church in Pompano Beach after allegations were first lodged last year. He had also hosted a cable TV program, In the Word With Father Ricardo.

Castellanos' attorney, Robert Josefsberg, said he was pleased with the state attorney's decision.

''We've been patiently waiting for this decision,'' Josefsberg said. ``It's the first step toward his reinstatement.''

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said a church review board has not decided whether to recommend his reinstatement.


In another case, the board recommended reinstating one of Castellanos' colleagues, the Rev. Alvaro Guichard, who also was accused of abusing two former altar boys.

The panel's decision came after state prosecutors sent a July 6 letter saying no charges would be filed. The 4-year statute of limitations barred his possible prosecution as well, Griffith said.

On Saturday, Guichard was officially reinstated as pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Miami Beach.

Since spring of 2002, the archdiocese has lost 13 of its 447 active priests due to allegations of past sexual misconduct. Nine were suspended and four took retirement. The state attorney's office and four police agencies launched probes, but have been stymied by the statute of limitations.

Griffith said prosecutors were hoping for help from the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a 1994 California law that had erased the statute of limitations in old molestation cases.

That law allowed victims to come forward decades after the alleged abuse, while the old statute of limitations was six years.

But the high court struck down the 1994 law in June.

Castellanos is still under investigation for allegedly abusing another altar boy in Broward County in the late 1980s. However, Florida's statute of limitations presents a similar barrier in that case, too.


The ex-altar boy, Kenneth Matias, alleged Castellanos molested him at San Isidro Church in 1988, when he was 15.

Assistant Broward State Attorney Dennis Siegel said he could not comment on an open investigation.

But speaking generally, Siegel said sexual assault cases involving minors 12 or older are tough to prosecute because the four-year statute of limitations shields perpetrators.

''The statute of limitations has nothing to do with the merits of the case or the strength of the evidence -- only the ability to prosecute,'' he said.

In May 2002, Castellanos and Guichard were placed on administrative leave after José A. Currais Jr. and the family of the late Miguel Chinchilla claimed both men molested them in the early and mid-1970s at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables and other locations.

Currais and Chinchilla, both former altar boys, were between 14 and 16, respectively, at the time.

''I'm not aware of the state attorney doing any kind of substantive investigation or making any findings that the abuse did not occur,'' said the plaintiffs' attorney, Jeffrey Herman. Their suits survived efforts by the archdiocese and the priests to have them dismissed because of civil statute of limitations. Miami judges have allowed them to go to trial.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests