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Archdiocese Gives Prosecutors Decades of Sex-Abuse Files

Jun 11, 2002 | The Miami Herald

The Archdiocese of Miami has given state prosecutors information about possible sex abuse by priests -- including settlements, sealed or not -- from church files that stretch back to the 1950s, Archbishop John C. Favalora said Monday.

He declined to detail how many possible sex-abuse cases in total the archdiocese has turned over to the Miami-Dade County state attorney's office.

''Compared to what I've heard about other places, we did well,'' he said.

Favalora said the information sent to the state attorney's office includes past complaints that may or may not be based on credible allegations.

But he said there is only one path for church officials when allegations come to light: ``We must pursue every allegation that comes to us and we must pursue it assiduously.''

Ed Griffith, spokesman for the state attorney's office, refused to confirm that the archdiocese has handed over information about all sexual abuse allegations dating to the '50s.

''We've opened up a criminal investigation into these issues and we cannot confirm or comment on anything,'' Griffith said. He said State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle was not available for comment.

Speaking to The Herald's editorial board Monday, Favalora said he has created a panel of lay people -- a doctor, a psychiatrist, a lawyer and a canon lawyer -- to review all of the archdiocese's files and to consider any sex-abuse claims. He may appoint a fifth member, a priest, to help represent the interests of the clergy, said Favalora, who heads for Dallas this week to attend a conference of U.S. bishops that will address sex abuse in the church.

''I expect there will be overwhelming support for the so-called no-tolerance policy,'' Favalora said, referring to the proposal to remove any priest from the ministry even if he has only one proven allegation against him.

Favalora's new panel, called a ''special response team,'' has been operating for several months, he said. It is charged with reviewing files and allegations and telling the archbishop whether the members believe the allegations are credible.

Priests with credible allegations against them are immediately removed from the ministry until the matter is resolved, Favalora said.

Names of the panel members -- hand selected by Favalora -- are being kept private, he added.

''They prefer to remain unpublished,'' he said. ``They can do their work better without people after them.''

DIFFICULT TASK

Sexual allegations, he said, are often difficult to weigh, especially when trying to balance the testimony of the now-adult accuser against that of the priest.

''A lot of times, it's a he-said, he-said thing, and you never know,'' Favalora said.

In recent weeks, the archdiocese acknowledged that 12 priests have been suspended or allowed to retire since 1998 because of sex-abuse allegations.

On Monday, Favalora, Miami's archbishop since 1994, said that every allegation is now being reported to prosecutors.

Secret settlements also are a thing of the past, he said. Previously, the archdiocese would sometimes offer a lump sum of money to those who made sex-abuse complaints against priests, settlements that sometimes were kept quiet under confidentiality agreements.

Favalora said that although the confidentiality requirements often came at the insistence of the alleged victims, he would no longer authorize them.

CONFIDENTIALITY ENDS

''Henceforth, there will not be a confidentiality clause,'' he said, adding that the confidentiality deals can give the church ''a black eye'' if they are discovered later.

In the case of Michael Carricarte Jr., a Miami man accusing the recently retired Rev. Thomas Engbers of sex abuse, Favalora had little to say.

NO EXPLANATION

''I don't know why that situation wasn't dealt with earlier. There's no obvious indication in the records,'' he said.

Carricarte Jr., a prominent Catholic church benefactor, told The Herald that his father had reported the abuse at St. Thomas the Apostle school in South Miami 22 years earlier and that nothing was done.

When Carricarte Jr. complained again this spring, Engbers -- by then pastor of St. Martha's in Miami Shores -- quickly retired, telling The Herald and parishioners that it was for health reasons.

Carricarte Jr. also said the archdiocese found a scrap of paper in Engbers' file with the boy's name, age and a reference to Engbers' treatment for a foot fetish. Some of Carricarte Jr.'s allegations involved the priest's handling the boy's feet.

Last week, Carricarte Jr. received an apology from Favalora acknowledging that Engbers had stepped down after being confronted with the abuse allegations.

Favalora said Monday that he believes Carricarte Jr. is now ``satisfied.''

Herald staff writer Lisa Arthur contributed this report.


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