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Claretian Missionaries Never Told of Abuse Allegations Against Priest

May 17, 2002 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel The attorney for the Claretian Missionaries said the Miami Archdiocese never told them when abuse allegations first surfaced against one of their priests in the late 1970s.

"We never received any notice, nor were we ever made aware of these allegations," said Richard Leamy, who represents both the priest and the Claretian Missionaries based in Chicago.

The Rev. Ronald John Luka, 65, is accused of sexually abusing two boys when he was pastor of St. Helen Catholic Church and School in Lauderdale Lakes from 1976 to 1978. The now 37-year-old men, Stephen Calvert and Scott Melanson, filed the suit at Miami-Dade Circuit Court on Monday. The lawsuit claims Luka molested the then-12- and 13-year-old boys at his home in Fort Lauderdale, on overnight trips and during a cross-country trips.

A complaint was made in 1978 to St. Helen's head priest, the Rev. Patrick Murnane, who "promised to take appropriate action," documents said. When the boys returned to school in the fall, Luka was gone, the lawsuit claims.

The Claretian Missionaries say Murnane or the archdiocese should have reported any complaints to the group. Murnane, who is now pastor of Nativity Church and Catholic School in Hollywood, and Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese, could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Joel Magolnick, who represents the former altar boys, thinks the archdiocese "had an obligation to inform" the Claretians of the previous allegations.

"While we don't know yet whether there are any additional victims, certainly having the knowledge of the potential danger could have averted additional incidents," he said.

After leaving St. Helen, Luka, an itinerant preacher, visited a different parish every week for years. Luka preached at a parish in Central Florida in 1999.

It was during that year that the Claretian Missionaries "first received allegations of misconduct," Leamy said. He would not detail what the complaints were or who made them but said they had taken place in New York state around 1979.

The Claretians sent Luka to a treatment center for troubled priests, Leamy said. The Claretians "determined he should be permanently removed from public ministry." Luka resides at a long-term treatment center in Missouri.

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