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Ex-Altar Boy Files Abuse Suit Against Suspended Priests

Jun 29, 2002 | The Miami Herald

A former St. Brendan's altar boy sued two suspended Catholic priests on Friday, claiming their sexual misconduct caused him severe psychological trauma.

The plaintiff, identified in court papers as John Doe, says he didn't think anything wrong happened when the Rev. Ricardo Castellanos allegedly first fondled him in a movie theater. He thought of it as ``affectionate.''

But the plaintiff said he felt a ''burning hole in my heart'' when St. Brendan's pastor, José Nickse, allegedly molested him at a later date in a rectory bedroom and in a Jacuzzi.

The accuser, 35, now married and living outside South Florida, also sued the Archdiocese of Miami. He claims the abuse happened from 1979 to 1982 when he was between 12 and 15 years old.

''It's so important for me to do this now, because it was a tragedy,'' the man, who said he attends Mass, told the Herald. 'It was like I was sitting in a room and a kid was saying to me, `You have to tell someone about what happened.' ''

In his suit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the accuser said he told two of Nickse's assistant priests at the time about the alleged abuse. He claims they told him that to speak such words would be a sin.

One of those St. Brendan priests, William Mylchreest, was identified in the suit. He said he doesn't recall such a talk.

''I can't think of an altar boy who might have come to me about that,'' said Mylchreest, a priest at St. Sebastian in Fort Lauderdale. ``As far as I know, Father Nickse was above board.''

SERIES OF LAWSUITS

Friday's lawsuit is the fourth complaint against Castellanos, 56, and the first complaint against Nickse, 55, since the clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted nationwide earlier this year.

Since April, there have been 10 child molestation lawsuits filed against the Miami Archdiocese involving seven priests and one deacon, now dead.

Nickse's attorney, Douglas McIntosh, predicted the latest suit would not stand up in court because the statute of limitations has expired.

''These types of claims have no business in the courts,'' McIntosh said Friday. ``We intend to gain a dismissal for Father Nickse if he's ever served with what appears to be a far-fetched and dilatory claim.''

Castellanos' attorney, Gonzalo Dorta, could not be reached for comment. He has previously said that Castellanos never abused anyone.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta declined comment.

Both Castellanos, former pastor of San Isidro parish in Pompano Beach, and Nickse, former pastor of St. Brendan Church in Southwest Miami-Dade, have been placed on administrative leave. A lay committee appointed by Archbishop John C. Favalora is probing the allegations, Agosta said.

CHURCH BACKING

Parish support for Castellanos and Nickse -- popular priests ordained in the early 1970s -- has been passionate. Parishioners have held rosary vigils or sent letters to the archdiocese in support of both priests.

Nickse supporters have sent the archdiocese between 3,000 and 4,000 letters, Agosta said.

''The archbishop is very aware of how loved Father Nickse is by his parishioners,'' she said.

According to attorney Sheldon Stevens, his client moved with his parents from the Midwest to Miami in the late 1970s and settled near St. Brendan Church.

Stevens said his client met Castellanos in confession at age 12 in 1979, and the priest asked him if he wanted to be an altar boy.

''I considered it an incredible honor,'' he said.

In the suit, he said, Castellanos took him and other boys to movie theaters in southwest Miami-Dade.

''At such time and places, [the] defendant, Castellanos, molested and fondled plaintiff, Doe,'' the suit reads without identifying the theaters.

''His actions didn't strike me as wrong at all,'' the plaintiff said, explaining that Castellanos fondled his genitals. ''I thought they were affectionate.'' The plaintiff said the abuse stopped in the spring of 1980, when Castellanos went to another Miami-Dade parish.

The following year, he said Nickse befriended him and asked him to take on more responsibilities at Masses, weddings and baptisms, which paid altar boys $70 a week.

`MORE AGGRESSIVE'

By the spring of 1982, the suit alleges Nickse began molesting the altar boy at the rectory after offering him wine and massages when he was 15 years old. The same thing happened in a Jacuzzi at a racquet ball club.

''Nickse's abuse became more aggressive requiring plaintiff, Doe, to remove his clothing and allow defendant to touch and fondle the plaintiff's buttocks, anus and genital areas,'' the suit said.

The plaintiff said the abuse ended after Nickse dismissed him from altar service in late 1982.

The former altar boy said he never told his parents, finally seeking counseling as an adult for depression and low self-esteem.

''I was keeping a big secret for years,'' he said.


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