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Ex-Hobe Sound Priest Faces Lawsuit

Jul 3, 2003 | Naples Daily News

A former Hobe Sound priest who left the clergy after accusations of sexual abuse while based in Naples faces a lawsuit alleging similar misconduct with a 10-year-old altar boy in Miami.

William Romero, 66, moved to LaBelle in rural Hendry County east of Fort Myers after retiring from the priesthood more than a decade ago. Years later, men and women from Naples to New York are coming forward with tales of abuse suffered at the hands of the man they once knew and trusted as Father Willie.

The latest claim surfaced in a June 26 lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. The suit alleges Romero raped a St. Augustine Catholic Church altar boy inside a church office in 1975. The church is in Coral Gables near the University of Miami.

In addition to Romero who was pastor at St. Christopher Catholic Church in Hobe Sound from 1980 to 1982 the lawsuit names the Archdiocese of Miami and Archbishop John C. Favarola for engaging "in a pattern of criminal conduct designed to conceal the sexual exploitation of children by their clergy."

An Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman declined to discuss the lawsuit. Romero, though, was not so reticent.

"I don't know anything about it," he said about the allegations Wednesday.

But Romero who continues to work with minors as a host parent for foreign exchange students in his LaBelle home said he was visited last year by a Miami archdiocese official and a church attorney inquiring about abuse in their jurisdiction.

Romero said he denied the charges and offered to take a lie detector test.

Romero was first linked to sexual abuse charges in May 2002, when the Diocese of Venice, which includes Collier and Lee counties, disclosed that three retired priests with Southwest Florida ties faced an internal investigation.

In April, the diocese quietly announced Romero's departure from the priesthood in a one-paragraph notice in its pastoral bulletin. The notice made no mention of the sexual misconduct inquiry and stated that Romero had "petitioned Rome for dispensation from all obligations connected with the priesthood."

His request was granted.

Venice Diocese officials would not specify whether Romero was forcibly removed from the clergy, asked to resign or voluntarily gave up his position. On Wednesday, they referred inquiries to the Miami archdiocese.

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