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Parents Revisit Late Son's Sex Case

Apr 23, 2002 | The Miami Herald

A Coral Gables couple has revived a 25-year-old sex-abuse allegation against a Roman Catholic priest and leveled a new claim against another local cleric, saying their now-deceased son was molested by them as a teen.

In a lawsuit to be filed today, the couple says Miguel Chinchilla, a former altar boy at Church of the Little Flower, was abused between 1975 and 1977 by the reverends Ricardo Castellanos and Alvaro Guichard.

Rita and Miguel Chinchilla Sr. said their son was pressured to recant the allegation against Castellanos in an affidavit, on videotape, when he confronted the Archdiocese of Miami in 1988.

The archdiocese and Castellanos vehemently deny the family's claim that their son was molested between ages 14 and 16.

Castellanos, 56, pastor of San Isidro Church in Pompano Beach, said an internal investigation by the archdiocese cleared him.

''These revisited accusations by the family of Mr. Chinchilla are nothing more than an attempt to join the litigation bandwagon currently in motion against the Catholic Church in hopes of a nuisance settlement and other financial gain,'' he said in a statement.

Chinchilla and his family first went public with abuse claims against Castellanos, who hosts a TV show called In the Word With Father Ricardo, in a 1993 book titled A Gospel of Shame.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said Chinchilla ''recanted in writing'' before he died at 31 years old from AIDS in 1993. Agosta declined to provide The Herald with a copy of the sworn affidavit.

Guichard, 62, did not respond to messages left at his parish, St. Francis de Sales on Miami Beach, and questions faxed to him Thursday and Friday. His staff said he was aware of the fax but declined to put The Herald in touch with him.

Agosta declined to comment on the claims against Guichard, saying church policy forbids speaking about litigation or disclosing personnel records.


The negligence lawsuit, to be filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claims senior church leaders failed to supervise the two priests.

''We want the priests removed so this does not happen again,'' said Eugenio Chinchilla, Miguel's younger brother, a Miami marketing executive.

Jeffrey Herman, the family's lawyer, said there is ''substantial independent evidence'' to document sexual abuse such as notes of Chinchilla's psychological therapy sessions. The youth, a draft of the suit says, once tried to kill himself after a weekend trip with Castellanos.

Herman said that even though Chinchilla is dead, the claim against the archdiocese and the two priests survives under Florida law with his estate -- headed by his mother and father. Although the statute of limitations for a negligence claim is at least four years in Florida, Herman said he will argue that it does not apply here because the archdiocese ''concealed information'' about the case.


According to the family, Guichard hired Chinchilla to answer phones Saturdays in the mid-1970s at Little Flower in Coral Gables. Guichard later introduced Chinchilla to Castellanos at Little Flower, they said.

''When Miguel was the approximate age of 14-15, Father Guichard and Father Castellanos each would sexually molest Miguel on a frequent and regular basis with the knowledge and consent of the other,'' according to the draft of the lawsuit.

The family said Castellanos soon began dining out with Chinchilla and taking him on overnight trips to Key West, Disney World and Europe, including stops in Paris and the Vatican for the youth's 16th birthday.

After Chinchilla returned from Europe in June 1977, the family said he entered drug treatment and later told his parents and counselor about Castellanos' alleged abuse.


''I was in shock, I was hysterical, I was devastated,'' said Rita Chinchilla, who added that she and her husband had trusted Castellanos because he was a priest.

That fall, the family said, they complained to then-Monsignor Agustin Roman but were asked to keep quiet, she said.

''Monsignor Roman accused Miguel of lying and said that we would ruin this priest's life if we talked about it,'' Rita Chinchilla said. ``He ordered my husband to secrecy under penalty of sin.''

Roman, now an auxiliary bishop, was unavailable for comment Monday because he recently underwent surgery, said Olga Vega, an archdiocese spokeswoman.

In 1979, Chinchilla joined the Army. Before he left, Rita Chinchilla said her son told her that he had also been abused by Guichard.


''It was horrible, just horrible, but I did nothing because I was afraid,'' Rita Chinchilla said. ``I knew the church didn't want this to come out.''

But in 1987, she ''raised the issue'' of Castellanos' alleged abuse with then-Auxiliary Bishop Norbert Dorsey while both were attending a funeral. He arranged a meeting at which she and her family also outlined their allegations against Guichard.

At the same time, Chinchilla, who learned he had AIDS, wrote a letter to then-Archbishop Edward McCarthy, seeking ''an apology,'' his family said.

''He wanted a spiritual reconciliation, an apology from the church,'' said Rose Anderson, a nurse practitioner and Catholic social worker who became friends with Chinchilla and had read the letter.

In 1988, Chinchilla met with Dorsey, then-Chancellor Gerard LaCerra, now deceased, and archdiocese lawyer J. Patrick Fitzgerald. McCarthy did not attend. Nor did Chinchilla's parents.

According to the book A Gospel of Shame, the meeting was videotaped: Fitzgerald ``asked Miguel to sign a contract releasing the diocese from financial liability. He agreed.''

Rita Chinchilla says her son was pressured to sign: ``They talked him into signing it.''

Dorsey, now bishop of Orlando, was unavailable for comment. Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment.

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