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Suit Alleges Priest Molested Boy At North Miami Nursing Home

Sep 20, 2002 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel A 10-year-old boy was in such anguish during the late 1990s he told his mother he wanted to cut his hands off.

It wasn't until years later that she discovered his turmoil was caused by a priest, who allegedly forced the boy to fondle him, the mother said Thursday.

At a news conference the 38-year-old mother, whose identity is not being released to protect her child, talked about what prompted the lawsuit she filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court against the Rev. Trevor Smith, Villa Maria Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Miami and the Miami Archdiocese, which owns the center.

The suit claims that when the family visited an ill relative at the nursing home, the center's chaplain befriended the family and ultimately molested the boy.

"I feel hurt and guilty that I continued taking [my son] there ... I felt he was in safe place," she said, adding that when her son began acting out she turned to the priest for help. "I'm so repulsed to even call him a priest. I don't think he deserves to be called `father.'"

Neither Smith nor the center Administrator, James Reiss, could be reached for comment. Archdiocese officials released a brief statement saying the 65-year-old priest, who retired in May, is "proclaiming his innocence."

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said the claims would be investigated by an "internal response team."

The case stands out among the 15 sexual abuse lawsuits recently filed against the archdiocese as the only one in which the alleged victim of a priest is still a teenager.

According to the boy's mother, after the alleged abuse started, her son covered his hands with gloves, said he didn't want to grow up and believed he was "too dirty" to receive communion. The now 14-year-old's emotional problems got so bad that he attempted suicide and now attends a school for "emotionally handicapped" children.

It wasn't until the teen broke his leg in July of this year and was medicated, that he finally opened up, said the family's Hollywood-based attorney Jeff Herman of Herman & Mermelstein.

"He told his mother he felt free and he could tell her his secret," the lawsuit claims.

The boy said that during the time the family spent visiting his grandmother every week, in 1998 or 1999 the priest took the boy to his room to "show him something," said the lawsuit. There, Smith told a story about another boy he had met at the center and how he would measure the boy's penis to see if it had grown, according to the lawsuit.

The suit claims that Smith then pulled out a ruler, unzipped the boy's pants and began to fondle him. Afterward the priest forced the boy to reciprocate and showed him photographs of nude children.

The abuse was reported to center officials and North Miami police as soon as the boy talked to his mother, she said. Herman said a Detective Felix Guarama took a report, spoke with archdiocese officials and the case remains open. North Miami police were contacted but details were not available.

Before working at the center, the recently retired priest worked at St. Clement Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale, St. Patrick in Miami Beach and Epiphany in Miami during the 1970s and 1980s, said Herman. Agosta would not comment on Smith's decision to retire.

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