A former altar boy said he was so outraged by a letter written to parishioners by popular St. Brendan’s pastor JosÃ© Nickse denying he had ever molested any children that he stepped forward Thursday to make his own allegations of abuse.
After filing a lawsuit against Nickse, Richard Fiallo, 31, stood in front of the priest’s church Thursday with a defiant glint in his eye and an angry voice as he questioned the staunch support by parishioners for Nickse and the seeming disregard for the men making the claims.
A giant banner proclaiming parishioner’s support for the priest hung from the front of the church.
”They need to wake up,” said Fiallo, who claims Nickse first assaulted him in a Jacuzzi when he was a 12-year-old altar boy and fondled him in the front seat of the priest’s car as the boy stared out the window crying.
”He’s a human being like anybody else,” Fiallo said. “They say they represent God, and they’re abusing the faith of their parishioners. And that belief is why I am here today.”
Fiallo filed his lawsuit against Nickse, St. Brendan Catholic Church and the Archdiocese of Miami. A second suit by a 36-year-old man known only as John Doe was also filed Thursday against all three.
The complaints join one filed in June by a 35-year-old John Doe who lives outside South Florida. The allegations in Thursday’s lawsuits mirror that man’s claims that Nickse molested him in a Jacuzzi during the 1980s while he attended St. Brendan’s in Southwest Miami-Dade.
In the letter sent to parishioners, Nickse denied the 35-year-old’s allegations.
”I have been accused of sexual misconduct,” he wrote. “It will be painful to be away from you. I want to assure you that my conscience is clear. This allegation is totally unfounded.”
Neither Nickse nor his attorney, Douglas McIntosh, who is on vacation, could be reached for comment Thursday.
The Archdiocese of Miami placed Nickse, 56, on administrative leave June 4 as it began an investigation into allegations made by the 35-year-old.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said the current allegations would be added to the investigation.
”These allegations, as well as all allegations, are taken seriously,” she said.
Fiallo’s suit says he and his family were befriended by Nickse, who “took an interest in Richard and helped him get into St. Brendan’s Elementary School.”
The lawsuit details several alleged attacks by Nickse against Fiallo. The first happened after Nickse invited the then-12-year-old Fiallo to play racquetball with other boys, the suit says.
”He took him to the Jacuzzi at the club after the game and told him the club’s rule said you had to be naked to get into the Jacuzzi,” said Fiallo’s attorney, Jeffrey Herman, who also represents the 36-year-old John Doe who filed suit Thursday.
Fiallo says he refused and got into the water with his shorts on. The suit alleges the priest tried to take them off and fondled Fiallo. The abuse went on for two to three years, Fiallo says.
The 36-year-old’s suit alleges he was abused by Nickse when he was a 16-year-old parishioner after he confided in the priest during confession.
”He expressed to Nickse some confusion about his own sexuality and Nickse invites him to dinner and fondles him under the table,” Herman said.
Nickse is one of the most high-profile priests to be suspended in South Florida since the clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted. The pastor of St. Brendan’s since 1982, he helped build the church into one of the area’s largest parishes; its congregation numbers about 4,500.
Earlier this week, another high profile suspension was confirmed by the archdiocese. The Rev. Joseph Kershner, longtime principal of Cardinal Gibbons High School, was suspended in June after allegations were made against him.
Under church policy, a four-member lay committee appointed by Archbishop John C. Favalora is investigating recent child sex-abuse complaints against Nickse and other priests. Since 1998, the archdiocese says, at least 12 priests have retired or been placed on administrative leave because of molestation complaints.
Prosecutors in Miami-Dade and Broward counties are reviewing those and other complaints turned over by the archdiocese.