Judge orders Catholic leader’s testimony

Auxiliary Bishop Román faces questions in suit
The Miami Herald, Mar. 13, 2003

In a major setback to the Archdiocese of Miami, a state judge on Wednesday ordered the beloved spiritual leader of Cuban exiles to answer questions under oath in the first clergy sexual-abuse lawsuit headed for trial in South Florida.

Auxiliary Bishop Agustín Román, one of the highest-ranking local Catholic leaders, must give a pretrial deposition within 60 days about alleged abuse by two other priests, said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Friedman.

The ruling puts intense pressure on the archdiocese, which is trying to fend off 20 molestation lawsuits — including this case filed last year by a former altar boy, who claimed he was abused by two Catholic priests three decades ago.

Friedman, however, postponed a decision on whether Román’s former superior, Archbishop Emeritus Edward A. McCarthy, must also undergo pretrial questioning.

At issue is whether McCarthy, 84, is healthy enough to testify. The leader of the archdiocese from 1976 to 1993 suffers from severe dementia and cardiovascular problems, according to court records.

”I have no problem with either of them being deposed,” Friedman said. “But I do have a problem with McCarthy’s health.”

Román, 74, also has a long history of medical problems. But church attorneys never raised his health as an issue, as they did for McCarthy, in attempting to block the depositions. Román, who led the drive to build La Ermita de la Caridad, the popular Coconut Grove shrine to the patroness of Cuba, has survived several heart attacks — the latest in August — and has undergone quadruple bypass surgery. He also has a pacemaker.

At the brief hearing in Friedman’s chambers, the judge also recommended that church lawyers arrange for Román’s deposition at one sitting that would cover all the abuse suits against the archdiocese. In fact, the judge said that in order to save time, all archdiocese witnesses — including other church officials — should be allowed to give their pretrial depositions in the same manner he suggested for Román.

Friedman only has legal authority over two sex-abuse suits assigned to him, but other state judges could go along with his proposal.

The legal confrontation over deposing church officials — similar to court clashes from Boston to Los Angeles — follows the Miami archdiocese’s initial strategy to get several complaints dismissed by arguing that the civil cases were filed after the four-year statute of limitations expired. But the archdiocese has had no success so far.

The archdiocese has also refused to release any church documents, such as personnel files, that have been sought by plaintiffs’ attorneys. Most of the molestation cases involve priests who have been placed on suspension, resigned, relocated to another diocese or died.

On Wednesday, archdiocese lawyer Adam Horowitz argued that the attorney for ex-altar boy Jose A. Currais Jr. should not be allowed to depose Román and McCarthy because it would amount to “harassment.”

Horowitz said it would serve no purpose for either priest to give sworn statements because they know nothing about the allegations, saying “a spiritual leader’s time is going to be monopolized by these depositions.”

Friedman rejected Horowitz’s argument and instead told him to develop a plan in one week for a combined deposition session.

”There is no reason we should have to go through 20 different depositions for all 20 cases,” the judge said.

In an interview after the hearing, Horowitz declined to comment.

Currais’ attorney, Jeffrey Herman, said he wants to depose McCarthy and Román to see whether they had any knowledge that could be crucial to building a negligence case against the archdiocese.

”These are individuals who have intimate knowledge about the abuse and the coverup by the archdiocese,” Herman said after the hearing.

In his suit filed last May, Currais alleged that the Rev. Ricardo Castellanos sexually abused him between the ages of 14 and 16 at St. Kieran Church and LaSalle High School in Miami and during overnight trips to Disney World in the early 1970s.

Currais also alleged that the Rev. Alvaro Guichard molested him at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables during the same period.

Castellanos, 57, pastor of San Isidro Church in Pompano Beach, and Guichard, 63, pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Miami Beach, have denied the accusations. The archdiocese has placed both priests on administrative leave while a church lay committee and officials review the allegations.

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