Aide: Church Knew of Priest's Woes
Court Documents Paint a Disturbing Picture of a Priest Who Is Accused of Molesting Young Boys

By Wanda J. DeMarzo
Miami Herald
July 22, 2006

As early as the mid-1970s, the Archdiocese of Miami was aware of allegations that the Rev. Neil Doherty had been having inappropriate relationships with young boys, the priest's longtime secretary told prosecutors investigating sexual molestation charges against him.

• The career of the Rev. Neil Doherty

The secretary's statement, released Friday among documents that are part of the criminal case against the priest, represents the first time that someone within the archdiocese has confirmed what victims have alleged for years: that church leaders knew about the allegations.

In fact, the documents reveal that in 1992, Doherty -- then priest at St. Vincent's in Margate -- was sent by the archdiocese to Connecticut for psychological testing.

The results indicated Doherty should be removed as a parish priest "because he is dangerous, manipulative, a pathological liar and he is someone that will stop at nothing to get what he wants," the secretary told prosecutors.

Yet he continued to minister at the parish until he was removed in April of 2002. Theresa Gerstner, his longtime secretary, would later tell prosecutors that the archdiocese knew about Doherty's alleged penchant for young boys.

"They knew because there was a payout," Gerstner said, according to court documents released this week.

"There was a young boy who made charges against Father Neil" while Doherty was at St. Anthony's Church in Fort Lauderdale, Gerstner told prosecutors.

"There had been several allegations and payouts," she said.

Doherty's attorney, David Bogenschutz, said the truth about his client will come out during his criminal trial. His client's side has not been heard.

The archdiocese said it could not go into details about the allegations against Doherty.

"There are still some allegations pending so we are limited as to what we can say," said Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami.

"I think the important issue is the way that the archdiocese deals with these type of allegations. Today, the way we deal with allegations like this is much different than the way they were treated 20 or 30 years ago."

The Broward Sheriff's Office in January arrested Doherty, who served parishes in South Florida for three decades, on charges he sexually abused one young boy. He faces two counts of sexual battery on a child under 12, two counts of indecent assault and one count of lewd or lascivious molestation. Doherty allegedly sexually abused the boy, then 11, over a 5-year period beginning in 1996 while he was in Margate.


Doherty, 62, is the first Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Miami to be charged with sexual battery on a minor younger than 12.

Alleged victims of Doherty have been coming forward ever since the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.

The alleged victim filed a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami, accusing it of allowing the priest to serve at the Margate parish -- despite having settled an earlier lawsuit involving alleged child molestation by Doherty.

While at the Margate parish, the priest allegedly drugged and raped the latest victim, now 19.

Since the sex-abuse scandal erupted, the Miami archdiocese has publicly expressed sorrow for the alleged abuse victims of numerous South Florida priests. But in the civil case involving the Margate youth, archdiocese officials have pursued an aggressive strategy against him and his family -- at one point blaming the youth for what happened, saying the youth's "own negligence" was to blame for what the priest did to him.


The archdiocese has recently settled six civil suits involving priests in South Florida for $750,000 -- two of them involving accusations against Doherty.

Court documents released Friday show that there were people within the archdiocese who were aware that Doherty was having inappropriate relations with boys.

Doherty kept photos in the rectory, photos of him and his "adopted" boys and the boys he "mentored," Gerstner said.

Gerstner, who began working at St. Vincent's Church in Margate as a part-time secretary and now works there as the bookkeeper and office manager, showed prosecutors photographs of Doherty with some of the boys he told her he called his "adopted" boys or those he "mentored," the secretary said.

One of them showed a smiling Doherty standing next to a young man holding a glass that she said was alcohol.

She also told prosecutors that the priest sent young boys to one of his "adopted sons," a psychiatrist, who would prescribe drugs for them.


She described her boss as cruel and frightening.

He even destroyed the Christmas tree one year and threw out all the decorations, she said.

"He also thought, and probably still thinks, he is God," Gerstner said. "He would make staff attend these meetings where he would tell us he was our shepherd."

Gerstner told prosecutors Doherty would especially befriend boys who were having family or school-related difficulties.

One mother contacted Catholic Family Services for her wayward 17-year-old son who she said would run away from home and was experimenting with drugs.

The agency referred her to Doherty. But according to the youth's statement to prosecutors in May, Doherty didn't counsel him -- he sexually abused him.

The young man's statement was one of two released by the State Attorney's Office Friday in the case against Doherty. One victim gave a statement to prosecutors which was released to The Miami Herald Friday. In it, the alleged victim described how he was befriended by Doherty, who in turn supplied the teen with alcohol, drugs and later -- according to the statement -- performed a sex act on him.

During one incident, in October 1977, the teen contended that Doherty took him to West Palm Beach, and they stopped at bar for a couple of beers. They later checked into a hotel, where they drank more beer and smoked marijuana, the teen told prosecutors. Then Doherty performed oral sex on him.

"Did you feel as though you were physically incapable ... or physically making him stop doing this to you?" prosecutors asked the young man.

"...I was so intoxicated I couldn't respond," the teen replied.

Doherty hasn't been charged with that young man's assault because tbe statute of limitations has run out. The teen's family, however, sued the Archdiocese and received a settlement of $50,000.


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