Witness under Investigation
Margate Police Are Investigating a Church Secretary Who Is a Key Witness in a Sexual Abuse Case against the Former Parish Priest

By Amy Sherman
Miami Herald [Margate FL]
August 19, 2006

Margate police have launched an investigation into alleged "financial irregularities" by a church secretary who provided evidence in a sexual abuse case against her former boss, retired Rev. Neil Doherty.

Detectives started the probe after police met with Roberto Diaz, a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Miami, according to a police report. Diaz told police that an audit at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Margate revealed misappropriation of money between 2003 and 2006.

The police report does not identify former secretary Theresa Gerstner -- who the church placed on paid leave July 31. However, Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta confirmed that the probe centers on Gerstner.

Margate police spokesman Detective Chip Kolenda said he had no additional information on the matter.

Gerstner says that the church's actions constitute retaliation for her statements to police about Doherty.

"They want to do everything in their power to discredit me as a human being, as a person, and as a witness against them," said Gerstner earlier this month.

The Archdiocese announced that the church had placed the 59-year-old Boca Raton resident on leave nine days after prosecutors released a key statement by Gerstner.

The secretary -- who has worked for the church for 24 years -- has told law enforcement officials that the Archdiocese knew about sexual abuse allegations involving Doherty for many years but allowed him to continue ministering.

Earlier this year, the 63-year-old retired priest was charged in one criminal case with sexually abusing a boy starting when he was 10 in the 1990s. Doherty's attorney David Bogenschutz has denied the allegations.

Several other alleged victims have filed civil suits against the Archdiocese contending that Doherty abused them.

But Agosta said Gerstner's leave has nothing to do with her cooperation in the Doherty case.

The issue, Agosta said, is that Gerstner can't provide proof of some expenditures and isn't cooperating with an internal investigation. Gerstner has denied any wrongdoing.


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