Lambs to Slaughter

Miami's Catholic leaders covered for a priest who drugged and sodomized at least a dozen boys.

As he shuffles into a conference room in a jail jumpsuit, Jorge Soler no longer looks like the boy he was when he met Father Doherty. He doesn't even seem like the young man who was booked at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, off Doral Boulevard in Miami. When he posed for his mug shot, he had a finely trimmed goatee. Now, age 32, his beard is thick and covers nearly his whole face.

Soler grew up in Little Haiti during the early Eighties, when drugs and crime made the sidewalks a menacing place. He was the youngest of five children in a poor family. Soler tried drugs even before he met Doherty, in 1983 at age nine. The priest had been sent to his home as an outreach counselor. Soon the boy was placed in Miami Bridge, a youth shelter then on NW South River Drive.

The abuse began immediately.

Neil Doherty's crimes were buried for years.
Neil Doherty's crimes were buried for years.

Doherty would pick him up and take him shopping for new shoes, shorts, and jeans before they were joined by two other boys, both named Victor, says Soler. One was of Colombian descent, the other Puerto Rican. Doherty served them drinks that Soler thinks were drugged, possibly with valium or Quaaludes. "He turned me onto drugs by not telling me he was giving me drugs," Soler says with a bitter smile.

Then Doherty assaulted the trio, he says. On some occasions, another priest — who was a junior pastor at St. Mary's Cathedral, possibly a seminarian — was also present. That priest, says Soler, took nude photographs of the boys and joined Doherty in raping them.

He remembers riding in Doherty's car, the priest drunk or high on valium, scanning Biscayne Boulevard for a boy who would turn a trick. Doherty, says Soler, had no interest in men. "If they were over 18, he didn't want to mess with them."

Sometimes, when he visited Doherty, Soler says, he'd be given $200. Other times, "it was hard to get a dollar out of him," even when Soler was willing to trade sexual favors.

The abuse first came to light in 1983, during a counseling session with Dr. Simon Miranda, a court-appointed therapist. Soler began weeping and finally described how Doherty abused him. Archdiocese documents show Miranda immediately reported Soler's allegation to Archbishop Edward McCarthy, but no investigation followed.

Four years later, Soler sought out Doherty at the archdiocese pastoral center. "I wanted money for drugs," says Soler. "He had said if I ever needed money to call him, but he was ignoring me."

Doherty was not at the pastoral center. Desperate, the 15-year-old boy resorted to blackmail. He informed a nun, Sister Joyce Newton, that he had had sex with Doherty, who had given him a venereal disease. Newton phoned Doherty, who instructed her to give Soler money from the center's petty cash drawer just to get rid of him.

This time there would be an investigation, by the archdiocese chancellor, Gerard T. LaCerra. But documents subpoenaed in a civil suit that Soler has filed against the archdiocese suggest LaCerra's investigation was biased. Soler's attorney, Herman, says it was "a fraud" and "a sham."

Indeed even though a new victim had materialized, the chancellor took Doherty's side, alleging Soler was "an acknowledged homosexual prostitute and drug dealer."

In August 1992, a letter forwarded to LaCerra by Archbishop McCarthy began with a familiar refrain: "Our son was given drugs, Quaaludes in excess — and then raped by Father Neil Doherty, presently pastor of St. Vincent Parish in Margate, Fla."

The letter tells of how a boy whom we'll call Tony had been an A student at a Fort Lauderdale high school in 1978 when his parents went to meet with Doherty, then the pastor at Saint Anthony, about counseling their son. "He absolutely charmed us," Tony's parents wrote. "So you can imagine how easy it was for Father Doherty to hide behind his authority as a priest and ... to take advantage of a mentally ill, gullible 17-year-old boy. It was leading a lamb to slaughter."

Tony's parents alleged Doherty "brainwashed" their son — who was straight — into believing he was gay. On at least one occasion, said the parents, Doherty took Tony to a Palm Beach motel, where the priest drugged and raped him.

Then the boy dropped out of high school and ran away from home. It would be five years before Tony's parents would see him again. He had moved out of the region, was deeply depressed, and was leading what his parents called a "hand-to-mouth existence."

LaCerra offered the boy counseling but was rejected. Doherty was sent for psychological treatment at the Institute of Living, a Hartford, Connecticut resortlike clinic that is a frequent destination for troubled priests. There a doctor recommended the archdiocese issue a "temporary suspension from [Doherty's] duties while further investigation is taking place."

LaCerra wrote a letter in response saying he thought they had agreed Doherty would simply "take time off to work on personal issues." In the most chilling passage, he added, "If perchance your report would ever be placed under subpoena, the archdiocese could look quite negligent for not having immediately removed Fr. Doherty from his pastoral assignment."

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