Lambs to Slaughter

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

Sam's family was not wealthy — his allowance was five dollars a week, and he dressed in hand-me-downs that his older brother got from a thrift store — but he says Doherty was willing to finance his drug habit, which had progressed to heroin. The priest visited Sam when his misbehavior led to his placement in a juvenile home. After Sam was sent to prison for having an illegal weapon and dealing drugs, he lost touch with Doherty.

Thanks in part to the counseling he received while incarcerated, Sam says, he came to understand how Doherty's abuse had affected his life — how it was at the root of his depression and his chemical addictions.

Sam has a vivid memory of a night not long after his release from prison, when he was walking along NW 18th Street, near St. Vincent Church. "I was trashed ... fucked up on OxyContin," says Sam. "And he approached me." By then, Sam had taken to carrying a knife to better defend himself in the rough crowds where he lived. "I was so filled with rage, I pulled my knife. I shined the blade in the streetlight so he could see it. I said, 'If you come near me, I'll kill you.'"

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

Doherty backed off. Sam hasn't seen him since. If there's a next time, it might be in a criminal trial.

In 2002, after the scandal broke in the Boston archdiocese, Monsignor Marin conducted an inventory of abuse charges against active priests in the Miami archdiocese, which finally put Doherty on administrative leave. In 2004, Doherty retired.

Today St. Vincent is led by Rev. Joseph Maroor, who conducts mass with a cheerful, earnest demeanor. On a Sunday in March, about 400 parishioners fill the pews of the T-shape church. During his sermon, Maroor speaks about how in the moments before mass, he entered the sacristy and saw an elderly man holding a sign. "It said, 'Don't tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big your God is,'" Maroor beamed. "What a wonderful truth!"

It'll take a big God to get the Catholic Church out of its current fix. Herman is not allowed to say how much his clients have received in settlements so far, nor would he estimate how much he expects to win on unsettled cases, saying only that "millions" would be a fair characterization.

Kevin, the boy referred to Doherty for counseling related to his alcoholic mother, did not tell anyone about having had sex with the priest until a few years ago, when he saw an article about him being sued by another victim. Kevin told police that in the decades since the abuse, he's thought about Doherty every day.

Andy, another Seventies-era victim who had been impressed by Doherty's willingness to speak with him about adult subjects, no longer lives in the area. "It really ruined my life for a long time," he says of the abuse. Like other victims, he has battled addiction and he has had trouble keeping jobs and building relationships. Now he says he's clean, employed, and engaged to be married.

Jorge Soler's life after Doherty has followed a more tragic path. He has accumulated a long rap sheet of theft and drug offenses. He's awaiting trial on charges of credit card theft and stealing a car. He says his attorney has negotiated a plea deal that would give him about five years in prison, but Soler, a recovering crack and heroin addict, says he has made progress in drug treatment and is holding out hope for a program that would give him a measure of freedom in exchange for close monitoring of drug abuse.

Soler is Baptist now. That faith, plus his family, which includes a 10-year-old daughter, are enough to stave off the thoughts of suicide that have plagued him for as long as he can remember, he says. Asked whether he thought Doherty's religious faith was genuine, he shakes his head. "That's a disguise," he says of the priestly garments Doherty wore. "He doesn't care about nothing. Going around raping little kids: That's his belief."

Two other alleged victims whose accounts were not included in public files are also in jail — one for grand theft and armed burglary and the other for murder.

For Sam — the victim who once flashed a knife at the priest — the shame of having been raped by Doherty made him resolve, a few years ago, to kill himself. At that time, he had never told a soul about what had happened, he says. He called a friend and told her of Doherty's abuse, saying it was the reason he was going to commit suicide. For the first time in a decade, Sam wept. His friend persuaded him not to follow through — to live — if for no other reason than to see Doherty receive justice. Today Sam is the one victim whose case forms the basis for the criminal charges that could put Doherty, now age 63, in prison for the rest of his life.

"It's pretty much retribution," says Sam, taking a drag on a cigarette. "There's no making it okay. I don't think if he was beaten in public and dragged naked through the streets so people could throw rocks at him it would be okay."

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