Church Fires Pederast Priest's Secretary

When Rev. Neil Doherty misbehaved, the archdiocese punished Theresa Gerstner.

The following month, Gerstner gave a wide-ranging interview to Hendel. In July 2006, her statements were made public as part of Doherty's indictment for felony sexual battery against a child. On July 31, about a week after Gerstner's statements were quoted in South Florida newspapers, an archdiocese official arrived at the office. He ordered Gerstner to give him her keys and leave the premises immediately. She was being investigated for criminal mismanagement of church funds, he said.

Gerstner says it was retaliation: "To keep me silent, they fabricated this allegation of misappropriation of funds. It's not true."

A new round of articles appeared containing the archdiocese allegation that Gerstner was a thief. "Witness Under Investigation" was the headline in the Herald. "Church whistleblower put on leave," explained the Sun-Sentinel. The Margate Police Department investigated the archdiocese report and delivered its findings to the State Attorney's Office, which has not filed criminal charges. Records are sealed from public view because, police explain, there's an ongoing investigation.

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In August 2007, Gerstner received a letter stating her employment with the archdiocese would end the last day of that month. It mentioned nothing about the allegation of misusing church funds.

She received no severance package and would face the coming months without health benefits — a dangerous proposition for a woman her age. What's more, her retirement plan lay in ruins.

"If I had stayed working there until I was 65, as I had planned, I would have gotten a pension check of about $1,300 per month," Gerstner says. Instead she gets nothing. This month, the archdiocese sent a letter denying her request for pension funds. She can't afford an attorney to challenge the archdiocese, and she can't afford to retire. In March, Gerstner moved to Clearwater, where her husband had found work. She puts in 12 hours a day at a doctor's office. "I will never be able to retire," she says.

After a year's hiatus, Gerstner has returned to the Catholic Church. She looks forward to testifying in Doherty's criminal trial. And she relishes the chance to expose the leaders of the Miami Archdiocese for the sake of the boys she believes Doherty abused. "I truly do not care what they have done to me — it's over; I have moved on," she says. "My main focus is to open the eyes of the people who truly do not know what has happened and what is still going on in the Archdiocese of Miami, and to stop [church members] from giving money to support this immorality and corruption."

"My main focus is to open the eyes of the people who do not know what is still going on in the Archdiocese of Miami."

Doherty, meanwhile, is on house arrest as he awaits trial.

Contact the author to discuss the story: editorial@miaminewtimes.com

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