A defrocked Los Angeles priest accused of sexually molesting 33 girls shipped off yesterday from the Bahamas for a three-month tour of South America on a South Florida based cruise line.
Voyages of Discovery, a Fort Lauderdale-based cruise company, says there is nothing it can do to prevent George Neville Rucker from embarking on the expensive, seniors-only trip since he was never convicted of a crime. But, ironically, Rucker was defrocked when the U.S. Coast Guard nabbed him fleeing on a cruise to Russia to escape criminal charges back in 2002.
Voyages of Discovery chairman Roger Allard responded in late December to a letter sent by an individual concerned about Rucker's plan to leave the country. Allard wrote:
We note the contents of your letter and your concerns but regret that due to Data Protection Laws we are unable to confirm or deny that Mr. Rucker is a passenger on board Discovery.... We would be unable to prevent any passenger boarding our vessel unless their behaviour at the time of boarding causes concern.
Records obtained by Riptide show that Rucker did, in fact, pay for the $12,000 trip in advance. According to the cruise line's website, "Discovery will leave Barbados on a voyage all the way around South America, calling at exciting places such as the Amazon, Rio, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, the Falklands and then through the majestic Chilean Fjords and round into the Pacific side, calling in at further exciting ports such as Valparaiso, Manta and up through the great Panama Canal... the sort of voyage that dreams are made of."
Advocates for sexual abuse victims say the company is being irresponsible by letting an accused sexual predator aboard a cruise. Rucker was charged with molesting 12 girls in 2002 and was caught by Alaskan state troopers aboard a cruise ship bound for Russia. But the charges were dropped the following year after a U.S. Supreme Court struck down California's attempt to prosecute older molestation cases. The statute of limitations applied in such cases, the court ruled.
"It's like they're saying, 'Welcome aboard criminals. Just make sure your coat tails are tucked in and say please and thank you,'" says David Clohessy, a spokesman for the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Clohessy also criticizes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for not keeping tabs on Rucker after his defrocking. "Rucker really is one of the very worst and for church officials to claim that they are monitoring them, watching them like a hawk, is ridiculous."
Steve Novello, President of All Discovery Cruising (which owns Voyages of Discovery), says his company went beyond normal protocol to investigate the complaint against Rucker.
"I can fully understand their concerns," he says. "I'm not sitting here and saying that we'll just take anyone's money. But as a cruise line we can't discriminate against anyone who's been accused of something and never convicted."
He adds that all of the passengers are more than 50 years old. "Just for the record, I don't think there is anyone on our cruise who was in kindergarten in the last 50 years," he says.
But Novello also said he would have his lawyers call Riptide if we reported on Rucker's Voyages of Discovery cruise.
"You'd better mention in that article every other cruise line that takes passengers aboard," he says. "Some of them take people on board who I'm pretty sure have been convicted of things."
"It sheds a bad light on us in a situation where... our competitors are doing the same thing," he says.