When an Iraqi war veteran publicly accused the pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church of sexually abusing him in the 1990s, the Archdiocese of Miami issued a statement admonishing the news media for not asking tougher questions of his lawyer about the molestation claims.
The archdiocese immediately countered Tuesday that the attorney had filed “several lawsuits” in the past against the archdiocese in which he accused St. Agatha’s Rolando Garcia of abusing boys. “And yet to date, none have been proven credible,” the archdiocese declared.
But late Wednesday, the archdiocese dramatically changed course, saying Garcia “was placed on administrative leave” because of the lawsuit brought by the war veteran, Tony Simmons.
The previous day, Simmons stood with his lawyer in front of St. Agatha in West Miami-Dade to announce he was a 16-year-old runaway when he met Garcia at the Church of the Little Flower in Hollywood in 1994.
At the news conference, Simmons said Garcia initially gave him help and counseling, but began to sexually abuse him after they went to a movie one night.
Simmons said Garcia later employed him as a painter at St. Agatha from 2001 to 2003, until he joined the Army.
“He controlled my job. He controlled where I lived. I was trapped,” Simmons, 34, told reporters gathered in front of St. Agatha. “If I didn’t do it then, you know, I don’t have a job, and if I don’t have a job, nowhere to live.”
Garcia, ordained as a priest in 1986 and St. Aga- tha’s pastor since 2001, has adamantly denied the abuse allegations.
Simmons’ lawyer, Jeffrey Herman, has filed four negligence suits against the archdiocese over the past decade in which his clients accused Garcia of sexually abusing them at churches in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The archdiocese settled two of those cases, but maintained the victims’ accusations were not credible and that the settlements did not reflect misconduct by Garcia.
In August, the Miami archdiocese said it learned of a third complaint against Garcia. A man who had met Garcia when he was a seminarian in the early 1980s accused him of sexual abuse. The unidentified accuser, who said he came to Miami as part of the Mariel refugee boatlift, claimed Garcia regularly took him, when he was 15 years old, to his room at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary to stay overnight on weekends, according to the man’s lawsuit.
According to the archdiocese, Garcia was on vacation in Cuba when the initial complaint was brought to the attention of church officials. Archbishop Thomas Wenski placed him on administrative leave in August, and told him not to return to St. Agatha until an internal investigation was completed.
“Father Garcia was extremely cooperative, and voluntarily took a lie-detector test that supported his denial of having abused anyone at any time,” the archdiocese said in the news release issued Wednesday. The archdiocese also interviewed the alleged victim.
The archdiocese’s review board, consisting of an attorney, a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, a community leader and a clergy member, found that the allegation was “not credible,” the archdiocese said in the statement. Wenski adopted the board’s findings, and allowed Garcia to return to St. Agatha after a 10-day leave.