The tone of the news statement was strikingly different from the archdiocese’s more-neutral responses to dozens of past allegations of molestation against its priests — especially in the aftermath of the sex-abuse scandal that shook the Catholic Church. Nationwide, dioceses adopted “zero-tolerance” reforms, suspended accused priests, reported complaints to local authorities, conducted internal investigations and offered counseling to victims. They also vowed to be transparent with their flocks.
Agosta said her statement — released just before Simmons and his lawyer held their news conference Tuesday in front of TV cameras and reporters at St. Agatha — did not signal a change of policy under Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who replaced John Favalora in 2010.
“The archdiocese has been consistent with the way it has handled allegations of sexual abuse,” Agosta told The Herald, citing a doctrine called “Protecting God’s Children.”
She said the archdiocese’s statement was meant to prod reporters into asking tougher questions of Simmons’ lawyer, Herman, who has brought more than 100 lawsuits against the archdiocese and settled the vast majority of them for a total of tens of millions of dollars. He filed all four negligence suits involving Garcia.
“When the news media cover these Jeff Herman press conferences, they do not come away with the full truth,” Agosta said in an interview last week. “They are either not asking follow-up questions or Jeff Herman is not revealing any details. . . .
“This has nothing to do with a particular victim or Father Garcia,” she added. “It has to do with Jeff Herman and how he’s manipulating the media.”
Agosta said, for example, that she found it suspicious that while Simmons kept in touch with the priest over the years, he gave Garcia his War on Terror Service medal in 2003 after he finished his Army training camp. She also said that in recent months Simmons asked Garcia about how he and his wife could get married in the Catholic Church.
But Agosta also said that Garcia baptized Simmons’ baby daughter at St. Agatha, which Simmons denied, saying she was never baptized nor had she ever been to Florida. Questioned about that claim, Agosta revised her initial assertion, saying Simmons recently asked Garcia to baptize his second child, who is due soon. But Simmons denied that, too.
A spokesman for a victims’ advocacy group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the archdiocese’s public-relations campaign was clearly aimed at the alleged victim, describing it as “mean-spirited and irrelevant.”
“Wenski’s public-relations staffers declared the latest Garcia victim ‘not credible’ before she even saw his lawsuit,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director. “She attacked the victim’s past. . . . Wenski postures as a reformer but is essentially Favalora on steroids.”
But Agosta wasn’t the only one who expressed doubts about the latest complaint against Garcia.
Simmons’ cousin, August Sorvillo, who once lived in Broward, said he was skeptical about the abuse claims. Sorvillo, 30, whose father, uncle and another cousin are priests in the Anglican and Episcopal churches, said Simmons’ story about being a homeless runaway didn’t ring true.