When the Rev. Rafael Escala served at St. Timothy Catholic Church in West Kendall in the late 1980s, he caught a teenaged altar boy stealing $60 from the collection.
Escala threatened to report the teen to his father and the police. But rather than carry out the threat, the priest sexually abused the 16-year-old boy, according to the victim, who obtained a financial settlement from the Archdiocese of Miami in January.
“He told me that I had to ask God for forgiveness for stealing the money after he abused me,” said the victim, a Miami man who did not want to be identified. “He gave me penance.”
The victim also reached a settlement in the same agreement regarding molestation claims against a second priest, the Rev. Oscar Mendez, a Jesuit, while he served at St. Timothy in the 1990s.
The amount of the combined settlement, which named both priests along with the Miami archdiocese, was confidential. The victim said he decided to bring his two complaints to the attention of the archdiocese in late 2011, after following the criminal sex-abuse case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Until now, neither priest — Escala died at age 77 in 2009; Mendez is in his 80s and in poor health — has ever been implicated in the clergy sex-abuse scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church more than a decade ago.
What makes the St. Timothy cases different from many others is that the Miami archdiocese never alerted parishioners about the sex-abuse allegations lodged against both priests in November 2011. Notification is required under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted in 2002 by U.S. Catholic bishops.
“Dioceses are to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved,” says Article 7 of the charter, which was adopted again in 2011. “This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.”
The victim in the St. Timothy cases said that when he and his lawyer reached the settlement earlier this year, he told the archdiocese “to do the right thing” by announcing the allegations against Escala and Mendez. He said he wanted the archdiocese to take this step not only for himself, but also for other minors who may have been abused by the two priests.
“But to this day, they never did it,” the victim told The Miami Herald in a recent interview. “They should have announced it at St. Timothy and every other church they’ve been at. They should have announced it at Belén,” the Jesuit preparatory school, where Mendez once taught and served as a spiritual counselor. Mendez now lives in a residence for Jesuits on the campus in West Miami-Dade.
Escala, a Cuban priest who was expelled from the communist country after the Castro revolution, first went to the Dominican Republic before coming to South Florida in 1977 to serve at multiple Catholic parishes, including St. Timothy, Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes and St. Monica in Miami Gardens.
Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami archdiocese, said the “alleged victim’s allegations” were “responded to quickly,” including a referral to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office in January 2012. She said in an email that a civil lawyer for the archdiocese interviewed the victim to determine his “credibility,” but could not question Escala, because he was dead, nor Mendez, whose poor health prevented him from being questioned.