Civil courts

Three former Pace High students sue ex-dean and Miami priest, alleging sexual abuse

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Now in their mid-20s, the three Miami-Dade men shared a common bond: They were raised in the Catholic Church, played competitive sports and graduated from Monsignor Edward Pace High School.

And it was on the Miami Gardens campus, they say, that the dean of students, Marist brother Ken Ward, sexually assaulted them again and again.

One of the men also claims that the school’s supervisory principal, the Rev. Gustavo Miyares, had sexually abused him in the late 1990s when he was enrolled at Immaculate Conception Catholic School.

On Monday the men, identified only as “John Doe M, A and B,” sued the Archdiocese of Miami and both schools, as well as Ward and Miyares, for monetary damages, accusing the archdiocese of negligence and a cover-up. What sets the men’s claims apart from dozens of other clergy sex-abuse cases filed against the archdiocese over the past decade is the lengthy period of the alleged battery and its relatively recent history.

According to the men’s suit, Ward was in charge of discipline at Pace and repeatedly brought the minor boys into his office, “locking the door, snapping the blinds closed, and forcing them to take their clothes off and participate in sexual conduct, while Ward masturbated both himself and the young boys.”

Said the men’s lawyer, Ira Leesfield: “He had a lot of domination over these boys. He was feared and he worked it. He told them in no uncertain terms he controlled their academic future, their college careers.”

Ward, who worked at Pace from 2000 to 2006, did not return calls left on his cellphone and at his current place of work. Ward, 56, is not an ordained priest. He was assigned to Pace by the Marist Brothers, a Catholic order based in New Jersey that provides teachers and administrators to the archdiocese-owned school.

After Pace, Ward was reassigned to Christopher Columbus High School in Westchester, a Marist-owned school where he worked for two more years. Ward, who has left the religious order, obtained a state license as a registered nurse in 2012 and now works at a Fort Lauderdale psychiatric hospital.

Miyares, who had been the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Hialeah, resigned from the Miami archdiocese in 2006 after a former altar boy accused him of abusing him sexually in the early 1980s. The former altar boy sued the diocese. At least two alleged victims have also filed similar claims.

Miyares, 66, could not be reached for comment.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said senior church officials first learned about the alleged abuse last fall, and, as policy, offered counseling to the three men and referred their complaints to the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.

Until recently, the Archdiocese of Miami had been negotiating with the attorney for the alleged victims. “But they were unable to reach a mutual understanding,” Agosta said.

She noted that the Pace principal, Ana Garcia, sent emails and letters to school alumni to alert them to the three men’s allegations against Ward and to urge them to contact the archdiocese with similar concerns.

A copy of Garcia’s correspondence was provided to the Miami Herald.

“It is with sadness that I write to you to report that Monsignor Edward Pace High School was recently made aware of allegations of sexual misconduct involving Brother Kenneth Ward, a former dean of students,” Garcia wrote to one alumnus. “We take these allegations very seriously and have notified legal authorities so that appropriate investigations and notifications can be undertaken.”

Garcia, whose husband, Edward, is the former principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic School, did not return a call seeking comment.

According to public records, a Pace teacher reported alleged sexual misconduct by Ward to the Miami-Dade Police Department in 2006 and to Ana Garcia, the principal, the previous year, raising questions about whether the school only recently learned of the allegations.

“He’s not sure exactly what Ms. Garcia did with the information he provided,” stated an October 2006 police report. “He heard a rumor that Ms. Garcia attempted to solicit information from the students. However, none of the students came forward.”

The report shows that a sexual crimes detective interviewed the teacher and five students believed to be targets of Ward’s alleged sexual abuse.

Among the potential victims interviewed: One of the men who filed suit against Ward on Monday. According to the report, the man told the detective that he had never had any problems with Ward.

“I would second-guess anyone who made any type of allegations against Mr. Ward,” the man told the detective in 2006, adding that Ward was “one of the better teachers” at Pace and that he viewed him as his “mentor.”

The detective’s report concluded that “no criminal act was committed” by Ward.

Leesfield, who represents the man who spoke to the detective, said his client had never reported Ward’s abuse to his parents or Pace school officials. He said the man still felt controlled and intimidated by Ward and the establishment at Pace.

“When he spoke to the detective, he was in denial and trying to bury these terrible memories,” Leesfield said.

Leesfield said the man, known as “John Doe M,” had suffered sexual abuse not only at Pace but also at Immaculate Conception, which he attended from kindergarten to eighth grade. “The boy’s whole childhood was marred by sexual abuse,” Leesfield said.

According to the suit, Ward exploited his position as the disciplinarian at Pace who enforced school rules, including the dress code. He would threaten male students with demerits and summon them into his office, ordering them to lock the door and close the blinds, then undress and model for him, the suit stated.

Ward allegedly subjected the three men who sued him to “repeated sexual assaults,” including masturbation, fondling and digital penetration.

“Requests were made on numerous occasions by faculty members to take down the blinds in Ward’s office so he could not continue his campaign of sexual abuse and molestation,” according to the suit. “Those pleas were ignored.”

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