South Florida

Amid ‘slanderous gossip,’ pastor at St. Rose in Miami Shores asked to resign

St. Rose of Lima has been the scene of turmoil.
St. Rose of Lima has been the scene of turmoil.

The pastor of St. Rose of Lima has been asked to step down after a group from the parish presented a 129-page report to the Archdiocese of Miami filled with allegations of sexual impropriety against Father Pedro Corces.

“This unfortunate chain of events has fractured the spirit and unity at this long established parish and school,” wrote Archbishop Thomas Wenski in a May 26 letter emailed to parents Thursday afternoon. A printed copy of the letter was being sent home in students’ communication folder Friday.

But far from calming parents’ concerns, the letter angered the group, which calls itself Christifidelis. The Wenski letter blames the fracturing of the parish on a small group. “Slanderous gossip, calumny, detraction — all sinful behaviors — have fomented division in the parish and school communities,” he wrote.

Miami attorney Rosa Armesto, who has children at the parish school in Miami Shores, is representing Christifidelis. She met with Wenski on May 16.

“It’s such a shameful letter. The archbishop is not upset at what the priest has done but that it has been uncovered,” she said. “The church isn’t upset by the sins of their priests but by the fact that the faithful have had the audacity, the temerity, to bring this up.”

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami declined to answer any questions, saying, “This is still under investigation.” The operator at St. Rose of Lima said she did not know where Corces was and referred a reporter to the archdiocese.

The Christifidelis document, titled “Dossier on the Improprieties of Father Pedro M. Corces And an Appeal to His Excellency Archbishop Thomas Wenski For Urgent Action” and dated May 16, consists of information provided by an investigator hired by the parents. It accuses Corces of improper relationships with a maintenance worker he hired and three other individuals associated with the parish, including a deacon. The investigator is not named in the report but he followed the priest for weeks, photographing him, tracking the social media account of the maintenance worker and others, and going through the church rectory trash.

The report, along with dozens of pictures, copies of receipts, and 28 appendices, claims that Corces replaced the maintenance staff with workers who included “a felon and prostitute, Santeria practitioners, promiscuous gay practitioners and people who openly mock the Catholic faith.”

It claimed that Corces became romantically involved with a maintenance worker and that the two men shared “frequent, lavish trips and dinners.”

The report underscores a deep division in the staid and well-to-do parish, where Miami-Shores-area families have sent their kids to the parochial school for generations. That rift became public when it was announced at the beginning of 2016 that the nuns who teach at the school would be leaving at the end of the year.

The official explanation for the departure of the long-serving sisters — including the principal, Sister Bernadette — was that their motherhouse needed to reassign them. Parents didn’t believe that.

An online petition protesting the move drew more than 600 signatures from parents, grandparents, alumni and others.

In his letter, the archbishop stated that a “small group” had instigated this division “in the hope of retaining the services of the IHM [Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary] sisters.”

He said their departure is irrevocable.

He said he has appointed Dr. Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of the archdiocese, as interim principal.

But Armesto said she and other parents were not part of the group that lobbied to keep the nuns at St. Rose and that the pastor’s questionable behavior extended beyond treatment of the nuns, whose order had been at the the school since 1981.

Armesto added that replacing Sister Bernadette so close to the end of school was tantamount to “retaliation” by the archbishop. “What did she do wrong?” Armesto asked. “Nothing. Yet she’s the one being told to leave and is being replaced. There is no word at all about a replacement [for the pastor.]” She said parents had received reports from friends that Corces was celebrating Mass at another parish.

In his letter, the archbishop took the group to task for choosing to circulate “long- discredited gossip.” He said an allegation that background checks on employees were not done or waived was false.

Wenski wrote, in closing: “Pray also for the children who have been dis-edified by the spectacle of adults behaving badly.”

That, Armesto countered, was an example of “shooting the messenger. What he is telling the faithful is, ‘Shut up and fall in line.’ They want to silence us.”

This is not the first time a group of Catholic parishioners called Christifidelis has accused South Florida clergy of wrongdoing. Back in 2005, an apparently unrelated group of the same name compiled a report that alleged the archdiocese under previous leadership maintained a permissive attitude toward sexual and other misconduct involving priests.

That report, entitled “Miami Vice: A Preliminary Report on the Financial, Spiritual, and Sexual Improprieties of the Clergy of the Miami Archdiocese,” received attention only after the website Gawker published a story about the report in 2011.

Armesto pointed out that the current Christifidelis group was concerned with alleged financial improprieties under Corces’ watch, including “excessive overtime” being paid to these parish maintenance workers and discrepancies with Sunday Mass collection. A separate group of parishioners, she said, had met with the archdiocese’s vicar general to voice concerns months ago but nothing had come of it.

Last year, in another parishioner-led investigation, a priest in New York resigned after being sued by attorney Michael Dowd on behalf of parishioners at St. Frances de Chantal in the Bronx. The priest was accused of embezzling more than $1 million to finance his sex life. The suit also charged the archdiocese and Cardinal Timothy Dolan with knowledge of the embezzling.