Miami Shores

Shores pastor cleared of sexual allegations, but not off the hook

St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Miami Shores
St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Miami Shores Miami Herald File

A pastor who resigned after a group of St. Rose of Lima parishioners accused him of impropriety has been cleared, in part, by the Archdiocese of Miami after an almost two-month investigation.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski sent a letter dated July 5 to the parish saying that, after “extensive interviews” and a voluntary polygraph examination of the Rev. Pedro Corces, he had “concluded that no sexual impropriety had occurred.”

Corces, who will be reassigned to a non-administrative post that the Archdiocese has not disclosed, wasn’t off the hook, however. Wenski noted that the priest’s decision to hire friends and his continued socializing with them outside the workplace “did contribute to the perception among some of inappropriate behavior.”

In May, a group of parishioners had sent Wenski a report detailing what they said were inappropriate relationships between Corces, a maintenance worker and three others associated with the parish.

Rosa Armesto, who has served as a spokesperson for the parishioners who brought the complaints to Wenski, called the archbishop’s letter “very vague and it sidesteps the issues we brought up.” She also dismissed Corces’ polygraph, pointing out that these examinations are not permissible in court. “The point,” she said, “was that this was an inappropriate relationship with an employee under his supervision and we are not even told who was interviewed.”

The investigation, Wenski wrote, also identified “deficiencies” within Corces’ administration. It did not detail what these were. “Those have been directly and appropriately addressed by my administration with corrective action.”

This did not satisfy the parishioners’ group because the letter provided no details about how the deficiencies would be addressed. “There is no transparency, no explanation,” she said.

In the letter, Wenski said that Corces has asked for a reassignment that would not require the administrative responsibilities of a pastor. The letter did not say where or if he had already been reassigned. “I will seek to reassign him to a position in which he can share these gifts but without the responsibilities of parochial administration,’’ Wenski wrote.

The archbishop also went on to say that, under Corces, both St. Rose of Lima parish and its adjoining school had followed correct protocols and had not hired or employed anyone who represented a risk to minors.

Armesto said the archbishop’s wording was “a matter of semantics” and countered that he had not truly addressed her group’s concern because court records showed one of the maintenance workers had been arrested and charged with soliciting an undercover cop as well as separate felony charges of insurance fraud and the uttering of forged bills, on separate occasions. The maintenance worker in question was placed on probation for the insurance fraud, according to the parishioners’ report.

Asked to provide more details to Wenski’s letter, Mary Ross Agosta, director of communications for the archdiocese, said there would be no further comment other than the letter.

The investigation into Corces’ administration at the Miami Shores parish was initially prompted when some parishioners who had named themselves Christifidelis sent a 129-page report to Wenski titled, “Dossier on the Improprieties of Father Pedro M. Corces and an Appeal to His Excellency Archbishop Thomas Wenski for Urgent Action.” The May 16 report, compiled in part with information from a private investigator hired by the parishioners, contained dozens of pictures, copies of receipts and 28 appendices. It claimed Corces had 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.”

In response, Wenski had emailed parents in May trying to calm concerns and assuring them the archdiocese had launched an investigation. At the time he blamed the split in the long-established and well-to-do parish on “slanderous gossip, calumny, detraction.”

Earlier this year, the school community became upset when parish leaders announced the longtime nuns, who taught at the school for generations, would be leaving when the school year ended. 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 protested, signing an online petition that drew more than 600 signatures.

“This has been a trying time for the people of St. Rose of Lima and for all concerned,” Wenski wrote in the most recent letter to parishioners. “Father Corces himself regrets any pain that any acts of his, whether of commission or omission, caused you.”