A Miami jury on Thursday awarded $100 million against a retired Roman Catholic priest Neil Doherty, in a case of child sex abuse. The priest, who is in a Broward County jail on a separate case of child sex abuse, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The Washington Post reports the award is one of the largest in the U.S. against an individual priest. It is, however, unclear how the victim will collect the compensation because Neil Doherty is unlikely to have assets to use to settle the claim. The lawsuit against Doherty did not name the Archdiocese of Miami. The Ledger reports lawyers say it is unlikely the award of $100 million will ever be collected, but attorney Jeff Herman, who represented the victim Andres Susana, thinks the verdict,
“...sets a standard...Now we know what a jury thinks about these cases. No. 2, it sends a message that we hope will protect other children.”
National director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) David Clohessy, however, said: “Even when they don’t have a nickel, a verdict like this can be extraordinarily validating for the victim."
The court heard that the Catholic priest Neil Doherty, sexually abused "dozens of boys" over many years in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. The priest, according to the victims, regularly prowled the neighborhood, winning confidence of the young boys with the priest's collar he wore. The victim in the case, Andres Susana, said he was a runaway at 14 when he met the Catholic priest in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood in the 1980s. Andres said he used to hang around Little Haiti's keystone Trailer Park and soon grew to trust the priest after several contacts with him.
Miami Herald reports the priest enticed his victims with priestly advice, free meals, gifts, clothing and sneakers. Soon he was offering the boys cocaine, marijuana and alcohol. He would sexually abuse them after he had drugged them. Susana, who is now 40, described to the court an incident in which the priest took him to a motel room in Biscayne Boulevard where he saw a man kissing and fondling a boy while they were being filmed. Susana said he fled the room:
“That man for me is like the devil...He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing...What he did to me, it’s unforgivable. It’s something I’m going to have to live with the rest of my life...I feel that justice has been served. It’s just really satisfying that my voice has been heard.”
The Washington Post reports that in the trial which lasted only a day, a psychologist was called who spoke of the shame, humiliation and emotional scars the victim suffered for many years. Neil Doherty, according to The Washington Post, testified through a written disposition, as allowed under the 5th Amendment, to avoid self-incrimination in a pending criminal case.
It is uncertain why the Archdiocese of Miami was not named in the case. But The Washington Post reports that a separate lawsuit filed on behalf of Andres Susana against the archdiocese was dismissed because it was filed after the statute of limitations had been passed. Susana's lawyers, say, however, that they will appeal the ruling.
The Archdiocese of Miami had settled other lawsuits involving sex abuse. Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the diocese, said, when contacted about the lawsuit against Neil Doherty: "We weren’t aware of it because it’s a civil case against an individual.”
Miami Herald reports the award of $100 million included $10 million in compensatory damages and $90 million in punitive damages. On Thursday when the verdict was delivered, two other victims filed a negligence lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami, seeking compensation in excess of $50 million on allegations of child sex abuse.