Lawsuit filed against Archdiocese of Miami in sexual assault case

Alleged victim seeks damages in excess of $5 million

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor
Associated Press

MIAMI - A lawsuit was filed against the Archdiocese of Miami Tuesday by a man who claims he was sexually assaulted by a priest in 1989.

The alleged victim is seeking damages in excess of $5 million.

The complaint alleges that the archdiocese allowed Father Harry Ringenberger, now 82, to continue serving as a priest despite being told that he had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old boy.

It's unclear whether any criminal charges were ever filed against Ringenberger.

According to the complaint, the Archdiocese "sent Father Ringenberger away for approximately one year, (and) then assigned him to a new parish within the Archdiocese of Miami."

At the time, Ringenberger was working at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Pembroke Pines, and most recently was working at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale.

READ: Full complaint

The victim, identified as "John Doe," claims Ringenberger took off his clothes and wrestled with the boy at his home in the St. Maximilian church rectory. He said he was then sexually assaulted.

The complaint states, "The sexual abuse included Ringenberger having John lay on top of him, while Ringenberger rubbed his penis against John's until Ringenberger  ejaculated.

The complaint alleged that Ringenberger also sexually assaulted numerous other children, many of whom had "similar stories of being molested under the guise of wrestling."

The lawsuit states that the Archdiocese breached its fiduciary duty to John by failing to "disclose its awareness of facts regarding Ringenberger that created a likely potential for harm," and "disclose its own negligence with regard to supervision and retention of Ringenberger," among other things.

"We applaud the brave victim who is exposing clerics who commit and conceal child sex crimes," Director David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a statement. "We especially applaud this victim for having the courage to speak publicly and the wisdom to seek justice. That's how kids become safer – when those who see, suspect or suffer clergy sex crimes and cover ups expose wrongdoers and file lawsuits. Quietly reporting proven, admitted or credibly accused child molesting clerics is rarely the best approach."

"We urge anyone who has information or suspicions about pedophile Catholic priests and corrupt church officials in Miami to call secular authorities, not church officials," Clohessy said.

The archdiocese released a statement saying in part, "In 1989, upon learning of an accusation of sexual misbehavior by Fr. Ringenberger, the Archdiocese of Miami reported it to the City of Pembroke Pines Police Department who in turn submitted it the Broward County State Attorney's Office. In addition it was reported to the State of Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) which is now State of Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).  At the time the Archdiocese of Miami fully cooperated with all investigating agencies."

"Archbishop Edward McCarthy received a letter from Pembroke Pines Mayor Charles W. Flanagan dated September 29, 1989 which stated, "The City of Pembroke Pines Police Department has been investigating these accusations. Our Police Chief, John Lombardo, has informed me that the police department's investigation has been completed with no evidence of criminal wrongdoings.  Our report was submitted to the Broward County State Attorney's Office.  Chief Lombardo was informed on Wednesday, September 27, 1989 by Barbara Mitchell, an assistant state attorney, that there was insufficient information to constitute any criminal activity on behalf of the subject, Father Harry Ringenberger."

The archdiocese said Ringenberger chose to take a sabbatical after the accusations due to health and family issues. He has since retired.

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