MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – When a woman said she drank an ice tea and woke up naked in a bed about two hours later, with her priest standing over her — while he was only wearing his underwear — he called her a liar.
A Miami-Dade County jury of all women believed her and found him guilty about three years after the sexual battery. On Thursday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga sentenced Rev. Jean Claude Jean-Philippe, 67, to 94.5 months, nearly 8 years, in prison.
The woman, a parishioner of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead, said she had trusted Jean-Philippe so much that he had officiated her wedding, was her children’s godfather, and had gone on vacations with her family.
She first told Rev. Silverio Rueda how Philippe, who she considered to be like family, had betrayed her trust in October 2018 at the church’s clergy house, police said. He allegedly asked her to keep it a secret at first.
The Archdiocese of Miami received the complaint on March 4, 2019, and announced Archbishop Thomas Wenski removed Philippe, a parochial vicar at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and placed him on administrative leave.
Detectives questioned Philippe, a member of the Vincentians, at the police station. He admitted to undressing her and massaging her with oil before he used his fingers to penetrate her vaginally, according to the police report.
Prosecutors filed the case against Philippe on March 18, 2019. He was released on a $10,000 bail, pled not guilty, and demanded a trial on April 11, 2019. During the trial last year, he said his confession to police officers was false and denied the sexual battery ever happened.
The trial lasted about a week and jurors deliberated for two hours. Prosecutors asked Cabarga to sentence him to 15 years in prison, the maximum time. On Thursday, Philippe wore an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.
The victim stood behind a podium next to a translator.
“I want you to know that this situation totally changed my life,” she said through tears in Spanish.
Cabarga leaned on the minimum sentence, which according to Florida sentencing guidelines is 7.8 years in prison. A prosecutor said the sentencing gave the victim the closure that she needed.
“If he would have never went to the police station with the detectives and talked to them they would have never even filed this case because they had absolutely no evidence,” Thomas Risavy, Phillippe’s defense attorney, said adding they will be appealing the case.