A new civil lawsuit alleges that nearly three decades ago, the Archdiocese of Miami moved a priest who was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy at a Pembroke Pines parish to a Fort Lauderdale church, where he served until his retirement in 2014.
The archdiocese said the allegations were investigated by law enforcement at that time and the priest was not prosecuted.
The civil lawsuit was filed in Broward County court Tuesday against the archdiocese and Archbishop Thomas Wenski by an unidentified plaintiff called John Doe No. 133.
The archdiocese and its leader are accused of negligence for failing to protect the minor; intentional infliction of emotional distress for allowing the priest to have contact with children; failing to report alleged abuse to authorities and other complaints.
The retired priest, Rev. Harry Ringenberger, now 82, served at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Pembroke Pines in 1989, about the time the abuse is alleged to have happened.
The plaintiff, now 41, attributes depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships and disturbed sleep to negligence by the church and inappropriate sexual touching by the priest during a wrestling session that happened when he was about 14, according to the lawsuit.
The alleged incident was reported at that time to the archdiocese, which called Pembroke Pines police, the archdiocese said.
There were investigations by Pembroke Pines police, the state attorney's office and Florida's Health and Rehabilitative Services, now known as the Florida Department of Children and Family Services.
Police found "no evidence of criminal wrongdoings;" the state attorney's office said there was "insufficient information to constitute any criminal activity" and protective services found "no indication of abuse or neglect," according to the archdiocese.
After local and state authorities completed their investigations, Ringenberger took a sabbatical "to deal with health and family issues," and in July 1990, was assigned to St. Pius X Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale until his retirement last year, the archdiocese said.
John Doe's lawyer, Jeffrey Herman, said, "The failure to have a criminal prosecution is irrelevant to whether or not Father Harry was safe to be around children."
He is not suing Ringenberger in the civil case.
"Most of these cases don't get prosecuted because of the high burden of proof," Herman said. "It's classic 'he said, she said.'"
The plaintiff in the lawsuit lives in Broward County. He seeks a jury trial and $5 million compensation.
From our media partner Sun Sentinel