Miami Archdiocese Investigating Catholic School Scandal After Group Compiles "Dossier" on Priest

A photo of Corces from the "dossier."EXPAND
A photo of Corces from the "dossier."
Courtesy of Christifidelis

Update, May 24: Some families are voicing their support for Corces. Miami attorney John DeLeon says, "This anti-Father Corces group at St. Rose has resorted to the worst type of Joe McCarthy-like tactics to further their agenda and achieve their goal of removing the Pastor even at the cost of destroying the parish. As a St. Rose graduate, I find this whole sordid witch hunt embarrassing. I am reminded to be faithful to the merciful message of both Jesus and His messenger Pope Francis. If Father Corces is proven to be human so be it. I won't, and admit, I am unable to cast the first stone. However, the way this "investigation" took place is disgraceful, shameful, and beneath Christian values." 

Original story, May 23: 
The Archdiocese of Miami is probing claims that a priest at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church had improper, intimate relationships with a maintenance worker whom he hired, as well as three others associated with the church's school.

A group, called Christifidelis, hired a private investigator to compile what it calls a "dossier" on Father Pedro Corces, pastor of St. Rose. The investigator, who is not named in the document, followed Corces for weeks, photographed the priest, went through trash in the church rectory, and compiled 128 pages of alleged evidence of improprieties. The group is asking that Corces be removed from his position as pastor of the church and its associated Catholic school.

"To have an intimate relationship with an employee under your supervision is unethical," says Miami attorney Rosa Armesto, who is representing Christifidelis. Armesto also has children enrolled at St. Rose, which is located in a well-to-do neighborhood.

Multiple phone calls to St. Rose were not returned Friday or this morning, and the priest did not respond to an email. New Times is choosing not to name the maintenance man, whose name does appear in the document. 

Mary Ross Agosta, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami, says  church officials received a copy of the dossier "and an investigation in accordance with canon law has been initiated."

St. Rose of Lima's Catholic K-8 school was thrown into chaos this past January when it was announced that nuns who run the school would be leaving at the end of the current school year to be replaced by lay staff. Nuns have run the school since it opened in 1951 and six of them, including principal Bernadette Keane, lived and worked at St. Rose this year. As New Times detailed in a January story, parents said that multiple conflicting reasons were given for the nuns' departure, and families began to suspect that Corces was forcing them out. Some parents protested outside the church during a Sunday mass.

Armesto says that because she is an attorney, she was approached by concerned parents who wanted to move forward with an investigation of Corces after the kerfuffle over the nuns led to "tips" about his behavior. She said multiple families pooled funds to hire a private investigator.

Armesto stressed that homosexuality was not the issue with Corces so much as "nepotism and cronyism. Father Cortes basically hired his boyfriend and he sleeps at the boyfriend's house and at the rectory — that's what the surveillance has shown. Surveillance video shows Father Cortes at the [boyfriend's] apartment building. He has the code to get in, he parks on the space allotted for the apartment. He sleeps there; in the morning, surveillance has shown both of them exiting together. That's been proven. Tips were given about them vacationing together." The dossier includes hotel receipts and Facebook check-ins that seem to confirm a relationship.

Armesto says that when Corces was appointed pastor, "the school had their own maintenance workers that had been there years and years" but he replaced them with three staff of his own choosing. Armesto says that Corces "has denied any sexual relationship" with any of the maintenance workers, but that the private investigator found they stayed in a hotel room with just a single bed.

"It's no different than when President Clinton denied having sex with that White House intern," says Armesto. "Both are lying." Families suspect that Corces wanted the nuns gone because they lived on parish grounds and could witness his activities around the clock, she claims.

Christifidelis's investigation of Corces is laid out in a document titled the "Dossier on the Improprieties of Father Pedro M. Corces And an Appeal to His Excellency Archbishop Thomas Wenski For Urgent Action." It is dated May 16, 2016.

The dossier alleges that Corces "puts the children of the parish in grave danger," that he has "made a mockery of his vows of celibacy," that he mocks and defies the Catholic religion, and that he has "lied repeatedly to parishioners." It also says there are "troublesome red flags around Fr. Pedro's financials, putting the Parish's financials at risk."

It contains allegations that the maintenance man has a significant criminal record. Miami-Dade records confirm a record for someone of the same name, but it is unclear whether it is the same person. The dossier also alleges that Corces has inappropriate relationships with two other men he hired as maintenance workers, as well as a church deacon.

The dossier shows that a private investigator followed the men extensively, photographed them together, combed through Facebook pages, dug through trash, and pieced together torn-up receipts. 

Following the announcement that the nuns would be leaving, Corces "more than doubled tuition," Armesto says. "There was a $4,000 increase. I myself knew right away when the sisters were fired — this is his excuse to hijack tuition." She says that the Corces did away with standard discounts for siblings, and instead told families, "'If you're contributing to the parish, come see me. I'll tell you if I can give you a discount.' There's no transparency. It's all arbitrary — and guess who decides? If he likes you, you get a discount."

Armesto says that because of the discord, a few teachers tendered their resignations for next year and that 40 families have said they would be leaving. The remaining families, she said, are "afraid of retaliation" — that their children will be mistreated. "There is a lot of fear and intimidation."

The dossier says a private investigator combed through trash at the rectory and found this receipt from a sex shop.EXPAND
The dossier says a private investigator combed through trash at the rectory and found this receipt from a sex shop.
Courtesy of Christifidelis

The attorney says that when Corces became pastor, he "got rid of" volunteers who served as checks and balances on parish finances and changed passwords that would have allowed them to see accounting records.

Many families "hope that he'll do the right thing and resign and not destroy the parish any further," Armesto says.

The alleged scandal echoes another back in 2005, when a group also calling itself Christifidelis compiled 400+ pages of similar investigative documents about John Favalora, who was then the Miami archbishop. Christifidelis accused Favalora of running a "homosexual superculture" among church employees.

As Gawker summarized in 2011 when it got a hold of the documents, Christifidelis alleged that Favalora rewarded his "favorite homosexual sons, forgiving their many indiscretions — rampant sex, hedonism, embezzlement, alcoholism, and the railroading of chaste priests among them—while punishing those with the temerity to complain." Favalora retired in 2010.

Armesto says that the families currently united against Corces calling themselves Christifidelis are not the same individuals that united against Favalora, but are operating in the same spirit, as "faithful Catholics." 

Here is a 9-point summary of the allegations against Corces from the dossier: 

1. Fr. Pedro puts the children of the Parish in grave danger. He has a history of placing unsuitable characters in close contact with children. During his tenure as Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Miami, which ran from 1996 to 2006, he allowed for the placement of Miguel Cala in St. Andrew Catholic School in Coral Springs, where Mr. Cala later sexually abused children and is currently serving time. Fr. Pedro has also apparently circumvented the background checks which are required for hiring employees who may be in contact with children. Most recently he replaced members of his maintenance staff with a felon and prostitute, Santeria practitioners, promiscuous gay practitioners and people who openly mock the Catholic faith.

2. Fr. Pedro throughout his career has made a mockery of his vows of celibacy. He has a documented history of being involved in romantic gay relationships, including his current relationship with a maintenance worker, [name redacted by New Times] whom he subsequently hired to work in the church.

3. Fr. Pedro leads a Catholic church yet he openly mocks and defies the religion. Fr. Pedro leads a Catholic church yet he openly mocks and defies the religion. Of the two charities that he operates, Mision Manos Hermanas is listed in its IRS filing as a Protestant organization and Action of Solidarity Inc. is listed as nonreligious. His boyfriend is a Santero (voodoo religion) who openly mocks the Catholic faith. Fr. Pedro has hosted an interdenominational service where he hosted practitioners of the following religions at the altar: Protestant, Judaism, Islam. He also led a gay rights petition in defiance of Archdiocese policies.

4. Fr. Pedro has lied repeatedly to parishioners about the reason for the departure of the Sisters of the I.H.M. One such, outright lie was repeated by him in the Sanctuary, in front of the altar, to a group of parishioners. When asked for answers, Fr. Pedro generally insists on one on one meetings with parishioners without witnesses, which raises questions about his trustworthiness.

5. There are troublesome red flags around Fr. Pedro’s financials, putting the Parish’s financials at risk. Fr. Pedro enjoys frequent, lavish trips and dinners with his boyfriend. His boyfriend lives in a condominium, not commensurate with the salary of a maintenance worker. Last year Fr. Pedro raised funds in the parish for the purchase of a house in Cuba but did not give any information about the recipients and it is rumored that the receiving family was that of a maintenance worker at Saint Rose of Lima. Also raises questions that the parish St. Vincent de Paul failed financially shortly after his tenure as its administrator. Fr. Pedro has increased secrecy and reduced controls by dismantling the Financial Oversight Committee of the parish, by changing the financial administrator three times in a year, and by changing the security code of all video cameras as soon as he became pastor of St Rose of Lima.

6. Fr. Pedro demonstrates and has made clear his lack of interest in the Parish. He has told the parishioners various times in the homily that he did not want to be our Pastor. He has told another priest that he “hates” us.  Ever since he became a priest, the parish has gone from meeting its ABCD collections targets to missing them consistently. Fr. Pedro, unlike other priests, never publicly appealed to our knowledge for donations for the ABCD even though any shortfall would have to be covered by the parish.  When a petition was presented to Father Pedro, which was signed by over 600 parents, students and other stakeholders, asking that the Sisters of IHM stay at Saint Rose, he ignored the petition, just as he has ignored all other such Father Pedro has rejected the many calls for a parish town hall.

7. Fr. Pedro openly violates Archdiocese polices and lacks morale character by not screening maintenance employees he has hired to work amongst the children.  Additionally, once when he went on a vacation to Puerto Rico with [the maintenance worker, name redacted by New Times] took a “sick leave” to fly with him. Father Pedro thus covered for his employee’s lie and unethically allowed him to collect sick pay while another employee who was actually sick had to come in and cover for him.

8. Fr. Pedro operates in ways that mock the example and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of freely serving others he cultivates loyalties of individual parishioners through favors so that they are beholden to him. When a group of nine parishioners asked him why the Sisters of I.H.M. where leaving he demanded to know why one was questioning him given that Fr. Pedro had helped him with a tuition problem previously. Likewise he reprimanded another parishioner in front of the group when she tried to question him by pointing out that he had counseled her in times of need. In both cases he attempted to intimidate those that questioned him and publicly reminded them of private “favors” in front of the other, shocked parishioners.

9. Fr. Pedro has stoked deep divisions in our parish. An email to the men’s Emmaus group describes our community as “harshly divided” in the aftermath of Fr. Pedro’s recent actions.                         

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