A 41-year-old man who served under a Catholic priest in a Pembroke Pines parish as a boy in the 1980s has filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Miami for sexual abuse. The civil lawsuit claims that several boys at the parish were also abused and that although the abuses were reported to the Archdiocese of Miami, the reports went ignored.
The priest, now retired, is Father Harry Ringenberger, who served at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church, was eventually reassigned to a new parish within the Archdiocese of Miami, and then worked at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale until he retired in 2014.
The lawsuit, filed in Broward County court this week, claims that Ringenberger, who is now 89, befriended the victim, identified only as John Doe, when the boy was 14. One evening, Ringenberger took John out to dinner, and then brought him back to his home, which was located in the church rectory at St. Maximilian Kolbe. There, Ringenberger allegedly stripped naked and the two began to wrestle.
The suit claims that Ringenberger then had John lie on top of him while "Ringenberger rubbed his penis against John's until Ringenberger ejaculated." The suit goes on to say Ringenberger continued to sexually abuse John.
In 1989, the abuse was reported to the Archdiocese of Miami, and a number of families came forward to say that Ringenberger had molested their children while "wrestling." The archdiocese did little else other than reassign the priest, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit goes on to allege that the archdiocese actively hid the abuse, and while it knew it would encounter scandal over the abuse, the archdiocese chose to protect the priest rather than the victims. Part of that protection was lying about what it knew to avoid legal liability, the suit says.
There were red flags everywhere concerning Ringenberger, but the archdiocese not only chose to look the other way and conceal what it knew but allowed the priest to continue having contact with young boys.
"Despite knowledge that Ringenberger posed a danger to boys, the Archdiocese embarked on a plan and a scheme to protect Ringenberger from exposure as a pedophile and protect themselves from scandal and liability, in part by continuing to give him unrestricted access to boys in conduction with his duties as a priest of the Archdiocese and holding him out to [John] and the St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church community of the faith as a sexually-safe priest who was fit to minister to the children and parishioners of the Archdiocese," the suit reads.
The suit goes on to say that John has suffered from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, dysfunctional relationships, and sleep disturbance. John realized his severe emotional and mental anguish was a result of his abuse at the hands of Ringenberger.
The Archdiocese of Miami released a statement regarding the lawsuit, saying it fully cooperated with investigators when the accusations came forth in 1989 and reported the abuse to the City of Pembroke Pines Police, who supposedly submitted it the Broward County State Attorney's Office.
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But neither police nor proactive services found any criminal wrongdoing. Ringenberger was reassigned following the investigation.
The archdiocese goes on to say in its statement that the latest accusations are new and that it will follow its "Safe Environment Policy which offers pastoral and psychological counseling to the alleged victim; in addition, this allegation is reported to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office. This allegation is also reviewed by the ADOM Review Board consisting of lay community leaders and a member of the clergy."
According to the complaint, John is seeking damages in excess of $5 million. He is being represented by nationally recognized sexual abuse lawyer Jeffrey Herman.