FORT LAUDERDALE — A retired Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing dozens of boys for decades was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday.
Earlier this month, Father Neil Doherty pleaded no contest in a deal that reduced the sex abuse charges from capital felonies to second-degree felonies. He will also have to register as a sex offender.
The plea comes after several more alleged victims came forward and were planning to testify in the case.
Doherty, who maintains his innocence, is now 69, appears frail and struggles with health problems. His attorney, David Bogenschutz said he disputed the facts of the state's case but declined to elaborate.
Attorneys for the victims said Doherty befriended troubled young boys for years, plied them with drugs and alcohol and paid them to run errands and do odd jobs. But the relationships often turned to sexual acts.
The victim in this case was about 10-years-old when he said he first walked over to the church from his home, passed out after drinking a drug laced-soda and awoke with sodomy wounds. The scenario repeatedly occurred over a five-year period in the late 1990s, attorney Jeff Herman said.
The victim, who is now in his early 20s, planned to take his secret to the grave, but was emboldened after several other victims came forward in lawsuits against Doherty. The victim was living in an institution when Herman met him, but is now married with a child.
"Today ends the saddest chapter of my life. A very evil man is where he belongs. Neil Doherty has hurt more children that we will ever know. I hold the Catholic Church solely responsible for what has happened," the victim said in a statement read by his lawyer.
The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual abuse.
Herman alleges the Archdiocese of Miami turned a blind eye to Doherty's behavior and moved him to another church each time a new allegation surfaced.
At one point, another priest complained to the archbishop that Doherty had a boy living with him in the rectory, but it was swept under the rug, Herman said.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Miami said Doherty has not been in active ministry since 2002 and noted the church has policies to handle abuse allegations.
"We continue to pray for the healing of those whom he victimized as well as for all young people who have been abused by an adult in a position of trust. That a priest would give scandal in this way both angers and shames us," spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in a statement.
In 2011, a Miami jury returned a $100 million verdict in a civil suit against Doherty in a different sex abuse case, although the amount is unlikely to ever be collected.
The Archdiocese of Miami was not named in that lawsuit, but has been targeted by more than 20 other lawsuits over allegations of sexual abuse by Doherty. Many have been settled.
A civil settlement in Monday's case was settled a few years ago for an undisclosed amount.