‘Touched by God.’ Woman says priest told her to keep quiet about rape by fellow clergyman
Fearful that she had been drugged and raped by her own priest at a church in Homestead, a woman decided to share her disturbing secret with a senior clergyman.
The 44-year-old woman told Miami-Dade detectives that she arranged to meet with Silverio Rueda to reveal how her visit with Father Jean Claude Jean-Philippe, at his home at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, went wrong. After drinking a strange tea, she recalled passing out, then waking naked in his bed — with Jean-Philippe standing over her wearing only white underwear.
Rueda’s response was not the spiritual guidance she expected.
“He told me that things happen, and they happen for a reason, and that I was — that I was touched by God,” the woman told the cops. “If I was touched by God, and that I was blessed, and that if I said anything, I could be hurting the church. And with his hand, he made a sign across his mouth saying to, quote, close my mouth.”
The explosive allegation — that a senior priest instructed a parishioner to keep quiet about being raped by a fellow member of the clergy — is detailed in the woman’s sworn testimony to police. The Miami Herald obtained the statement, which is part of the evidence in the ongoing criminal case against Jean-Philippe.
The woman, identified only by her initials in police reports, did keep quiet until late February, when she revealed her story to another priest during confession at a spiritual retreat. That outraged priest urged her to report the suspected rape. Within weeks, in mid-March, Miami-Dade police arrested Jean-Philippe, who officers say confessed to the sexual attack.
The newly released testimony raises questions about the Archdiocese’s handling of the case. In a press release the day after Jean-Philippe’s arrest, the Archdiocese said it did not find out about the allegations until March 4, about three months after the woman says she consulted with Rueda.
Reached by phone, Rueda called the woman’s story “absolute lies” and said he meets hundreds of parishioners every week.
“She can say what she wants. I don’t know who she is,” Rueda, 72, told the Miami Herald. “From what I’ve heard, she is a liar and she invents stories.”
The Archdiocese would not answer specific questions about Rueda, a retired priest who still conducts masses and works with seven parishes in South Miami-Dade.
“The Archdiocese of Miami is fully cooperating with the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office in its investigation regarding Father Jean Claude Jean Philippe,” spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in a statement. “Since this investigation is ongoing, any discussion or information involving the details would not be appropriate.”
For years across the United States, the Catholic Church has been dogged by accusations it hushed up allegations of sexual abuse by members of the cloth. For more than a decade, the Archdiocese in Miami has been sued numerous times over claims of abuse, mostly involving people who were minors at the time of the alleged abuse.
Free on bond while awaiting trial, Jean-Philippe has pleaded not guilty. His defense lawyer, Thomas Risavy, declined to comment.
Elizabeth Parker, a lawyer for the victim, said her client “sought help and refuge from the church, a place that is supposed to be a safe haven to provide care, comfort and protection.
“Instead, she was re-victimized and made to feel ashamed, fearful and guilty about what had happened to her. For many months she suffered in silence, feeling powerless and fearing retaliation from the church in addition to the perpetrator.”
Jean-Philippe, 64, was the parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where he lived in a house on the property.
The parishioner knew him well. Jean-Philippe had officiated her wedding and was the godfather of her children. Occasionally, she dropped by his home to give him tea if he was sick. He was, she told police, “a person that I put all my faith into, like another family member in my house.”
But that faith was shattered in late October, she said, when Jean-Philippe invited her to his home. He said he wanted to give her souvenirs he’d brought from a trip to the “Holy Land” and the Dead Sea in Israel. In the kitchen, he offered her some sort of “cold tea” he said would help her cleanse her kidney and liver, according to her sworn statement.
“So what happened after you were drinking the juice and talking to him,” Miami-Dade Detective Humberto Tabares asked her.
“I don’t remember. I just remember waking up in his room … I woke up in the bed. I was scared, because I didn’t know what was going on.”
So the woman said nothing, until late February, when she was on a retreat with Cursillos de Cristiandad, a spiritual training program affiliated with the Catholic Church. In confession, with another priest, she revealed everything that happened with Jean-Philippe, she said.
“The priest said he was surprised, and he got angry, and that [Jean-Philippe] was a demon, and that I couldn’t stay quiet, that I had every right to speak about it,” the victim told police.
After the retreat, the woman returned to Sacred Heart to tell a female church administrator . Together, they crafted an email to the Archdiocese. One day later, they met with officials at the Archdiocese headquarters at St. Martha Catholic Church in Miami Shores. They urged her to call police, which she did from her home in Homestead.
A few days later, she met with Miami-Dade detectives. With the cops secretly listening in, she called Philippe to confront him.
On the call, he stayed quiet, then giggled and admitted he had given her a massage and that during it, she “was in ecstasy.” When she pressed him on the smell of semen, he “told me that he was flesh and bones,” the woman recalled.
“I’ve never given him permission to massage me, and much less naked,” she said.
On March 15, detectives arrested Jean-Philippe at the church. According to his arrest report, Jean-Philippe admitted “he massaged the victim in the nude with oil” and raped her.