Miami, Florida, October 26, 2021 - Father Jean Philippe, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead takes notes during opening statement on his trial. Father Jean Phillippe is accused of raping a parishioner in 2018.

Miami, Florida, October 26, 2021 – Father Jean Philippe, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead takes notes during opening statement on his trial. Father Jean Phillippe is accused of raping a parishioner in 2018.

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Taking the stand in his own defense, Father Jean Claude Philippe admitted to a lot of behavior not exactly becoming of a priest. Yes, he acknowledged, he invited a female parishioner to his home at the rectory of Homestead’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church in October 2018.

Yes, Philippe said, he had her in his bedroom, naked but for her underwear to give her a full oiled up body massage.

But no, Philippe insisted, he never drugged her so she passed out. And no, the 65-year-old priest told jurors Thursday, he didn’t penetrate her private parts with his finger. “Never! Never! Never!” Philippe huffed, insisting she grabbed his hand and tried to force him into her.

“Everything you said,” an incredulous prosecutor, Khalil Quinan, asked, “you want the jury to believe that?”

Philippe shook his head, looked up and pointed to the ceiling. “God first,” he said.

Legally, however, the jury’s judgment came first. On Friday afternoon, jurors rejected his story, convicting the priest of sexual battery. Facing up to 15 years in prison, Philippe was cuffed and taken into custody. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carmen Cabarga will sentence him in the coming weeks.

The verdict capped a week-long trial for Philippe, whose arrest was an embarrassing scandal for the Archdiocese of Miami, particularly after the victim testified that she initially told another priest, Silverio Rueda, about the attack — and he told her keep quiet.

The conviction was an ignominious end for a priest who served for decades for the Catholic Church, in his native Haiti, the Dominican Republic and in various regions of Florida. His last stop was at the vicar of Sacred Heart, where he served the church’s Spanish and Haitian Creole-speaking congregants.

Father Philippe, and the victim, both testified that they grew as close as family. He served as her godfather, and the godfather of her two children. He’d even vacationed and taken church trips alongside her and her family.

On Oct. 30, 2018, he invited her over for a massage and to give her some gifts he’d brought her from a recent trip. The woman, in her mid-40s, testified that he gave her a tea-like drink from a plastic bottle in the kitchen — and she passed out because she woke up fully naked in his bedroom.

The priest was next to her, naked but for his underwear, and sweaty, the woman told jurors. She noticed a distinctive scar on his belly.

After she was told to keep quiet by Father Rueda, she told jurors, she ultimately told another priest in confession, leading to the police probe in March 2019. Police secretly recorded a phone call between the two — in which he made incriminating admissions. In an interrogation with Miami-Dade police detectives, he also admitted penetrating her, but blamed her for grabbing his hand.

On the stand, Philippe tried to explain away a lot.

He claimed he’d actually given the woman an Aloe Vera drink — a Iberia-brand bottle of the green drink was even entered into evidence as an example. He claimed he made up his confession to police.

“They were pressuring me too much, and I was stressed out,” Philippe testified. “I figured if I answered the questions how they wanted it, they would let me go.”

And he claimed she knew about his surgical scar because, at a children’s party at her home months earlier, he’d shown her and several other adults his scar when they started chatting about surgeries.

“He made that up to try and cast doubt on her story,” Quinan said.

The defense’s strategy hinged on attacking the credibility of the woman, suggesting she was lying to sue the Archdiocese. Defense attorney Thomas Risavy hammered home that she waited five months to talk to police — meaning investigators could never get DNA and other forensic evidence.

“If she would have reported it, we would have the evidence to find out what really happened,” Risavy said. “Because it was delayed by five months, that wasn’t available.”

Jurors didn’t buy it, although they did find him guilty of a less serious felony. Philippe was originally charged with sexual battery of a helpless victim, which is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. He was found guilty of second-degree felony sexual battery.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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