“Report: US investigating clerical abuse in Puerto Rico; bishop accused” & related articles

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Catholic World News

CWN – March 12, 2014

Unidentified “US authorities” are investigating the alleged clerical abuse of minors in Puerto Rico, the Associated Press reported.

A wave of abuse allegations has swept the island since January, according to the wire service. Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres, who has removed six priests from ministry for abuse since becoming Arecibo’s bishop in 2010, has himself been accused of abuse.

“Clearly, it’s revenge for the decisions I’ve taken since the moment I assumed leadership of the diocese, where the situation that I found was not the most positive,” he said.

César Miranda, Puerto Rico’s secretary of justice, is investigating priests in four of the island’s six dioceses.

“We are not going to rest,” said Miranda. “We are going to capture them, we are going to process them and we are going to put them in jail.”

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Abuse Charges Roil Heavily Catholic Puerto Rico

First, the Catholic Church announced it had defrocked six priests accused of sex abuse in the Puerto Rican town of Arecibo. Then, local prosecutors disclosed that at least 11 other priests on the island were under investigation for similar accusations.

Now, as U.S. authorities acknowledge that they, too, are looking into abuse allegations by priests on this devoutly Catholic island, many are reeling from revelations of abuse involving some of the U.S. territory’s most beloved clerics.

Puerto Ricans had largely been spared the lurid accounts of sex abuse involving the Catholic Church, and many had come to believe they were immune. But Barbara Dorris, a director with the U.S.-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the new reports mean it’s likely the problem is much worse than previously imagined.

“In general, these things tend to snowball because victims are afraid to come forward,” Dorris said. “If the priests have been on this island for a while, it probably means that it’s dozens upon dozens of victims out there.”

Puerto Rico Justice Secretary Cesar Miranda said last week that at least four dioceses are being investigated. He also warned he might file charges against church officials suspected of withholding information.

He described the situation as “truly scandalous.”

“We are not going to rest,” Miranda said. “We are going to capture them, we are going to process them and we are going to put them in jail.”

Allegations of sex abuse by priests are not new here, but the latest wave of investigations has dwarfed anything seen on the island of 3.6 million people, more than 70 percent of whom identify themselves as Catholic.

“People want to believe in the specialness of the priests, in the power of the priests,” said Richard Sipe, a California-based psychologist and former priest who is an expert on clergy sexual abuse. “The Latin American community is much slower in bringing charges against the priests. …The priests themselves are held in greater esteem, and the culture is identified with the Catholic Church more closely.”

On a recent Sunday morning in Arecibo, churchgoers streamed through the heavy wooden doors of the city’s 17th century cathedral. A swell of voices soon joined the priest inside in prayer, while 44-year-old Jose Soto hurriedly walked past the Mass in the town’s deserted streets.

“When you go in through those doors, it is supposed to be a spiritual, wholesome place,” he said, adding that he once regularly attended Mass in the cathedral. “You don’t know who you’re listening to anymore … It’s like using the word of God for other purposes.”

The wave of allegations began in late January with a series of reports in local media, primarily in the newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

In response, Arecibo Bishop Daniel Fernandez released a statement disclosing that since 2011 he had defrocked six priests accused of sex abuse, an unusually large number for a diocese with about 90 priests. Church officials said they have also provided counseling for at least one alleged victim and reparations in an unspecified number of cases across the island.

Last week, one of Arecibo’s defrocked priests, Edwin Antonio Mercado Viera, was charged with committing lewd acts. The 53-year-old, who had been a popular figure in the parish, is accused of fondling the genitals of a 13-year-old altar boy in 2007.

Prosecutor Jose Capo Rivera said the bishop himself is “part of the investigation” due to accusations he committed lewd acts involving a minor. Fernandez has said he is innocent.

“Clearly, it’s revenge for the decisions I’ve taken since the moment I assumed leadership of the diocese, where the situation that I found was not the most positive,” he said in a written statement.

Agnes Poventud, an attorney for a man who says Fernandez molested him when he was child, told The Associated Press that federal agents recently interviewed her and her client. She declined to say when the alleged abuse occurred or how old her client was at the time, only to say he was a minor.

A federal official confirmed to the AP that U.S. authorities have requested information about alleged clergy abuse from the Puerto Rico Justice Department. The official agreed to discuss the case only if not quoted by name because the information was not yet public.

Further revelations have followed the Arecibo cases. The Diocese of Mayaguez, on Puerto Rico’s west coast, said it has handled four cases of alleged sex abuse, the majority of them being reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which takes on such accusations.

In addition, San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves said prosecutors are investigating six alleged sex abuse cases in the diocese of Puerto Rico’s capital. He said the accused priests have been suspended and the statute of limitation has expired in five cases.

Prosecutors also are investigating a sex abuse allegation in the Diocese of Caguas, Capo said.

Meanwhile, justice officials accuse the Arecibo diocese of withholding information and are fighting a lawsuit still pending in court that the diocese filed to keep secret the names of alleged victims to protect their confidentiality. Prosecutors assert the move is intended to protect the accused priests, a charge diocese attorney Frank Torres denies.

“The church has cooperated and has a policy of transparency, but that cooperation does not mean the church is free to violate the guarantees of confidentiality it has awarded the victims,” Torres said in a phone interview.

Diocese officials in Puerto Rico say that the statute of limitations has expired in many cases, an argument that Florida-based lawyer Joseph Saunders said has been the church’s first line of defense. He said many church officials argue they should have been sued when the alleged violations occurred.

“Nobody sued a bishop or a priest back then,” he said. “There’s an underlying fear of going to hell for suing the bishop.”

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Puerto Rico bishops hand over accused priests to civil authorities

Catholic News Agency

28 February 2014

.- Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves of San Juan and Bishop Daniel Fernandez Torres of Arecibo in Puerto Rico have handed over a group of priests accused of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

In statements to the media, Archbishop Gonzalez Nieves said six cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors by priests have been turned over to Puerto Rican prosecutors.

He pledged “the full cooperation of the Archdiocese, regardless of whether the person who committed the abuse is a minister, employee or volunteer. This entire process, while painful, should be an occasion for reaching the ultimate goal, which is the well-being and protection of minors.”

“None of these priests is currently in ministry,” the archbishop emphasized. “Some of the cases have gone before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and others have exceeded the statute of limitations. One (accused individual) is dead, another was tried in court in Bayamon and another is outside Puerto Rico.”

For his part, Bishop Daniel Fernandez of Arecibo filed a complaint with police and the Department of the Family against one accused priest.

The attorney for the Diocese of Arecibo, Frank Torres-Viada, said that once accusations were made against the priest, “the Diocese of Arecibo proceeded to immediately and decisively activate the protocol for handling accusations of sexual abuse and referred the matter to civil authorities.”

“The Diocese of Arecibo and its bishop reaffirm their commitment to absolute transparency and cooperation in eradicating the scourge of sexual abuse against minors in the Catholic Church,” Torres-Viada told reporters.

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Bishop of Arecibo rejects allegations of sexual abuse

El Mundo News

01/28/2014

By CyberNews

The Bishop of Arecibo, Daniel Fernandez scored deplorable accusations that have been leveled against him and reaffirmed confident that the truth will come out .

” I am aware that as a bishop , I have taken difficult decisions , together with the universal Church, which can raise uncomfortable reactions and even arouse hatred among people who find it hard truth. Obviously , this is a revenge because of the decisions I’ve had to take from the time I assumed the leadership of the diocese where the situation I found was not the most favorable , as you know, and this revenge is part of that burden . I never imagined that things could get so much slander and vicious lie , but I know if Jesus Christ himself was crucified and humiliated by being Himself the Truth, the mockery is part of the followers of Christ, “said Fernández in written statements.

“I have my clear conscience , knowing that the accusation is false. It will ask for your prayers for the faithful the Lord gives me the strength to endure all that He , in His providence , has allowed and soon the truth comes to light , “he said .

Fernandez will make a press conference at 11 am to discuss the matter.

The bishop reportedly facing a lawsuit for allegedly sexually molest a man when he was a minor .

The lawyer Poventud Agnes , who represents the alleged victim confirmed to a radio station ( Noti Uno) that there is a complaint against the religious, but declined to give further details on the matter.

“There is a complaint which is being investigated by the Doctrine of the Faith and now the investigation is ongoing ,” said the lawyer in an interview with the station.

He said his client only wants the matter to be investigated and responsibilities are allocated. The lawsuit was filed a year ago .

The Diocese of Arecibo has been raging since he was expelled for alleged sexual abuse the nuncio Josef Wesolowski , who was in charge of complaints against the Metropolitan Archbishop of San Juan Roberto Octavio González Nieves .

On Monday he spoke of the case of Father José Colón Otero, of St. Martin de Porres Parish in the Diocese of Arecibo , having an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of minors , and violating the sacramental seal .

Meanwhile , the Metropolitan Archbishop of San Juan and President of the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference , Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves , OFM, regretted the allegations against the Bishop of Arecibo, Monsignor Daniel Fernández Torres and invited the people of God to pray that the Lord strengthen you spiritually.

“Given the news that has transpired this week we join together in prayer for the Lord to spiritually strengthen Bishop Daniel in this trial , confident that the truth will prevail . Pray also for everyone involved in this situation saddens us deeply. Pray for the People of God in the Diocese of Arecibo, his faithful laity , priests and deacons and religious and religious and seminarians and the Bishop family . Have Mercy instill in all of them, his grace to grow in the power of Love, Justice and Truth , ” said Monsignor Roberto in written statements.

The President of the Puerto Rican Episcopal Conference urged solidarity with the local Church of the Diocese of Arecibo at the difficult time faced .

“We hope the investigation of the Holy See. We hope everyone’s patience to be able to carry out this process in a calm and respectful environment. Recall that the presumption of innocence must prevail in these situations. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus , “said Monsignor Roberto .

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Puerto Rico diocese fights request for information

KRMG  FM 102.3   AM 740

21 February 2014

By DANICA COTO

The Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico —

Attorneys for a Puerto Rico diocese that defrocked six priests facing sex abuse allegations said Friday in court that they oppose a criminal investigation into the cases because the majority involved consensual sex.

Diocese attorneys said the priests were defrocked for violating canon law, not criminal laws.

Consensual sex “does not constitute any type of crime,” attorney Frank Torres said.

The argument was one of several presented to a judge reviewing a lawsuit that the Diocese of Arecibo filed against the U.S. territory’s justice secretary. The names of the alleged victims have not been released to seek comment from.

In the suit, the diocese contends that it should not be forced to release their names to prosecutors in order to protect their confidentiality.

Prosecutor Claudia Juan Garcia accused the diocese of withholding information to protect the priests, not the alleged victims.

“It’s not up to the church to decide which acts constitute a crime,” she said. “It’s up to the state.”

She noted that even though the church had defrocked the priests, they could still pose a threat to society in general.

The diocese has provided the ages of the alleged victims, the names of the accused priests and the dates and description of the alleged actions, said diocese attorney Jose Andreu Fuentes. He did not publicly reveal the ages.

He said that even though the sex was consensual in the majority of cases, the alleged victims confided in church officials because “spiritually, they had to denounce this.”

Torres said the statute of limitations already expired for two of the cases, and that state prosecutors previously investigated at least one other case and nothing came of it.

In the U.S. mainland, several church leaders accused of shielding pedophile priests from prosecution have faced criminal charges.

A monsignor was convicted in Philadelphia, although a state appeals court threw out the conviction last year. Meanwhile, a Kansas City bishop was found guilty last year of failing to report child abuse to the state, but he remains head of his diocese.

And in one of the most high-profile cases, internal files released by the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese showed that Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles ordered an underling to withhold a list of altar boys from police. Authorities later found that 25 of the alleged victims of fugitive Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera were altar boys.

The archdiocese also agreed to pay $720 million to victims, announcing a final $13 million settlement on Wednesday, thus avoiding a trial.

In Puerto Rico, the lawsuit hearing drew a crowd of diocese officials and their supporters, the majority of whom wore large rosaries and hugged diocese officials during courtroom breaks.

Before judge Angel Pagan announced that the hearing would be continued in early March, he told attorneys for the diocese that he would protect the confidentiality of witnesses on a case-by-case basis. Pagan also said that one of the alleged victims who recently requested that his personal information not be turned over to prosecutors would be allowed to join the lawsuit.

The ruling was celebrated by attorney Manuel Martinez, who said his 23-year-old unidentified client was working and studying and did not want to be forced into the spotlight.

“He has a peaceful life,” Martinez said. “Almost 10 years have gone by.”

Prosecutors also are investigating sex abuse allegations that recently surfaced in the Diocese of Mayaguez in Puerto Rico’s western region. The diocese said it has handled four cases of alleged sex abuse, and that the majority are being reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handles such accusations.

1 Response to “Report: US investigating clerical abuse in Puerto Rico; bishop accused” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    Another mess. Allegations of sex abuse against six priests. Allegations of sex abuse against the bishop. The diocese claiming the cases entailed consensual sex and therefore no criminal activity. The statute of limitations has expired in most cases.

    I hope and pray the victims personally contact prosecutors – to deny or confirm that the sex abuse was consensual.

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