Following Accusations of Abuse in the US, Dozens of Priests Sent Abroad to Continue Working

A new report from the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica has found dozens of priests accused of abuse in the United States have gone on to work in other countries, sometimes with the knowledge of church leaders. This is yet another sign that sexual abuse crisis continues today, despite the rhetoric from church officials, and is a clear indicator of the need for every single diocese to be investigated by secular law enforcement officials.

According to journalists, at least 51 priests that have been accused of abuse have gone on to work in heavily catholic countries like the Philippines, Ireland, and Mexico. This is a staggering number, especially considering the journalists analyzed lists from just 52 dioceses. In some of these cases, abusers were kept on church payroll, giving them the resources they need to quietly establish themselves in a new community around unsuspecting families and parishioners. In others, church leaders told victims that the priest would be forever removed from ministry, only for that removal to never happen. In almost every case, church leaders used careful language and euphemisms to explain away the reassignments of accused priests.

This story is yet another indication that the playbook used by church officials to conceal and minimize cases of clergy sexual abuse has been a national policy and is still in use. Termed the “circle of secrecy” in A.G. Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report, these tactics used by church officials to keep the public in the dark about cases of abuse has put countless other children and vulnerable adults at risk by allowing abusers to escape justice and public scrutiny. We can only imagine how many others have been hurt by these priests that were allowed to continue working after being accused of abuse.

We can only assume that there are still being priests sent abroad and quietly supported by their former dioceses today. One example is that of Fr. Alexander Castillo, a priest from the Diocese of Oakland who fled the country last year after being accused of abusing minors. Castillo is considered “on leave” by church officials in Oakland despite having referred his case to police themselves. It is likely that Castillo could be quietly operating as a priest, putting more children at risk. At the very least, we know that the following men were able to keep working despite being accused of abuse:

  • Jose Luis Urbina, Jose Antonio Pinal and Gerald Beltran, all of Sacramento
  • Nicholas Aguilar Rivera and Jeffrey David Newell of Los Angeles
  • Jose Luis Contreras of San Antonio

It’s especially notable and disturbing that the countries to which these accused abusers were sent are all very Catholic. We can only assume this was a strategic decision to put alleged abusers in highly pious communities where their pasts wouldn’t be looked at too closely and their word would be taken as gospel.

Now that this research has confirmed what advocates have suspected and feared, we call on all current bishops to remove these dangerous men from wherever they still are. We also call on the Vatican to discipline those bishops who have knowingly violated the Dallas Charter and putting more communities at risk. Any church official who allowed an abuser to quietly work elsewhere should immediately be removed from their post.

To us, the pathway forward is clear. Every single diocese should be investigated by secular law enforcement officials and the full extent of abuse and cover-up must be made public. In order to protect others from the lifetime harm of child abuse, church officials should willingly turn their files over to law enforcement and the public and use every resource at their disposal to warn vulnerable families and communities about these abusers. Regardless of whether an alleged abuser was sent halfway around the world or the next diocese down the road, church officials have resources and tools that they can use to inform and warn communities. Every American bishop should take this step now.

CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member([email protected], 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP San Francisco ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)

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