Former Winona-Rochester priest charged with sex crime

**Updated information from the Star Tribune as reported by Trey Mewes on August 19, 2022**

The Rev. Will Thompson, the diocese's vicar general, said Friday that Roque Huerta's 2019 removal from ministry was related to ecclesiastical matters and that diocesan officials were unaware of any civil or criminal incidents related to him aside from his recent charge. Roque Huerta had asked to be laicized by the Vatican, according to Thompson.

"We're working on being upfront about all of this," Thompson said. "As we've gone through the sexual abuse scandal, the church had a period of not always responding well, and we are trying to respond well and bring healing to people who do experience sexual misconduct, not only from priests, from laicized priests, but really anybody that comes through our doors."

But in a statement, SNAP officials said the diocese hadn't lived up to its promise in Roque Huerta's case.

They noted that the January 2020 issue of the Courier, the Winona-Rochester diocese's monthly newspaper, lists Roque Huerta as assigned in December 2019 to live at the Hermits of St. Mary of Carmel monastery in Houston, Minn., about 25 miles south of Winona.

"That is a very broad and a very vague term," Mike McDonnell, a spokesperson for SNAP, said Friday. "It really just leaves a lot of unanswered questions." McDonnell also questioned why Roque Huerta asked to leave the priesthood.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for further comment Friday.

 

(For Immediate Release August 19, 2022) 

A former priest of the Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester has been charged with 3rd Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct with an adult. SNAP is concerned that the Diocese is not supplying the public with complete and pertinent information about this cleric.

According to the Diocesan Statement, Church officials only recently learned about the charges against Fr. Ubaldo Roque Huerta, and the alleged offense took place in Winona County in December of 2020. The clergyman, who was ordained for the Diocese on June 28, 2008, worked for Hispanic communities, including The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and Saint Casimir in Winona, Saint Charles Borromeo in Saint Charles, Saint Aloysius in Elba, Holy Redeemer in Eyota, and Saint Francis of Assisi in Rochester. The Diocese claimed that Fr. Huerta had not had an assignment within the Diocese since 2018, that his faculties were suspended in November of 2019, and that it was actively working toward his laicization.

However, SNAP has uncovered a publication from January 2020, that reported on page 2, "Rev. Ubaldo Roque Huerta: assigned to live at the Hermits of St. Mary of Carmel in Houston, effective December 4, 2019.  St. Mary of Carmel is a community of Carmelite nuns. In addition, to this omission from its statement, the Diocese has supplied absolutely no information about why the priest was suspended from ministry and was to be laicized, or even if the laicization process has been completed. Nor have the faithful and the public been told whether the victim in the criminal case was male or female, or even if they were Catholic. 

There are so many questions that should be answered! Where exactly did the criminal act that is the subject of the current charges take place? Why was Fr. Huerta suspended from ministry in November of 2019, and why was the Diocese pursuing his laicization if the alleged crime only took place in December of 2020? We can only suspect that there were other accusations against the cleric that prompted those actions. But probably the most important question is where has the former priest been living?

We call on Bishop Robert Barron to provide these answers to the Catholic community and to the people of Minnesota.  

By our accounting, there has been a consistent dribble of arrests at a rate of about two Catholic clergy or laypersons per month for the past decade. Many, like Fr. Huerta, were ordained after the 2002 Dallas Charter. This would indicate that there has in fact been no change in the culture of sexual abuse in the Church. It also reinforces, sadly, our belief that more victims from the 1990s and 2000s can be expected to come forward in the future.

We encourage anyone who may have suffered, witnessed, or suspected the sexual abuse of children or adults within their faith community to report the information to law enforcement. Fr. Ubaldo Roque Huerta may have other victims, and investigators can help. 

CONTACT: Frank Meuers, SNAP Leader Southern Minnesota, (952-334-5180, [email protected]) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager, (267-261-0578, [email protected]) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009, [email protected]) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President (814-341-8386, [email protected])

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

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