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Texas priest accused of sexual assault is arrested in Arlington

By STEVE McGONIGLE / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, February 13, 2004

A Panhandle priest accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old college student in Irving last year was arrested Friday morning in Arlington, police said.

The Rev. John Anthony Salazar, 48, was taken into custody after he answered the door at a home in south Arlington and confirmed his identity to officers, said Christy Gilfour, a spokeswoman for the Arlington Police Department.

After several hours in the Arlington jail, Father Salazar was transferred by Dallas County sheriff's deputies to Lew Sterrett Justice Center, said a sheriff's spokesman, Sgt. Don Peritz. He is being held on $500,000 bail, Sgt. Peritz said.

Father Salazar, who was removed as pastor of a Catholic church in Tulia in 2002 and barred from all ministerial duties, was indicted by a Dallas County jury Thursday on a charge of sexually assaulting a teenage friend after a wedding last fall.

James Vasilas, a Dallas lawyer who has said he represents Father Salazar, did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

During an interview in January, Mr. Vasilas said his client had committed no crime. He attributed the assault accusation to a dispute within the family of his accuser.

Since his removal, Father Salazar is thought to have lived with friends in the Panhandle and Arlington. The home where he was arrested Friday is owned by a couple described as friends who formerly lived in Tulia.

His prosecution is described as extraordinary because it alleges a sexual crime between a priest and another adult male. No other priest in the last 30 years has faced such a charge in criminal court, a leading expert in clergy abuse said.

Beau Villegas, an Amarillo college student who contended that he was sexually assaulted by Father Salazar, described the priest as a close friend of his family. Father Salazar attended the wedding in Irving as a guest of his family, Mr. Villegas said.

The assault occurred in the priest's motel room after the wedding reception, Mr. Villegas said. He said that he was too intoxicated to fight off the priest's advances but that the sexual contact was not consensual.

The Dallas Morning News generally does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but Mr. Villegas has said he wanted his name published.

Mr. Villegas, his mother and grandmother have said they did not know until Father Salazar was removed as their pastor that he had been convicted of sex crimes in California before coming to Texas in the early 1990s.

According to court records, Father Salazar pleaded guilty in 1988 to molesting two boys at a Catholic school in Los Angeles. He served more than two years in prison before he was paroled to a church-run treatment program for sexually abusive priests.

Because of his previous conviction, Father Salazar faces an automatic life sentence if he is convicted of a second sexual offense, said Howard Blackmon, the assistant district attorney who will be prosecuting the priest's latest case.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests