Texas Catholic priest arrested on multiple child sex charges; SNAP urges Church outreach

Texas Catholic priest arrested on multiple child sex charges; SNAP urges Church outreach

For Immediate Release, February 15, 2024

A Catholic priest in Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested for multiple sex crimes against a child. The accusations include continuous sexual abuse of a child, continuous trafficking of persons, sexual assault of a child, and sexual performance of a child. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, wants the local bishop to reach out to and encourage any other victims and witnesses, as well as those may have suspected criminal behavior, to come forward to law enforcement.

Fr. Fernando Gonzalez Ortega was removed from active ministry by Bishop Daniel E. Flores on February 3rd, 2024, just one day after the accusations were reported to the Diocese. While we are grateful for the Bishop’s prompt action, we believe he should and could have done more. Specifically, he should have shared the priest’s most recent assignment, as well as his complete history in the Diocese, in his statement. The Bishop also should and could go to each and every location within his Diocese where Fr. Ortega worked and beg the people there who might know something about the charges to contact the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the crimes.

The District Attorney’s Offices identified Fr. Ortega’s most recent parish as St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Brownsville.  Given what we know about child sex crimes, and considering that the victim in this case is now an adult, we cannot help but wonder if there are others out there sitting alone in pain and in silence. At age 52, it seems likely that Fr. Ortega has had a long career in the Brownville Diocese. We have seen time and time again that abusers seek opportunities to perpetrate their crimes in trusting faith communities. We cannot help but wonder if Fr. Ortega joined the priesthood to gain access to children. Only 1 in 9 cases of child sexual abuse is reported while the abuse is ongoing, so there is a clear need for Bishop Flores to initiate outreach. People who may be reluctant to come forward may do so if encouraged by a high-ranking Church official.

By our count, this is the 4thth arrest of a Catholic cleric or employee this year, which makes two things absolutely plain. First, the clergy abuse scandal is neither over nor a thing of the past, as Catholic officials are wont to say frequently. Second, internal controls and policies do not do enough to prevent dangerous men from becoming clerics, and cannot stop those men from abusing others with their newfound power. Clearly there is a need for a complete overhaul of how the Church handles the problem of sexual abuse.

We believe this starts with complete transparency being forced on these institutions by outside, secular investigations, and by allowing time-barred victims to have their day in court. Parishes, Catholic schools, and even society will become safer with these actions.

CONTACT: Eduardo Lopez de Casa, SNAP Board of Directors, SNAP Houston ([email protected], 832-641-6319); Patti Koo, SNAP San Antonio ([email protected] 956-648-7385); Zac Zepeda, SNAP San Antonio ([email protected] 210-317-7511); Paul Petersen, SNAP Board of Directors, SNAP Dallas ([email protected], 972-569-0995);  Mike McDonnell, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386) 


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